Human evolution theory utilizing concepts of neoteny & female sexual selection
An etiology of neuropsychological disorders such as autism and dyslexia, and the origin of left handedness.
Gerald Holton describes differences between the theories that scientists use to communicate their ideas and the processes these same theorists experience while creating those ideas. Theories are the bridge that makes the ideas useful, and sometimes understandable. But theories do not often reveal evidence for how the ideas came about. Until we understand an idea's or an individual's ontogeny, can we really comprehend a theory or a human being?
Snake on bone from Spain
From Alexander Marchack's (1972) The Roots of Civilization. p. 211
Today's theorizing environment which is committed to a reductionist, narrative frame of reference has had some disturbing consequences in theory formation. Creative theorizing has decreased as the ability of human intuition to make non-sequential, leaps of holistic understanding has been de-emphasized, even proscribed. For proof of a theory, science makes the powerful, reasonable and useful demand that conclusions be based on experiments with results that are reproducible by other researchers and that successfully support predictions formed through the theory (Popper, 1959). Though inspiration for the theory can come from other sources (Popper, 1959), to be both a good scientist and a 'mystic' is untenable to many contemporary practitioners of science.
The theory and model presented at this website were created under unusual circumstances. After a year and a half of research on the origin of dragon myths, I worked my way back more than 5,000 years to the source of many of these myths; the mythology of the serpent deity found in cultures throughout the planet. I read and studied serpent and dragon myths of Australia, the Americas, Africa, the Orient and continental pre-Indo-European cultures. It seemed that most dragon myths had their origins in serpent gods, who were demonized during the conversion to patriarchal social structures. To the indigenous peoples, the serpent god was a primary deity or symbol in their global, nature worshipping, female centered, dance and song driven tribal culture. The similarities found among these early myths suggested a central hypothesis that our cultural origins began in female centered tribes which slowly evolved toward patrifocal social structures 40,000 to 100,000 years ago when anatomically modern humans began their diaspora from Africa.
From Robert Foley's (1987) Another Unique Species. p. 264
I experienced a number of revelations spreading out from the central hypothesis. From the first evidence of these myths found on carvings on bone, stone and antler around 35,000 BC, these now familiar stories coalesced into a deep sense that there are parallels to be found between the evolutionary underpinnings of biology and culture. I felt like I was standing on the threshold of a passageway that was leading me to a hidden treasure.
"The snake and its abstacted derivative, the spiral, are the dominant motifs of the art of Old Europe, and their imaginative use in spiraliform design throughout the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods remained unsurpassed by any subsequent decorative style until the Minoan civilization, the sole inheritor of Old European lavishness. The Chalcolithic Butmir, Cucuteni, and East Balkan peoples created large bulbous vessels, adopted the snake-spiral as the bases of the entire ornamental composition. This art reached its peak of unified symbolic and aesthetic expression c. 5000 BC." (Marija Gimbutas (1974) The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. Univ. of California Press, Berkeley p. 93)
I made a conscious decision to follow the path. I soon felt myself to be straddling a central source flowing through many of the sciences. What began as an exploration of our mythic sources I sensed to also be an examination of our biological and cultural origins. I felt bathed in the very powerful feeling of there being a deep connection between divergent disciplines. The feeling grew stronger over a period of months and I continued to allow myself to follow the currents as I immersed myself in the study of ancient culture and mythology, evolutionary biology, hominid evolution and associated disciplines. Anomalies and patterns in several disciplines became clearly delineated crests and waves, surging toward me, suggesting themselves to be closely tied, interconnected.
Then, on an autumn Saturday afternoon in 1997, while reading a magazine from the grocery store, I noted a reference to a recent study suggesting that infants can learn the rudiments of sign language earlier than they learn their first words. I remembered another paper, published over twenty years ago (Condon, 1974), that described how infants as young as a day old make physical micro-movements in association with specific patterns of speech and sound. Babies engage in specific "steps" with their hands, feet and bodies in direct association with the specific repeating words and sounds of their environment. This suggested to me that dance may have preceded spoken language, and that dance and gesture, not speech, may have been the bridge that humans were passing over when they acquired facility with symbol and sign.
