Appendix 4.1: The Theory of Cultural Evolution


When I went to school, I was taught that the field of science was showing that many of the ideas we had about the way the world worked were wrong.  Until very recent history, people accepted that the world worked the way our prejudices told us it should work.  For example, the earth appears to be flat so it must be flat.  Heavy objects should fall faster than light ones, so this must be true.  (Galileo proved this was  not true:  gravity affects all objects the  same way and, except for the effect of air resistance, they all fall at the same speed.  Galileo failed to convince the jury of this however:  their prejudices were too strong, so he was jailed for life for ‘teaching false sciences.’  

Science often tells us that things we think should work a certain way really don’t work that way.  Science is a precise field.  It starts with observation.  We see things happening.  We then come up with something called a ‘theory.’  The theory is basically a guess about how all of the things we see could have happened at the same time.  For example, in 1905, Einstein was working in a patent office and came across Tesla’s request for a patent on a devices that turned sunlight into electricity.  Einstein had gone to school and learned this was impossible:  sunlight was energy and electrons were matter.  They are different things and pure light energy can never move electrons.  But Tesla had shown that this did happen.  He had already patented the devices in the United States and wanted a patent in Switzerland where Einstein was working.  Einstein made a device like the one Tesla had built (instructions are in the patent application) and it worked exactly as Tesla had said.  It was impossible, according to the standard laws of physics.  But he could see with his own eyes that it was happening.

Einstein came up with a theory to explain this.  His theory was that matter and energy are not two different things, they are two different forms of the same thing.  Under the right conditions, energy could turn into matter and vice versa.  He went through the math to determine what exactly how much energy was contained in each unit of matter.  He determined that e=mc2, meaning that total energy in joules was equal to the mass in kilograms times the speed of light (in meters per second) squared. 

We know that this is correct.  It doesn’t sound like it should be right.  How can a kilogram of matter be turned into energy to blow up an entire city?  How can something that appears to have no weight, like a light wave, move enough electrons through a wire to run a refrigerator or television?   It doesn’t seemright.  But it has been proven.  It is not a ‘theory’ it is a ‘scientific principle.’  If you are a scientist, you don’t have the option of picking and choosing what to believe.  If it a proven scientific principle, you can’t reject it without also rejecting science, and you are therefore not a scientist anymore. 

Sometimes, people don’t likethe things that science has proven.  When Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution, for example, he faced furious opposition.  People didn’t want to think that humans evolved.  They want to accept that we are special and look for was to accept this.  They want to accept religious principles that have been accepted for thousands of years.  They want to be on the same page with the people they talk to, who talk about the miracle of creation and love that the creator had for us.  But Darwin proposed various tests that could be performed to verify his theory.  It passed every single test.  Many people have tried to find tests that show the opposite.  None have succeeded, at least not using any scientific methods.  People don’t like the principle and try to claim it is not a principle at all, but  still a theory:  a guess that is as likely to be wrong as right.  But they can’t claim to be scientific and still make this claim.  If you accept science, you have to accept the truths it gives you, even if you don’t think this is the way the world should work or the way you want it to work. 

There are many aspects of our ‘cultures’ or ‘societies’ that we can see are real but that can’t really be explained if the world works the way we think it should work.  Why do we divide the world into ‘countries’ with imaginary lines and then use the activity called ‘war’ to try to alter the locations of these imaginary lines?  We all care about the human race.  (Have you ever known anyone who really and truly wants it destroyed?)  We love our fellow man don’t we?  We all want fairness and justice, don’t we?  How could we do the things we do, if these are our priorities?  How could the cultures or societies of the world work as they do if people build societies around their desires and priorities? 

It just doesn’t fit. 

This appendix proposes what I call a ‘theory of cultural evolution.’  The idea is that societies aren’t created by wise people of a culture or by deities that love us and want the best for us at all.  They evolve in accordance with understandable principles.   It proposes that we have destructive, dangerous, and violent societies today for a reason.  This reason is not magic.  It isn’t evil.  It isn’t a devil that wants to harvest souls, or undead rising to punish us for bad things that happened to them.  These societies work this way because they evolved from the destructive, dangerous, and violent societies of our ancient evolutionary ancestors. 


The theory of Cultural Evolution

For more than a hundred thousand years two entirely different kinds of human societies coexisted on the same planet. 

One was territorial, violent, aggressive, and possessive.  The other passive, tolerant, and non-confrontational.  We could trace these two different arrangements of existence back even before the first true humans evolved.  We could go back 6.7 million years, to the different arrangements that different groups in the genus ‘pan’ organized their existence. 

The evolutionary process called ‘group augmentation’ caused this split in these different ways of life or ‘types of societies.’  Even before humans evolved, the beings that lived in different areas had to learn to live differently to adapt to the different realities of the world around them. 

