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On the Origin of Modern Mentalities

Feral baby + critical mass of ideas = Modern Mind
  (+15, -3)(+15, -3)
(+15, -3)
  [vote for,

The invention here is somewhat abstruse. Please read carefully before giving this the MFD for not actually being an invention. Thank you.

First, a Mystery:
According to the paleo-archeological record, about 50-70 thousand years ago, "socially significant" artifacts began to appear, such as flutes and decorated (with something like embossings) pottery, and painting. Prior to that, the human species existed in "anatomically modern form", according to the fossil record, for as much as 150 thousand years.

Well, if we have been physically modern for about 200 thousand years, why have we been mentally modern for only 60-or-so thousand years? That's the mystery.

At least one existing proposed explanation involves a mutation with respect to human brainpower, which is something that PROBABLY would not be able to survive in the fossil record (there's a small SMALL chance of some surviving DNA getting found for testing, but even it it exists, it must be found before that idea can be tested).

This Idea proposes a different solution to the mystery, and a much simpler way to test it.

So, now to piece together some relevant facts:
The explanation begins with observations of rare cases of human children being raised by animals, and which are generally called "feral children". They simply cannot be taught enough to become ordinary members of society. Key brain elements either never grew, during earliest childhood, or atrophied.

It is known that for a child to achieve full mental development, such as is normal for most children, an environment of intense mental stimulation is required, for several of the earliest years of growth. Feral children did not have such an environment.

And neither did ANY of the original humans, 200,000 years ago. All humans at that time must have qualified as "feral". However, they still had significant intelligence and were able to create some basic things like stone tools. (Even today, every human baby is "feral", and would remain so if deprived of sufficient mental stimulation.)

Likely they also created descriptive words, even if they did not create an actual language. As the millennia passed by, more and more total things got created, and needed to be taught to their children, although all humans were still "feral".

But, about 50-70 thousand years ago, the total amount of mental stimulation given to the children of that era reached a kind of "critical mass", and the result was, quite simply, that those children became the first mentally modern humans.

As actual evidence in support of how mental stimulation can achieve a degree of mental modern-ness, even for a non-human animal, consider the case of "Koko the gorilla" (see link). Her abilities are limited because her total brainpower, compared to humans, is limited. But she has ENOUGH brainpower, as did all humans for more than a hundred thousand years. It merely needed enough early-life stimulation!

Finally, the Test
Since it would be considered unethical to take human babies and deliberately deprive them of different amounts of exposure to mental stimulation, to discover which ones become "feral children", the opposite approach is recommended.

Take a bunch of gorilla babies, and raise them like Koko was raised, but for different lengths of time, so that some of them do not turn out like Koko (they remain feral), while others do turn out like Koko. Carefully keep track of all the data that these gorilla babies are being exposed to. We want to find the "critical data mass" value, the amount of data that triggers Modern Mentality.

Vernon, Apr 09 2011

About Koko the gorilla http://www.koko.org/index.php
As mentioned in the main text. [Vernon, Apr 09 2011]

Humans and Dogs http://www.rdos.net/eng/asperger.htm
On the divergence of dogs from wolves. [Vernon, Apr 10 2011]

About Feral Children http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_child
Humans raised by animals from their earliest years have definite things missing from their mental make-up, that the rest of us take for granted. [Vernon, Apr 11 2011]

(?) Molyneux's Conundrum http://www.physorg....ate-perception.html
There may be some argument made for a learning advantage given the preponderance of stimuli. [reensure, Apr 12 2011]

About Deductive and Inductive Logic http://www.psych.ut...ry/Cards/Logic.html
As mentioned in an annotation. It may be relevant that if you Google for exact phrases such as "can animals do induction", there are Zero results. [Vernon, Apr 12 2011]

About the Late Stone Age http://en.wikipedia...iki/Later_Stone_Age
As mentioned in an annotation. [Vernon, Apr 13 2011]

Tui beer http://www.youtube....watch?v=Fe47PWpQoks
Because men can't be trusted with it. [neelandan, Apr 13 2011]

Some stuff abot "throwing" http://www.pnas.org.../72/9/3748.full.pdf
As mentioned in an annotation, a growing ability of the homind ancestral line to throw things accurately would probably have needed to be accompanied by increasing brain size. [Vernon, Apr 17 2011]