"From Neolithic vilages to organized state, from gardening to irrigation farming, from inconography to writing, from disorganized raids to institutionalized warfare, from custom to law, from matriarchal religious authority to patriarchal political power, from mystery to history; the transformation was so complete that the past itself was reinvented to create a new foundation for a radically altered present. Now that we ourselves are moving into a radically altered present, it is small wonder that the patriarchal image of prehistory is disintegrating. The movement into the future always involves the revisioning of the past." (Thompson, W.I. (1981) The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light. St. Martins Press: New York p. 208)
My whole adult life I have experienced an attraction to anomalies and the patterns that connect disparate fragments unconsciously gathering these elements during thirty years of reading in science and the humanities. Suddenly, I experienced a cascade of realignment, culminating in an evolutionary explanation of the origin and structure of health and disease. The nature of language and split consciousness and their biological and cultural roots became part of the unified theory of biology and culture. The process of theory formation became part of what the theory explained. The serpent's tail had circled back into its mouth.
My training is as an artist. You can evaluate this as a work of art, as a modern origin myth incorporating that class of details most familiar or acceptable to our culture, archeological discoveries and results from scientific experiments. I would like you to consider taking these words in an additional way, as this work is also intended, as a theory and model generating predictions for actions that can be taken to prevent and reduce symptoms in a number of diseases. This work is more than an artistic epiphany, it is also a revolutionary theory of biological and cultural evolution with profound medical implications.
This introduction explores three passageways into shift theory from three established areas of study. Other entrances will be to alluded to but not focussed on in this website. I'm hoping that approaching the theory from these three avenues will make the theory accessible to both people familiar with the established paradigms and more casual readers. The three passageways we're concentrating on are: evolutionary biology, emphasizing evolutionary theory and hominid evolution; cultural anthropology, emphasizing mythology and cultural evolution; and neuropsychology and medicine, emphasizing the etiology and structure of several specific diseases.
The serpent was the initial inspiration for this work and we are using our serpent to give body to shift theory. The serpent can get to its lair through any and all of its passageways. Now imagine that the serpent of our hidden lair, the core of shift theory, has four layers of skin which represent four aspects involved in our evolution. Like the contractions and relaxations of the serpents body that seem to effortlessly carry it forward, shift theory hypothesizes that it is shifts in the rate and timing of development and maturation that drive biological and cultural evolution. Shift theory evidences a multi-layered consilience or coherence, expressing a convergence and unification of formerly divergent ideas and practices.
photos from Ontogeny and Phylogeny p. 355
We continue in our serpent metaphor to identify four layers of skin (outermost first): environment, selective processes, hormonal intermediaries, and changing rates of development and maturation. Each of these aspects has been explored within the three disciplines (sometimes under other names) though rarely together, or in the context of being part of the larger process, the living serpent of evolution as it carries itself forward. This work will explore this process as it manifests itself in human beings and hominid evolution. Biological aspects of shift theory apply to other species, especially mammals, but they are not the focus of our work.
The outer layer represents environmental influences. In addition to the influence of the environment outlined by Darwin through natural selection, shift theory details how the specific influences of light, fat as a percentage of total body weight, exercise, tobacco use, alcohol, stress, diet, and touch impact human evolution at the levels of both zygote creation (egg & sperm) and in utero development. Environmental factors also influence sexual selection through the relative adaptive utility of different social structures which will be explored later in this work.
The next layer represents the various selective processes. Natural selection and sexual selection act upon the whole body of the individual, the recognized sphere of the neo-Darwinians. The individual either survives to procreate or the individual does not. There is no half way. In the case of uterine and zygote selection an individual makes graduated responses to environmental change. The responses to environmental influences within the physiology of the individual creating the sperm or egg influence the structure of the zygote. The same influences apply to the embryo while it is gestating. Changes in the uterine environment change the features of the embryo.