There were areas that provided so much food for their simian residents that they could sleep in the same nests/homes every night, and wander around their local area, grabbing food as they swung from tree to tree.  Jane Goodall called these areas ‘monopolizable patches of jungle.’  It was practical to monopolize them because the groups cold create borders and patrol them.  They wouldn’t have to leave because the land produced enough for them all year long.  All they had to do to have plentiful food was to keep outsiders out.  If they did this, they wouldn’t have to share their garden of Eden with anyone.  It would belong only to them. 

The evolutionary principle of group augmentation caused the aggressiveness, violence, and brutality of the groups that controlled these areas to increase steadily over time.   If a troop that controlled one of these monopolizable patches of land was tolerant, passive, and liberal, and a more violent, aggressive, and brutal troop arrived and wanted the land, there would be a fight.  The more violent and aggressive troop would have advantages in this fight. 

The more aggressive, possessive, territorial, tribalistic, and violent groups may not win every single fight.  But they would have advantages in these fights.  If two troops were otherwise evenly matched, the more brutal and savage would have a slight edge.  This would lead to slow and gradual increases in the basic realities of their society.  Groups that could better inspire loyalty, sacrifice, and create a mentality accepting of murder and other savage acts would have advantages.  We would expect all of these characteristics to increase in strength over time. 

After all of the monopolizable patches of the jungle had been taken by aggressive and violent simians, displaced groups would wander around the jungle and look for poorly defended territories to take over.  They would then start a war like the one Jane Goodall described in her many articles about the ‘Gombe Chimpanzee war’ she observed.  If both sides were otherwise evenly matched, but one had more group loyalty (what we call ‘patriotism’ in humans), a greater willingness to fight to the death for the right of their group to have the territory, and a greater willingness to kill and kill, without compassion or empathy, that group would have some advantage in the fights.  Nature and evolution would weed out groups that have characteristics that make them weak in war (tolerance, liberality, compassion, and justice, for example) in the same way it weeds out weak individuals within groups:  it would ‘select’ them for extinction and replacement by groups that were better at war.

Over time, the simians would evolve.  As their mental capabilities increased, they would be able to devise more and more complicated and effective weapons, tactics, and techniques for  indoctrinating youngsters with group identity, group loyalty (patriotism), and mental tools that would make them capable of more brutal and aggressive behavior.  They would get better and better at war.  But the evolutionary process would continue to push toward possessiveness of land (group territoriality), and greater brutality and savagery. 

Eventually, they would cross a threshold (described below) that would give them what we call ‘sapience.’  They would become ‘homo sapiens,’ or sapient hominids.  They would not have feelings that push them to do things that logic and reason would tell them are not beneficial to their race or even to the individuals in their race.  Their feelings (remnants of the cultural conditioning and genetic factors tht push them to be possessive and territorial) would tell them that each part of the world belongedto the group that conquered it.  Their feelings would tell them that their group was a real thing, and not just a collection of individuals who were brought together because the happened to have been born inside of certain arbitrary imaginary lines.  Their feelings would tell them they had an obligation to isolated their group from outsiders with borders and kill any members of their species that were not members of their group who tried to benefit from the existence of ‘their’ part of the world.   Their logic would tell them that a system that works like this can’t meet the needs of their race.  It would tell them that it prompts and promotes needless conflict that could be so profound it could easily take more resources to maintain the borders than to feed and house the people in it.  At some point, they would have weapons that were so powerful that their logic would tell them that these feelings were pushing them ever closer to extinction. 

They would then try to rationalize their feelings.  The feelings wouldn’t make sense.  But rationalization means ‘to find a way to justify something.’  They would come up with religions that say that the feelings are right:  a higher power defined the groups and a higher power defined the territories. 


Chapter Eight discusses the key religions of the western world as of the year 1500 and explains their basic beliefs.  Briefly here:

A higher power (a male deity) created the entire universe about 4000BC in six days.  On the third day he selected this earth as his favorite place and on the sixth day he put people on it.  The population grew very rapidly but the creator was not satisfied with the behavior of the people so he killed them all, sparing only one man, his two sons, an unspecified number of females, and a male and female animal of every species to repopulate the animal kingdom.   The deity was watching and didn’t like the way the people were acting, so he killed them all, except three men (Noah and his two sons) and their wives.  These people began to repopulate the world.  The creator watched the behavior of these people very closely. He decided he had a favorite, a man named ‘Abraham’ who he wanted to reward for his good behavior by giving him land.  He defined the world’s first nation (about 2,000 BC) as ‘all land between the Nile and Euphrates.’  He gave this nation to Abraham.  (See Chapter 10 of Genesis, the first book of Moses, or the First book of the Torah, depending on the religion.)  This land belonged to Abraham and his heirs forever, according to the religious texts that all three of these religions accept.   There were no limits put on the gift:  Abraham could do whatever he wanted with this part of the world.

