Ambitious title! The biggest surprise in the book is when this great naturalist, and one of the world's authorities on ants, reveals that he's afraidAmbitious title! The biggest surprise in the book is when this great naturalist, and one of the world's authorities on ants, reveals that he's afraid of spiders.
His main point is that we should derive meaning from the millions of years of human history and not from religion. And to continue to argue for group selection.
The conflicts we feel between selfishness and altruism arise not from original sin, but from the fact that we're dependent on our group, and that qualities that make us successful withing our group are in conflict with the qualities that make our group successful against other groups. Natural selection works at the individual and group level.
A couple of pointed quotes:
"Scientists who might contribute to a more realistic worldview are especially disappointing. Largely yeomen, they are intellectual dwarves content to stay within the narrow speciatlies for which they were trained and are paid."
"The cost to society as a whole of the bowed head had been enormous."...more
So there's the tetrapod clade, then the amniote clade, which includes mammals, THEN comes the reptilia. So we're not descended from reptiles. I'm haviSo there's the tetrapod clade, then the amniote clade, which includes mammals, THEN comes the reptilia. So we're not descended from reptiles. I'm having an identity crisis....more
Strangely, given my long-standing interest in the subject, this is the first book I have ever read on this topic.
Ian Tattersal is a curator at the AmStrangely, given my long-standing interest in the subject, this is the first book I have ever read on this topic.
Ian Tattersal is a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The exhibit there called the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution is presented here in book form. It proceeds chronologically, first describing DNA and the five kingdoms of life. It then proceeds through vertebrates, mammals and primates before describing the fossils and what we know of the lifestyles of the various bipedal primates that might or might not be our ancestors. These include Australopithecus afarensis, of which "Lucy" is the most famous example. Afarensis is the oldest hominid to which we are thought to be directly related. He thinks the family tree goes like this:
4 million years ago:Australopithecus afarensis, with offshoots Paranthropus aethiopicus, P. robustus, and P. boisei 2.5 million years ago: Australopithecus africanus, with offshoot Homo rudolfensis 2 million years ago: Homo habilis 1.8 million years ago: Homo ergaster, with offshoot Homo erectus 0.7 years ago: Homo Heidelbergensis, with offshoot Homo neanderthalensis 0.1 years ago: Homo Sapiens The last chapter describes how different we seem to be even from the neanderthals, who occasionally buried their dead, made some jewelry, and improved their tools, perhaps in imitation of the anatomically modern humans who lived alongside them. In contrast to these stand our high level of innovation and skill in using a wide variety of materials such as bone, antler, stone, and flint, and our invention of such things as sewing needles. To this is added our art, carved and painted, which seems to show an appreciation of the power and beauty of the natural world, as well as seeming to portray myths or stories of the meaning of life. I was struck by the sketchiness of our family tree. The fossil record is so spotty that the species mentioned above may be less that half the species leading from Lucy to us, and there is not wide agreement on who begat whom. Also surprising is the idea, that, though our brains seem to have grown somewhat steadily from the apish 400 ml or so of our ancestors to our average 1500 ml today, the lifestyles of all the homonids, except for us, didn't seem to change very much. The latest prehumans seem to be apes with fire and a few tools. ...more
Written with a novelist's command of plot and characterization, the author attempts to decide at what point in our journey from tree dweller to condoWritten with a novelist's command of plot and characterization, the author attempts to decide at what point in our journey from tree dweller to condo dweller we became human. Confidently asserting that the first primates who walked upright were "merely animals", he laters decides that the first anatomically modern humans hadn't quite made it, either. He discerns the genesis of humanity in the late paleolithic, about 50 thousand years ago, with the invention of politics. It was about that time that the cro-magnons started travelling extensively, gaining a competitive advantage over their more sedentary peers, as well as the neandertals, from the information they gained. This endeavor favored people better at figuring out what the guy from the next valley might think or do. Evolution thus favored those with the self knowledge that could be used to understand others whom they have never met before.
Although he doesn't think the Neandertals had this ability, he seems to think of them as a kind of human: one much more conservative, more passive, more contented, more honest, and perhaps "they could listen to the booming rhythms of the wind, the earth, and each other's heartbeats, and be transported". ...more
Tattersall recounts pretty much the same stuff as in his other books. One point he drives home is that people with bones that look just like ours haveTattersall recounts pretty much the same stuff as in his other books. One point he drives home is that people with bones that look just like ours have been around for over 100,000 years; but for the first 60,000 of those, they didn't really act like us. It's only in the last 40,000 years or so that we see artifacts that seem like modern people had made them: carvings, cave art, body ornamentation. Tattersall thinks that by 100,000 years ago our brain was pretty much as it is today, but something happened about 40,000 years ago that allowed the invention of language....more
Basically a history of paleoanthropology, this book begins by describing our curiosity about our origins; the Christian creation story was all we hadBasically a history of paleoanthropology, this book begins by describing our curiosity about our origins; the Christian creation story was all we had at one point. It told us God had created the world and all living things in seven days, and that the world was created for humans. People understood from Bible chronology that the world was about 6,000 years old.