The third layer to examine, once the first two layers have been shed, is the relative hormonal constellation of the individual. In shift theory we examine the effects of changing testosterone levels in some detail. We believe estrogen is just as influential, but there are very few studies exploring estrogen responses to environmental variables or estrogen influences on maturation rates in health and disease. While examining the third layer we will be exploring the influence that the environment has on testosterone levels within the body as it pertains to the uterus, egg creation, sperm creation, and on the larger scale of the general physiology.
The fourth innermost layer follows the changes in an individual as he or she matures, maturation speeding up or slowing down in response to testosterone levels in the locations (the uterus, egg creation, sperm creation, and on the larger scale of the general physiology) involved in the selective process. The timing of the changing rates of development and maturation can be very influential. In other worlds, when a rate change goes into effect or ceases can have as profound an influence on an individual's features as the actual speed of maturation.
We will follow our serpent through the passageways of the three disciplines, paying close attention as each skin is shed. The first passageway is through that of evolutionary biology. At present we are working on an addition to this work that will briefly outline the history of evolutionary theory and theories of hominid evolution to make it possible to understand the importance of the differences that shift theory emphasizes. With an opportunity to view evolution without the constraint of Darwin's firm conviction that natural selection must be random or his biased belief that female sexual selection could not have driven human evolution (interestingly, he was the first to propose the possibility), it becomes possible to experience evolution as a process unfolding in the present, influenced by any number of environmental factors. Contemporary evolutionary theory does not speculate that there are forces in our environment that, through the parent's hormonal physiology, actually change their children's physiological and neurological features, forces whose impacts were established during evolution; forces whose impacts eventually result in changes in our children's genetic structure. The impact of those forces provide the physiology of our children with a genetic history of response, with additional information about the environment, making it possible for these children to develop and mature with an increased likelihood of survival in the environment they are entering.
Several different theories were being fielded when Darwin and Wallace introduced their concepts in 1859. Darwin's words and metaphors were elegant, accurate and articulate. When paired with Mendel's genetic experiments discovered at the turn of the century, and August Weismann's suppositions that genetic material could not be effected by environmental influences, Darwin's theory eventually became widely accepted. With an almost religious fervor, most contemporary evolutionary theorists have tied themselves to Darwin's belief that the characteristics or features appearing in any progeny are derived randomly. It is the random element of Darwin's theory of natural selection that made unnecessary the potentially binding influence of a (transcendent) deity, a larger consciousness. Shift theory relieves natural selection of the constraints of a theory that does not permit a direct environmental influence on progeny creation by hypothesizing that random selection selects for species with the capacity to transcend the constraints of random variation.
"Nations of the world where an Indo-European language is either primary or recognized as an official language of state" (J. P. Mallory (1989) In Search of the Indo-Europeans. p. 264)
The second passageway, cultural anthropology, was my entry into envisioning the new perspective of shift theory. I acquainted myself with the history of mythology and comparative religion and the sexual politic at the root of cultural evolution. Joseph Campbell's work epitomizes the perspective that shift theory grabs hold of and runs with. Specifically, Campbell, Marija Gimbutas, Robert Graves, William Irwin Thompson, and Riane Eisler approach the history of culture as being founded on a female centered, matriarchal social structure that was assimilated, destroyed or co-opted by evolving patriarchal cultures. We are the inheritors of that merging of social structures. The theorizing tools used by contemporary theorists are mostly patriarchially derived, mostly Indo-European. These tools have provided the contemporary world with profound material and philosophical gifts. Yet the unbalanced emphasis has skewed our ability to perceive how exactly selective forces influenced our evolution. By winding our way through this second passage we give ourselves the opportunity to examine our presuppositional foundation in order to give ourselves the use of additional theorizing tools that can perceive how humans differ from non-humans and discern how biology and culture are derived from the same processes. Shift theory hypothesizes an outline of the evolutionary principles and the selective processes that explain how this dynamic came to pass.