Abraham’s first son was named Ishmael. His descendents became the founders of the Islamic faith.  The people of this religion (those who accept the holy book as the literal truth) believe that this part of the world belongs to them:  It was passed from its creator (Allah) to Abraham to Ishmael and then to Ishmael’s people, the Moslems.  They have a right to this land and an obligation to ‘hold dominion over it’ (another order from the holy book), meaning to remove any who try to share its wealth with force.  

Abraham’s second son, Isaac, was the patriarch of the Christian faith.  The people in this faith believe that Ishmael could not inherit because he was illegitimate.  (He was the son of one of Abraham’s slaves, fathered by Abraham.)   The first legitimate son was Isaac, who inherited this nation and all in it.  They also claim this nation as theirs.  Although their religion is more tolerant at this time than the Islamic faith, for most of history it was just as zealous and required everyone to contribute to ‘crusades’ to drive the ‘moors’ (people descendent from Ishmael) from the ‘holy land’ (their name for the nation that the deity created and gave to Abraham to pass down to his heirs.)  

Abraham then had 12 more sons, all illegitimate.  These became the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel, and founders of the Jewish faith.  They claim that there is no natural law that requires the first born (or first legitimate) son to inherit.  It depends on the wishes of the benefactor.  In this case, they claim that Abraham was told by the creator that he had chosen these 12 sons to inherit.  So, the land went to them and now belongs to those who meet the standards set in the book to be members of the Jewish religion. 

As you read this, people are being killed in this war. It has been ongoing for more than a thousand years.  It is complicated by the fact that some of the world’s largest oil reserves are located in the lands defined in the first bequest.  The people who are fighting over this land use every tool they can think of to motivate people to participate in the battles on their sides.  Many of the people in these fights truly believe that they are fighting over the land, not because of its strategic significance, but because they are acting under a direct mandate from the all-powerful all-knowing creator of everything.  


Religion provides one kind of rationalization for the inconsistency between what our latent instincts tell us to do (fight and kill to define a territory and defend it) and what our logical minds tell us to do.  There are others. 

One common rationalization involves creating a name for the group that controls each part of the world and then claiming that it a wonderful entity (almost godlike in its power) that gives us everything worth living for, including liberty, justice, freedom, equality, bravery, courage, the beauty of the purple majestic mountains and of the sunset shining over the sea.  The early city-states all had names.  Fiayum, for example, was almost certainly one of the earliest city states ever built.  Children would be taught that there was such a thing as the ‘state of Fiayum.’  It had a separate existence from the existence of the individual people who lived there:  The people would change constantly as old people died and new citizens were born but the state would continue to exist forever. 

The state didn’t kill everyone who did anything at all the people who ran the state disapproved of.  The ones who ran the state could therefore tell people, honestly, that they gave them liberty and freedom:  there were some things they could do without checking with the authorities and getting approval.  They were at liberty in these areas and had the freedom to act as they wanted, as long as they followed the law.  This liberty and freedom was givento them (or so the schools can tell them) by the state.  The state had an organized structure and laws.  People who violated these laws were punished.  The people who ran the state could therefore honestly tell the people that their wonderful state gave them something they would not have if they lived in a less tolerant state:  Justice.  Even if they had no real elections over any issue whatever, they could claim it was a democracy if they every asked anyone their opinion on any topic whatever, even if they didn’t have any obligation to consider the opinion.


The United States tells its chidlren that the country is a democracy.  But there has never been a federal election (where the people participated) on any topic whatever.  (There is no provision in the United States constitution to submit any topic whatever to a binding popular vote.  You may understand why this would have been impossible in early years, because the great majority of the humans inside the borders were either ‘Indians’—which the constitution says ‘shall not be counted’ for purposes of representation—or either white or black slaves, who were considered to be some percentage of a person each.  Clearly, a popular election wouldn’t work then.  Later, both white and black slaves were freed and slavery was elimited.  Very recently, the ‘Indians’ gained ‘personhood’ and citizenship.  It might be possible to now have a binding popular election on topics.  But the laws have not been changed and this has not happened.  Topics are always decided on by the entity called ‘the government.’  The people have no say in this.) 

Only one federal official is chosen in anything that resembles a national popular election: the president.   But this is not a real election, it is simply a kind of popularity contest that is not binding.  (Voters may not realize this, but they are not voting for a person, they are voting for ‘electors.’  There are two parties, both of which have ‘slates of electors’ for each state.  The voters choose the electors.  The electors then choose the president.)  Close to half of the time, the person with the most votes is not selected in this election.  Even when this happens, however, there is frequent controversy over the results, because they are very easy to manipulate. 