But in the 19th century, geologists started telling us that the earth must be older than a literal reading of the Bible would lead us to believe. The discovery of extinct plants and animals was troubling: didn't God create the world just as it should be? Naturalists started recognizing that humans seemed to have more in common with the natural world than one would think, had everything been created separately. When Neandertals were discovered, paleoanthropology was born, even though no one, including its practitioners knew it yet. The Neandertals were thought to be deformed people, or perhaps members of some degenerate race. People tried mightily to reconcile the evidence in their hands with what they thought they must believe as Christians. A recent poll shows this struggle continuing; it reports that only 50% of Americans believe in evolution.
A major theme in this book is the battle between those who regard people as a "goal" of evolution and those who think it just happened to work out that way, so far. Tattersall laments the "parochialism" of paleoanthropology and wishes it's practitioners were as objective as paleontologists of other species, such as lemurs, his specialty. The idea that the universe is "trying" to create humans shows up in several ways.
The lumping of too many human characteristics onto the first bipedal hominid.
"Oh! He's standing up! That's because he's smart! And because he wants to "free up" his hands so he can take food back to his wife. And that food is the meat of some mighty animal he hunted, because as soon as he stood up, he became the most powerful predator in the world." Actually it seems that he was just another ape who got around a little differently.
The one-species hypothesis
"Only one species of hominid can exist at once, because we're so special. Culture is our niche, and only one species can occupy that space at a time." There seem to have been many species of hominid in existence at many points in our history, including the Neandertals as late as 30,000 year ago. Anatomically modern humans seem to have coexisted with them for at least 50,000 years.
The multiregional hypothesis
"The races of today, africans, asians, europeans, and australians, are descendents of different subspecies. Skeletal characteristics of modern people in, say, China, can be seen in hominid fossils found there. There was just enough interbreeding of subspecies to keep us from diverging into separate species". This pisses Tattersall off. He says,"This viewpoint does seem to me to illustrate, better than any other current example, the extreme parochiality with which paleoanthropology is cursed." He thinks that new hominid species replaced older ones rather than thinking the entire population of homo erectus, say, evolved gradually into homo sapiens. He regard this theory as sort of a disguise for "parallel evolution" toward the "goal" of modern humans.
As I read this book, I kept feeling the desire to look at all these fossils to see for myself. ...more
It seems that every discussion of the evolution of evolution starts with that poor wrong-headed Lamarck and his idea of the inheritance of acquired chIt seems that every discussion of the evolution of evolution starts with that poor wrong-headed Lamarck and his idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. What a dummy! He thought Giraffe's necks got longer because each generation kept straining to reach ever higher leaves. Well, Darwin thought the same thing. In a section called Use and Disuse he says, "I think there can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals strengthens and enlarges certain parts, and disuse diminishes them; and that such modifications are inherited".
He's a genius anyway, even if he didn't know how mutations actually happened. His passion shines out of every page. He argues, that since varieties of horses, when bred together, often show the same pattern of stripes, the ancestor of all horses must have had those stripes. He says to believe otherwise is to "make the works of God mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore".
There's a little unintended irony in his describing convergent evolution as being like two men independently hitting on the same invention. He actually had to rush this book into print to beat Wallace, who independently developed the same theory.
It's obvious that lifetime's observation went into this book. Just reading the examples of experiments he did and behavior he observed is exhausting. Dogged observer and experimenter that he was, he also gets a little mystical sometimes, talking about an unknown bond between species related to the "principle of life". He is also surprisingly parochial at times. At one point he refers to the "most impressive" observations of a "Mr. Smith of Jordan Hill".
He explains that, in light of his theory, classification should be regarded as demonstrating descent, not the plan of the Creator.
He published this document in a world in which almost everyone was a creationist. In the final chapter, he says, "Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected, not by means superior to, though analagous with, human reason". He then goes on to explain why his theory is actualy indisputable. Tough guy.
His theory is called revolutionary, and he cites no contributors, as if he made the whole thing up himself. Yet, he seems to refer to battles between evolutionists and creationists. He talks about embryos displaying characteristics of earlier species. To him, the stamp of evolution could not be plainer, and creationists "willfully will not understand".
Carrying the implications of evolution theory back to the beginning of life, Darwin conjectures that animals descended from four or five progenitors, and plants, perhaps, less. Then he goes further, hypothesising "one primordial form, into which life was first breathed". ...more
An odd mixture of gorgeous photographs of meticulous and artful recreations of faces, short scenes of imagined events in their lives, and dry lists ofAn odd mixture of gorgeous photographs of meticulous and artful recreations of faces, short scenes of imagined events in their lives, and dry lists of what is actually known of each creature. Categories: Skull, Teeth, and Diet; Skeleton, Gait, and Posture; Fossil Sites and Possible Range; Age; Tools; Differences Between Males and Females; Animals and Habitats; Climate; Classification; and Historical Notes. It looks like a coffee table book, but reads like a monograph.