An understanding of cultural evolution prepares us (in Section III presently on this web site) to explore how Indo-European perceptual and ideological presuppositions influence the kinds of theories that contemporary western culture can invent. Embracing an immanent deity back into science creates the opportunity for scientists to use their bodies as a channel for gathering information. Intuition and inductive reasoning become acceptable as a theorizing agents, not as theory proofs. (An immanent deity is present in all physical and non-physical manifestations. A transcendent deity can be independent of its creations). There is need for a reemergence of feeling as a vital valid sense for forming hypothesis from perceived and intuited experience. Shift theory points to the power of feeling as a simultaneous, three dimensional, non-narrative sense to be the balance to science's narrative, deductive forms. (see Perceptual Presuppositions)
Contemporary reductionism operates with a presupposition that consciousness is unique to the individual human. Calculating that consciousness is peculiarly human is a powerful belief with profound ramifications. In addition to the myriad gifts it confers, it throws a presuppositional fog over evolutionary theory and all the related sciences, including medicine.
We offer a second parallel presupposition, operating in cooperation with the first, in which consciousness is characteristic of the whole system. The origin and structure of many diseases has remained a mystery because the currently accepted presuppositional foundation doesn't encourage looking at parallel connections and patterns in the whole system. Shift theory unites numerous anomalies in neurology. anthropology, and evolutionary biology into a consilient whole.
The limits of the Western scientific presuppositions have made it a struggle to discern the central process at the root of cultural evolution, biological evolution, psychology and medicine. Shift theory hypothesizes the central process to be the effect of environmentally influenced selective processes on hormonally intermediated genetically predisposed changes in development and maturation, the four skins of our serpent; the revolutionary core of the thesis.
The third passageway explores patterns in human psychology, neurology, and physiology revealed by discoveries in neuropsychology in the last few decades, especially the last fifteen years. There have been stunning patterns uncovered that have not been explored in the context of evolutionary theory. Specifically, there is evidence that the forces responsible for hominid evolution in a matriarchal social structure are identical to the forces behind the creation of unique cultures and behind the patterns of psychological, neurological, and physiological maturation rates in individual humans. No studies have made these connections. Vistas open up when we cease to exclusively rely upon theories that presuppositionally demand that there are no connections between individuals and the environment besides those resulting from the 'fittest' surviving after random variation in natural selection. Genetically predetermined responses to environmental influences can be explored as a possible foundation of health and disease. Neuropsychology is exploring principles of relative rates of maturation with only a dim awareness that there is an area of evolutionary biology with a sophisticated 150 year history using these same principles.
Now that we have given you a glimpse into the three passageways, the easiest way to see and feel how exactly this serpent sheds its skins is to give a brief example of how it winds its way through the passageways just described.
It has been hypothesized by several scientists, particularly Stephen J. Gould, that a process of developmental delay, the carrying of infant features into adulthood called neoteny, is responsible for most of the differences between modern humans and the chimpanzee like progenitor from which we evolved. Carrying into adulthood the characteristics of an infant, human adults display a couple of dozen features like a chimpanzee infant, estimated to be like the infants of our 5 million year old progenitor (Gould, 1977). Examples of neotenous features such as: larger brain relative to body size of adult human is more like a chimp infant than a chimpanzee adult to a chimpanzee infant; human adults are hairless like an embryo; human adults smile similarly to the human or chimp infant; and vaginal positions, spinal locations relative to the skull, big toe structures, small jaw and teeth, etc. are all like our progenitor infants. Chimp adults display features far different from their infants than we do from our babies. And behaviorally, human adults display a characteristic love of fun and curiosity like their children. Chimps and humans share 98% of their DNA. The preceding examples point to changes in maturation rates as being the primary difference between humans and chimpanzees. The small degree of genetic difference between chimps and humans can be explained by the differences being mostly developmental; revised rates of maturation. "Humans and chimps are almost identical in structural genes, yet differ markedly in form and behavior. This paradox can be resolved by invoking a small genetic difference with profound effects--alterations in the regulatory system that slow down the general rate of development in humans." (Gould, 1977 p. 9) Another way of looking at this is that we spend more time as infants causing the carrying of infant features into adulthood. For example, by spending more time in the infant period of intense brain cell creation, far more brain gets created overall. The influence of changes in maturation rates and timing on the evolution of our species and other species forms a core of shift theory. That there are selective processes responsible for those changes and environmental triggers behind those selective processes are two of the radical notions hypothesized.