This means that no issue or person has everbeen submitted for a binding popular election in the history of the United States.  This is just one example; nearly every state/nation in the world today makes similar claims and, if you look closely at them, you will see they are just as false.


When I lived in China I visited some schools and listened to the children singing.  In one song they waive their hands to the sky and wiggle their fingers.  I asked the teacher why.  She said that the songs lyrics said that Mao (considered to be the father of the country) makes the flowers grow and causes the sun to shine. 

No logical person could really claim that Mao Zedong, the founder and first leader of the country now called the ‘People’s Republic of China,’ is responsible for the sunshine or the flowers.  But children who sing this over and over may have a part of their minds that tells them that he is somehow more responsible for good things than the average person.  When they grow up, if people criticize Mao, they will instinctively feel a little resentment:  one of the great heroes of their county is being blasphemed.  As young adults, many will join the military and have to swear allegiance to their country and its leaders.  (This is the oath of enlistment that all must take, translated into English:  ‘I am willing to be under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party, serve the people wholeheartedly, obey the orders and discipline, be brave in battle; and under no circumstances would I betray the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Liberation Army.’) 

What are they fighting for?  Is the ‘People’s Republic of China’ even a real thing?  Would it even exist if the people stopped accepting it was real in their imagination?  Does it really give everyone born inside the borders freedom, justice, liberty, and equality?  Somehow, the school books are able to make a case that the country is real and does actually bring these things.  But there is scientific analysis behind this.  Logic tells us that is an imaginary construct and couldn’t bring people freedom, justice, and liberty any more than Santa Claus could bring these things.  This is just a rationalization:  an argument designed to make something that doesn’t make sense appear to make sense.

As the apes evolved into humans, some of the realities of their world around them would change.  But the basic forces that determined the realities of their societies would not really change.  The chimps were influenced by forces that pushed them to form into groups that were territorial.  The forces described above pushed them to remove members of their species that are not members of their groups from land, define borders, and patrol the borders.  These same forces operate for humans today and almost certainly operated at all of the levels of evolution in between. 

There would be some differences, but they would mainly involve the different tools and techniques that were used to fight over land and instill patriotism and group loyalty into the minds of children.  As they got more intelligent, they were able to do this better and better. 


The Areas where the Hippie Apes Lived

The group territoriality societies couldn’t exist everywhere.  They could only exist in places where production was high enough that the individuals in the group could support themselves and get everything they needed without any need to migrate.  They can’t defend a piece of territory if they can’t stay there.  Once they left their territory, they wouldn’t be able to live as they had lived before. They would have a different kind of society.

Only a tiny amount of land is able to support a permanent group of people constantly, without any need to bring in resources from the outside.  The rest of the land may be extremely productive and produce a great deal of grain or other resources.  But if it can’t produce enough to feed the people who involved in production plusall of the people needed to build and maintain the walls and defend the land, it can’t have this kind of society.  It must have some other kind of society.

This is true for apes and it is also true for humans.  Ape researchers saw a dramatic split between groups that live in areas with different geographies.  They saw such dramatic differences in the way the different apes lived that they thought the apes in the less productive lands were a different species.  In most areas, the apes would have to travel to meet their needs, at least for somepart of the year.  This made it impossible for them to define a territory with borders and defend them.  The groups  that lived in these areas had to scratch and work just to get enough to keep them alive.  They required large amounts of land to keep them alive and it was not practical for them to patrol borders constantly on this land to keep outsiders away. 

We all know from the realities of the world around us that building and defending borders is fantastically expensive.  Apes that triedto do this, when it just wasn’t practical, would have wasted a lot of effort they could have used to get food.  They would not be as well fed or healthy as those who didn’t waste this time and, when hard times came, nature would ‘deselect’ them for survival. 

Cooperation would bring rewards in the less productive areas that it wouldn’t bring in areas where people could live behind borders and never leave the bordered area.  People in the areas with group territoriality societies didn’t have to get along with outsiders.  They could live even if they never had peaceful contact with outside groups at all. 

In the less productive areas, most groups couldn’t meet all of their own needs, even with migration.  Consider, for example, the different tribes of people who lived in the Americas before the conquest started.  Some followed animals and hunted them.  They had plentiful meat and skins.  But you can’t really remain healthy if you only eat meat and they could only effectively use a tiny fraction of the skins they got themselves.  They would have wanted camas for tortillas, onions, potatoes and other roots, beans, apples, berries, mushrooms, sugar (made from the syrup of the maple trees), eggs, rice, and other foods that they wouldn’t have time to gather following the migratory animals.  Different groups could hunt or gather many other items.  They could then come together for the kinds of events that were called ‘pow-wows’ in the pre-conquest American communities. 

