Thursday, November 7, 2013

Families Made Us Human!

The evolution of human culture can be explained, not by the size of our brains, but by the quality of our relationships.

Very interesting article relevant for the new InGroup-Democracy (IGD). Read the whole article here.

A few extracts:
The point of all this is that the evolution of the family played a huge role in creating a stable, secure environment for the birth of hominin information culture. These longer, safer childhoods must have also contributed to the growth of inner-subjective head space — no doubt leading to greater representational sophistication and eventually language. And the striking feature of this new social learning is that it becomes so flexible and open-ended. SEEKING, plus an information-rich safe environment, produces curiosity about all sorts of things, and both the curiosity and the products of skill can co-evolve via natural and cultural selection. Information-rich, safe environments are highly congenial for cognitive expansion. Thus we find that, by looking into the development of emotional modernity, we begin to understand the rise of human intelligence too.

In chimpanzees, this CARE system is very limited in scope. Mothers and babies bond strongly for approximately seven years, but that’s as far as the sense of family extends. As the biologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy points out: ‘In roughly half the 300-odd species of living primates, including all four great apes and many of the best-known species of Old World monkeys, such as rhesus macaques and savannah baboons, mothers alone care for their infants.’ In her book Mothers and Others (2009), Hrdy argues that human co-operation was facilitated by unique shifts in child rearing. Unlike chimps, Homo erectus children were raised and provisioned by additional caregivers besides just mom. Grandmothers, aunts, uncles, siblings and fathers (collectively called alloparents) all contributed to child rearing, constituting an expanded circle of empathetic filial feelings.

Human offspring need extra work — a whole team of caregivers — because they’re so helpless for so long. The unique human childhood is the result of a remarkable chain of events. Our Australopithicine ancestors had short childhoods and short lifespans. They also had wide hips, which meant their fetal brains probably developed more in the womb, like chimps, and their behaviour was more genetically hard-wired. By the time of our bipedal ancestor Homo ergaster, the human pelvis could no longer accommodate a well-developed infant’s skull. From this point onward, human infants have been born at a very early stage of brain development relative to other primates. The result is a much larger window of infant dependency that requires staggering amounts of parental and alloparental care. - Stephen T Asma

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