Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Human Development part 1

A few months back, I started a "links I would send to chanson" series.  This would be another link I would have sent to chanson (but I'm posting it here for discussion/reflection).    There was another program in the npr series that I will write more about in part 2.

Did a belief in the supernatural (or supernatural consequences) help humans evolve into who we are today? 

I thought this was a really interesting program.  The question this program (and others in the series) have asked is, what makes us human?  What gave us an advantage over other species?

One of the theories is, humans cooperate, human strangers cooperate and no one knows why.  As the article says, there's often tension between the interests of the group and the individual. 

The article also points out that if in ancient communities, someone stepped out of line (or outside of the boundaries), it made much more sense to say that a person was enforcing "God's law", rather than open the punisher up for vengeance or grudges.  An example of this would be that the executioner would wear a mask.  Even though many people might know who the executioner was, the person would wear a mask to prevent reprisals. 

And the article points out the different criticism of these theories - other theories about why humans cooperate. 

This program, The Human Spark on pbs some months ago also talks about the nature of evolution - why humans and chimps are similar but different. 

I find the experiments with the very young children compelling.  It is amazing to me how early humans learn socialization and about social rules.  That even an 18 month old will try to help the experimenter figure things out.  Humans like to work together, they like to cooperate; and they also like to make and enforce social rules and norms.

1 comment:

C. L. Hanson said...

It's quite interesting. I agree that the pervasiveness (and similarity) of religion across human cultures is a strong indicator that religion is probably built-in to humans in the same way language is.

That said, I'm not as convinced that the gods-are-watching-you-keeping-you-from-cheating thing was a major factor.

I'm not an expert on history or anthropology, but I've heard that God-as-lawgiver idea is relatively recent (spread mostly by the Old Testament-based Abrahamic religions). Most (so-called) "primitive" religions and ghost-belief are more concerned with giving the gods/ghosts things they want (sacrifices, special incantations, etc.), and didn't really care about the rest of your behavior.

Also, this whole idea of anonymous cheating becomes important only with the rise of large settlements (after the agricultural revolution). In the earlier human societies, everyone knew everyone else in the tribe. So, if you steal Og's spear or rape his wife, it will be totally obvious to everyone who did it, and you'll have real consequences -- no ghostly observers needed. You might try to attack and plunder neighboring tribes, but in that case, you'll probably believe that your own gods/ancestors are encouraging and helping you to do it.