They would find ways to share and trade. 

Evolution would reinforce this kind of cooperative behavior.  Groups that engaged in it would be able to meet their needs better than groups that didn’t.  The more cooperative groups would be ‘selected’ by evolution for survival, while those that weren’t cooperative would be selected for elimination.

If it were possible to observe these groups from an objective perspective (say as would a group of scientists studying earth history from a remote place where they couldn’t interfere), we would expect to see levels of cooperation increase over time.  Even the pre-human simians would find ways to cooperate with each other.  But as they evolved into humans, they would find better ways to do this.  Later, we will look at the literature written by people who lived with the pre-conquest American people and wrote about the experience. We will see that they had items they used as stores of value.  These things were money to them.  (Aztecs used gold, silver, copper, and cotton for money.  The people who traveled with Cortez note that the markets were far larger with a much larger variety of good than were available in Europe.  Lewis and Clark talk a lot about ‘Indian money,’ and complain that the government had not given them enough to finish the journey:  they ran out and had to resort to theft in the later stages of their trip.)    

As they made the transition through levels of evolution (described below) to become humans, they would get better and better at finding ways to organize themselves so they could avoid conflict.  They would get good at this.

This doesn’t mean there would never be any conflicts.  Primitive emotions take hold from time to time and no amount of reason can prevent a fight.  (Teenage and young adult boys will fight over girls.  You can talk to them all you want and tell them how bad it is to fight.  But they will do it anyway.)   It just means that the basic pressures on them will push them to find ways to get along with others, to avoid confrontation, to avoid possessiveness toward land or anything the land can produce. 

If genetic profiles in certain groups pushed people to such fits of hatred or territorial possessiveness that the groups couldn’t get meet their needs (because they couldn’t get things their enemies had or because they spent so much time fighting they didn’t have time to hunt and gather the things they needed), that group would be deselected for survival.  The groups that found ways to get along better would be selected for survival.  Over time, the pressures would act on their societies. 


A little about sex:

The realities of sex and families are dramatically different in these two societies.  Many writers discuss this difference in great detail.  Captain Cook was the first European explorer to visit Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Aleutians, the far north of Siberia, and dozens of other places in the Pacific.  He wrote about everything he saw, including the sexual and family practices of the people.  You can find his journals in the references section of the website.  He notes that these other cultures did not have the male-dominated system of his home culture, where each man ended up with one woman, who was essentially his property from the time the state issued their license to have sex (marriage license) until death. 

The rules for sex and families were actually quite consistent in these other societies. (The best analysis of this I could find is from Lewis Morgan, as listed in the book ‘ancient societies.’  Morgan lists hundreds of references for his data that you can follow like a trail to get a very detailed picture of people in these ‘ancient societies’ as he called them lived.)  Different rule systems worked better in these societies than in the group territoriality societies.  Generally speaking, the rules in these other societies were much more liberal than those in the type of society Cook and Morgan were from.  Women could have sex with whoever they wanted to have sex with:  they did not belong to their male mates.  Families were also dramatically different.  The famillies in these other societies were what Morgan calls ‘matrilineal’ and ‘matriarchal.’  This basically means that the family name, status, and property passed from mother to her children, and the important decisions regarding family life were made almost entirely by females.  This contrasts with societies this book calls ‘group territoriality societies’ (Morgan calls them ‘property based societies’) which  are patrilineal and patriarchal (family name, status, and wealth passes from father to son and fathers are primary decision makers in families). 

When researchers first started to study bonobos in the 1960s, they noted entirely different sexual and family relationships in the bonobo systems than in the chimp systems.  The bonobos acted a lot like the people called ‘communists’ in dealing with their infants:  the bonobos divided themselves into matriarchal groups (groups consisting of a few dozen females) and these groups raised all infants of all females in the group collectively, with no real priority given to them by their birth mothers.  Morgan describes the exact same system in all of the human groups with what he called ‘ancient societies’ that still existed that he studied.  In both of these systems, the birth fatherdidn’t really have any role in raising offspring.  (As Morgan notes, males in the ‘ancient societies’ are educated by males who take on this role and practice it without any preference for ‘their own’ children; in fact, they often don’t know who ‘their own children’ are, since their societies have no requirement for sexual exclusiveness.)   At the time, a movement was underway called the ‘sexual liberation’ movement which advocated giving women the right to choose who they would have sex with and whether or not they would be capable of conceiving when they had sex.  The establishment was against this and there were laws against it.  But the people called ‘hippies’ simply disregarded these laws.  They found ways to get birth control devices to women who wanted them and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.  The female hippies often took advantage of this by having sex with anyone they wanted.  Researchers saw that the bonobos were acting a lot like the ‘hippies’ and called them ‘hippie apes.’