Rates of maturation in human individuals are influenced by cultural history. Patriarchal social structures select for female behavioral patterns that comply with male dominance patterns, picking females with the submissive characteristics of the very young. Submissive females have lower testosterone levels than more domineering women. The neotenous features described in the previous paragraph are characteristic of lower testosterone levels. Patriarchal culture selects for females with specific hormonal structures characterized by neotenous features resulting in the most 'beautiful' females in patriarchal culture evidencing highly neotenous features. In other words, in patriarchal society developmentally delayed females are highly valued and selected for. Matriarchal cultures evidence the complementary opposite selection criteria; females select for males with neotenous characteristics, males excelling in cooperative behaviors with less hierarchical posturing. The net result is that ethnicity directly reflects an individual's evolution via his or her selected hormonal processes affecting maturation rates. The implications are profound. In this work we will examine the physiological and behavioral differences between cultures derived from these two very different social structures. Features we will follow that are heavily influenced by selective processes on maturation rates include the maturation rates themselves, pubertal timing, testicle size, brain size, limb/height ratios, hormone levels, language structures, concepts of time, handedness appraisals, basal metabolic rates, twinning rates, relative locations of the vagina, gestation periods, and many other variables. For example, African and Asian cultures exhibit features reflecting their opposite proximities to female centered vs. male centered social structures. We have been able to find no papers investigating the relationship between social structure and theories of biological evolution as they pertain to changing rates and timing of maturation.
The most fascinating and useful element of shift theory is the possibility that the neurological diseases characterized by developmental delay and acceleration i.e., delayed speech and hyperactivity, are the direct result of these issues of culturally selected developmental or maturational change. Preventative medicine, in these pages, is potentially offered a vast array of tools with which to examine how exactly we effect the health, personality formation, and the skill clusters of our selves and our children. Many autistic males have a genetic history characterized by developmental delay, often complicated by parents having been exposed to environmental influences that induced further delays. A huge proportion of the human population, approximately 18 1/2 %, carries a genetic propensity toward male maturational delay. These are the ambidextrous, most of the left-handed and those right-handed individuals with left-handed parents. (The females of this group are maturationally sped-up or accelerated relative to the rest of the female population. Details in Section IV) Environmental influences affecting specific selective processes, push people and their progeny more toward one of the two maturational directions which can result in neurological diseases, cancers, and other maladies. The maturationally delayed are particularly vulnerable to these shifts.
The process of evolution, the rules of species transformation, evolves. The rules change. In this introduction we have followed the path of our serpent as it traveled through three passageways: evolutionary biology; cultural anthropology; and neuropsychology and medicine. We have examined four layers of skins shed by the serpent which represent four aspects involved in our evolution. We have come upon its hidden central lair, the core of shift theory. Like the contractions and relaxations of the serpent's body that seem to effortlessly carry it forward, we have introduced our theory in which we hypothesize that it is shifts in the rate and timing of development and maturation that drive biological and cultural evolution. Shift theory evidences a multi-layered consilience or coherence, expressing a convergence and unification of formerly divergent ideas and practices. This theory is unorthodox. Clearly, deductive reasoning, a narrative frame of reference, was not exclusively used when composing this theory. Yet we suggest the utility of this theory in Section IV where medical anomalies are explained and formerly hidden patterns are revealed through a description of the operation of transitional model 1.0. Be it artistic inspiration, mystic revelation, or both hemispheres (temporarily) working in concert, at the center of this work is a sense of wonder; a feeling of feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self.
This project began in 1996 as an exploration of the dragon in mythology. Descending down past the influence of the Indo-Europeans, my research focussed on the serpent and the mythologies of the goddess and aboriginal cultures around the world. I was charmed by the serpent. Caught in the snakes gaze, I stumbled out of my passageway into a chamber filled with treasure, treasure that we've been reading about in storybooks since we were kids. I feel that I've returned with riches. And I brought a friend.
The serpent has come full circle. The serpent has returned.