Sex and family are instructing topics, but others deal with them much better than I can, so if you are interested I refer you to the above books.  If you want to take a mental journey through many places that have other societies, read Cook’s journals.  If you want an academic study of the forces behind sexual practices and family relationships, read Morgan’s book. Both are available in the references section of the website. 


Evolution is a complicated process.  It selects both at the group and individual level.  The groups must adapt to the realities of life in the areas where they live.  If they do, they are selected for survival.  It also selects the more capable and intelligent individuals withineach group for survival. 

In societies built on group territoriality, each group had limited resources.  Some individuals were better at getting these resources.  They had advantages over their peers.  When times were hard and there wasn’t enough food to support everyone, some people would perish from want, malnutrition, hypothermia, or opportunistic diseases that fed on their malnutrition or otherwise inferior living conditions.  The more intelligent and capable would survive.  Over time, the average  intelligence of the most capable primates increased. 

The simians advanced through a chain of steps that is only now being explored.  Different groups evolved in different ways.  In some cases, there were dramatic differences changes between groups.  These differences often got so great that, when they did get together, they either didn’t want to have sex with each other or did, but then were so different they couldn’t give birth to viable offspring.  At this point, a new species had evolved.  In most cases, the new species had such great advantages over the one in the previous link that the lower species couldn’t compete and went extinct.  By this process, evolution led, step by step, from the primitive simians to modern humans.  

How did this happen?

We are developing tools that are very powerful that can eventually help us answer this question with great precision.  So far, however, these tools haven’t been around enough for us to use them to work thought the steps in a scientific way.  However, I think it helps a great deal if we piece as much information was we have together to work though the way this process most likely happened, and consider this to be a working theory.  As time passes, and we gain more information, we can revise it.  In the meantime, we can use it as a crutch to help us create a mental picture that we can use to help us get an idea how the basic forces in our past worked:


The Theory of Human Cultural Evolution

Sometime more than 1.2 million years ago, homo erectus, the first primate species to ever be found out of Africa, gained the use of fire.  These beings were not nearly as intelligent as modern humans.  But they were far smarter than their simian ancestors. 

These beings migrated down the Nile River.  Almost certainly, these first explorers did not originate in the stationary territorial communities of the Pan Troglodytes, with their sedentary lifestyles, stationary communities, and enforced borders.  These animals were conditioned to be territorial and colonial, by the forces discussed above.  They were used to living in dense communities.  They were afraid of outsiders.  They were aggressive and intolerant.  They were used to sleeping in the same beds/nests every night.  Almost certainly, these beings wouldn’t have taken the step of leaving the safety and security of a constant food supply to head out and explore the vast unknown. 

The bonobos would have been used to traveling.  The didn’t ‘own’ any part of the world and couldn’t sleep in the same beds every night.  If they traveled anyway, why not go someplace different once in a while?  There is a vast river.  Wild rice grows all along that river.  Birds flock to the area and make nests, so eggs are always plentiful.  The river teems with thousands of different kinds of fish.  Some of the simians with very adventurous spirits would head down the river a few miles.  They would then know what was there.  This would be a part of their migratory habitat.  A few years later, their habitat would be a few miles down the river.  The apes living on the river would live differently than the ones who weren’t quite as adventurous and remained in the jungles.  In time, they would start to look different.  They would become a new species. 

We probably went through several steps to get from the bonobos to homo erectus.  (For example, Australopithecus afarensis may have been a step in the transition, or it may have been a different branch of the tree than homo erectus.)  But eventually, homo erectus existed.  These beings clearly traveled a great deal.  We know that they had mastered the use of fire and wore clothing as of 1.2 million years ago.  We don’t know for sure when they got these abilities. 


The Naked Ape

In his book ‘The Naked Ape,’ Desmond Morris explores the way that humans developed the one characteristic that he claims sets us apart from all other apes:  our nudity.  We have no protection against rain (which hair deflects), cold, sharp objects; our skin is thin and tender; it burns extremely easily with ordinary sunlight and freezes at the freezing temperature of water.  We can’t walk through ordinary swamps without protection and can be torn to pieces by the claws of animals that are a tiny fraction of our own size.  Mosquitoes and parasites love us:  few animals have skin as easy to penetrate as ours.

How did this come to pass? 

Morris argues that our nudity indicates that we have to have had clothing and fire for hundreds of thousands of years.  (He wrote during times when people believed nothing, including humans, was more than 6,000 years old.) 

Evolution doesn’t like to waste resources.   It takes resources to build extra layers of skin, extra layers of fat, and the kinds of hair that can protect us from the weather.  If two groups have clothing and fire, and one of them develops genes that use resources for intellect (rather than building thick skin and layers of fat), but the other doesn’t, the group that uses its nutritional resources for intellect will have advantages in competition for resources.  Nature will ‘select’ it for survival and deselect the group that wastes resources. 

This process takes a very long time.  But eventually, we would expect to see homo erects descendants that didn’t look anything like the ones that left Africa.  They would look more like the species ‘homo sapiens denisova’ or ‘denisovan man,’ who we know lived in the remote parts of Siberia.  Eventually, they would be a different species.  We know from DNA evidence that homo sapiens denisova traveled extensively.  Their genetic markers are everywhere.  During the last 400,000 years, we had four ice ages.  During these times, many species perished, as the land that had produced whatever they ate was covered with glaciers that were, in some cases, more than a mile thick.  Homo erectus was one of the species that didn’t make it.  Homo sapiens denisova, however, was far more intelligent and capable.  They survived these ice ages. 


Homo Habilis

In the meantime, the more aggressive and territorial primates were still in Africa.  Evolution acted on them too.  Individuals with greater intelligence or other capabilities had priority over breeding rights and food supplies.  They survived and spread their DNA.  Less capable individuals had disadvantages.  They had less offspring.  The average capabilities of the most capable beings gradually increased. 

Sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago, they also learned how to control fire.  They may have figured this out themselves, or they may have learned it from other hominid species (homo erectus or denisovans).  They also made clothing.  With these advantages, they were no longer limited to the jungles of central Africa.  They could spread out into other areas.

They began to spread down river, just as the homo erectus had before them. But this new species didn’t originate from the hippie apes.  It evolved from the territorial primates, probably chimps.  They were so different than the homo erectus (who were still living along the Nile) that they couldn’t interbreed with them.  They were a different species, the ‘homo habilis.’  

Like homo erectus, they lived in homes (which includes caves) that had heat and they wore clothing.  They began to evolve also.  Their extra hair and thick skin was an evolutionary liability to them, just as it was for the homo erectus.  Evolution favored thinner skin and less hair.  Eventually, they also became so different than their ape ancestors that they couldn’t or wouldn’t interbreed with them.  They became a new species. 

Originally, scientists called this species was called ‘homo neanderthalis.’  Recent research has shown that they are the same species as we are now, but a different subspecies.  They are homo sapiens with the subspecies of neanderthalis. The neanderthals were not nearly as prone toward adventure and exploration as the denisovans.  We know this because both kinds of DNA markers from denisovans are found all over the world.  The only place where both key kinds of genetic markers are found in modern inhabitants is Europe.  (See map below) 


Qqqq map of neanderthal markers


Two kinds of DNA.  All sexually reproducing plants and animals have two kinds of DNA.  Nuclear DNA is a mixture of the DNA of two parents.  We also have important strucctures called ‘mitochondria’ that are everywhere in cells (not just in the nucleus).  The mitochondrial DNA onlypasses down the female line.  (Yours comes from your mother; there is no impact on this from your father.

We find neanderthal DNA markers for nuclear DNA everywhere.  However, we only find neanderthal markers for mitochondrial DNA in the areas shown in the map above.  This indicates that female neanderthal either didn’t travel, traveled but didn’t have sex in their travels, had sex but couldn’t proudce viable babies outside of Europe, or, if they did travel and got pregnant, they all returned to Europe to raise their families.  You can find detailed analyisis of this, with  references, in this article on the Smithsonian’s Institute of human Origins website.


Neanderthals descended from groups that had highly territorial societies.  These societies tended to spread by a process of colonization.  Where groups of individuals traveled to other areas that had productive land.  They then created a ‘colony’ there.  They lived much as they had in their previous territorial area.  The colony grew and eventually became so crowded that there wasn’t enough food available to support everyone.  (Remember, the had walls that were very high and lived off what could be produced inside these areas.)  They would then head out to look for a new place to colonize.  

They seemed to be extremely reluctant to cross desolate areas.  If you look at satellite images, you will see there is really only one path of migration open to them that doesn’t require them to cross immense parcels of desolate land, and also takes them through areas that would have been ice free during the ice ages:  they would have to travel to the north, through what is now Israel, then Lebanon, Turkey, and into what is now Greece and then to western Europe.


Why not eastern Europe?  If you look at temperature map you will see the reason quickly.  (This is the map I use.  It shows current temps and forecast for the next 7 days globally.)   Western Europe is kept warm by ocean currents, particularly the gulf stream, that keeps the land considerably warmer than eastern Europe.  During the ice age, the glaciers would have covered eastern Europe.  


Homo sapiens sapiens

Neanderthals bred with denisovans.  As noted above, in most of the world this appears to have been one way:  male neanderthals breeding with female denisovans.  In some areas, the DNA evidence indicates only a tiny bit of mixing, perhaps only one sexual encounter in thousands of years.  But it was enough to mix the nuclear DNA of the two species, creating a new species.  

This new species eventually evolved into us.  We are a mixture.  We are part neanderthal and part denisovan.  We have DNA from both. 

Not all of this DNA is equal.  Some of us have very strong neanderthal markers and very weak denisovan markers.  Some have very strong denisovan markers and very weak neanderthal markers.  This creates a great variety of people with a great many different genetic characteristics. 


You will find articles on the internet that claim that people with Negro heritage have no neanderthal DNA, making them different than the rest of the human race.  But this isn’t true.  Early studies excluded these people and those who are always looking for an excuse to think of some people as a different ‘race’ than humans seized on this as evidence to back up their claims.  But after they were tested this was found to be false.  All humans have both neanderthal and denisovan DNA.  See this study for one source.


This is us.


Two Cultures

Although the neanderthal DNA spread worldwide, their culture did not spread worldwide.  In all but Europe, the incursion of DNA was very tiny and came onlyfrom the male side.  In other words, there is no evidence of female neanderthal DNA anywhere but Europe.  This tells us that the DNA almost certainly came from a few adventurous males who traveled into areas where denisovans lived and had sex with the women the found.  The strength of the markers outside of Europe is so low that it may well have come from one single neanderthal man who traveled to a few areas that had denisovan, had sex, and came home. 


If you read the journals of Lewis and Clark’s journals, or those of Captian Cook, or those of any other European explorer, you will see how this could have happened.  Explorers from the colonial/territorial cultures did not bring women with them.  Their parties only had men.  The men had things their culture could make that the cultures they visited had never seen.  They could give these things as gifts and, as the accounts above indicate, the women gave sex in return.  The men then traveled on, generally going back to their homes.  The women had babies and raised them just as if they had been sired by people in their own culture.   


The neanderthal cultures remained in Europe.  The denisovan cultures spread everywhere else.  Given enough time, the neanderthal cultures would spread.  But by 26,000 years ago, they had not spread beyond Europe. 

When the first known humans crossed the bearing strait into America 26,000 years ago, they had the more liberal, tolerant, cooperative, and less territorial societies of the denisovans.  The people spreading from Siberia were thousands of miles (across barren landscapes) from the nearest neanderthal cultures.  They probably wouldn’t have even know that these other cultures existed.  As far as they were concerned, there was only one way humans could live. 

Most of America was covered by ice sheets until about 10,000 years ago.  Some people were able to travel anyway and there were people in the Americas before the ice melted.  But not many.  After the glaciers were gone, the land could support much higher populations and the population grew. 

Meanwhile, in Afro-Eurasia, people were traveling and trading.  People from denisovan cultures traveled to Europe, from time to time, and saw the way the neanderthal cultures there worked.   Some of these people then went to rich areas that could support the territorial systems and formed systems modeled after the territorial systems they saw there. 

People would be raised in these territorial societies.  They would have mostly denisovan DNA but they would adopt the neanderthal cultures.  The people in rich areas would build border walls and defend them, just as the first neanderthals in Europe built border walls and defended them.  China, India, Japan, and the Indonesian islands would eventually have these territorial societies, or versions of them.  (There are still major differences between the culture of Asia and that of Europe, but they are built on the same foundation.) 

Eventually, all land that was productive enough to justify colonization would be found and colonized by people with the territorial societies.  But this would not spread to the Americas, at least not until 1493.  For the first 25,600 years of their history, the societies of the Americas would be built on the tolerant, passive, cooperative, and non-confrontational systems of the denisovans. 


The Theory of Human Cultural Evolution

This appendix explains a theory

I don’t claim it is a ‘principle.’

We don’t yet have the tools to test this theory.  We will soon, and hope it will be tested soon.  But until we have evidence to confirm it, it is a theory.

A theory is a guess. 

It is the way we startto understand something.  We see things happening. We look for some sort of explanation for them.  At times, we can’t do much more than guess.  We make guesses about what factors may account for what we see. 

We live in a very strange world.  It works in ways that don’t make sense.  Horrible things happen all the time.  If we can’t understand why these things happen, we can’t do anything to stop the horrible events.  We need to start with theories. 

As we go through history in the next few chapters, we will see a lot of things that are hard to explain (many impossible to explain) without some kind of theory to help us understand the way human cultures came to work as they do.  If the above theory is correct, and we accept it (even if just as a working theory), just about everything that follows in history falls right into place and seems to make total sense.  There may be flaws in the details, but I think that, when  we have evidence, we will find that the basic framework above provides a very solid foundation that can support an understanding of the way our societies came to work as they do now.