Computational Linguistics, anyone? http://www.nature.c...ll/nature09923.html
"These findings support the view that—at least with respect to word order—cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure" [Vernon, Apr 17 2011]

Brain structure is not all-important http://www.bbc.co.u...nvironment-13049700
Some consequences of the article linked just above. [Vernon, Apr 17 2011]

Some more computational linguistics http://www.stuff.co...-mother-of-language
A new and controversial claim, which just happens (if true!) to imply that the Late Stone Age began at the same time as true language. [Vernon, Apr 17 2011]

The Naked Ape http://www.amazon.c...nimal/dp/0385334303
Anyone thinking humans are inherently superior to other animals needs to read this book. We are generally superior only in degree, not in kind. [Vernon, Apr 17 2011]

Deaf children invent a new sign language http://www.telegrap...-sign-language.html
[spidermother, Apr 18 2011]

Evolution of Human 'Super-Brain' Tied to Development of Bipedalism, Tool-Making http://www.scienced...04/110420125510.htm
Very recent article, no less. [daseva, Apr 20 2011]

Alex. Talking grey parrot http://en.wikipedia.../wiki/Alex_(parrot)
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Apr 21 2011]

Anderson Cooper visits the Great Ape Trust http://www.youtube....watch?v=qsUHuurFLXM
Happy easter! [jutta, Apr 24 2011]

clever pigeons http://www.zdnet.co...ar-old-children/951
[po, Apr 26 2011]

Perfect language http://books.google...oks?id=2sDMxqbibS0C
[pocmloc, Apr 28 2011]

Single mutation develops the cerebral cortex. http://www.scienced...04/110428123940.htm
[daseva, Apr 30 2011]

Blog Article http://vernonnemitz...he-great-awakening/
I finally got around to posting appropriate parts of this Idea elsewhere, a little more formally than what the HalfBakery provides. [Vernon, Sep 24 2013]

More about Alex the Parrot http://video.pbs.org/video/1777525840/
This video is about more than just Alex, but a significant portion of it is about Alex. [Vernon, Jul 05 2015]

Some things about early brain development and abstractions http://www.csub.edu/~mault/symbols.htm
Feral children can learn many abstractions (like names of things) but even dogs can do that much (see the preceding "Alex" link). Creatively manipulating abstractions, such as is required to use language well, takes place on another mental level, that more-feral children can't reach, while less-feral children sometimes can reach. [Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

Some specific information about brain development and feral children http://feralchildren.info/brain-biology/
[Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

More about brain development and feral children https://prezi.com/j...dren-and-the-brain/
[Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

Brain development and windows of opportunity for specialized growth http://www.house.mi...ee5-9-28-2011-1.pdf
[Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

Story of Chantek the Orangutan http://video.pbs.org/video/2365286726/
This story has a sad ending because a mind equivalent to a 3-year-old human, inside a body 10 times stronger than a human adult, is inherently problematic. (Koko the Gorilla is less problematic because Koko is a female, not as instinctively aggressive as males like Chantek.) [Vernon, Jul 08 2015, last modified Jul 09 2015]

About the strength of an orangutan https://www.youtube...watch?v=QfDxg0pJAX4
FYI [Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

Hand coordination without using the eyes https://www.youtube...watch?v=1xBlCIRpCMk
Just because it isn't easy. [Vernon, Jul 08 2015]

https://en.wikipedi...oking_Made_Us_Human [hippo, Jul 08 2015]

Experiment with foxes http://www.dailymot...periment_shortfilms
As mentioned in an annotation. [Vernon, Jul 09 2015]

Chimps can teach other chimps sign language http://articles.orl...loulis-chimp-washoe
[Vernon, Jul 09 2015]

Learning being passed on .... http://www.telegrap...l-intelligence.html
... including how to make weapons for hunting [xenzag, Jul 09 2015]

Hobbit http://www.pbs.org/...hobbit/brai-nf.html
Brain quantity is indeed not as important as brain quality --but Nurture is still important, too. [Vernon, Jul 09 2015]

Several brain sizes https://books.googl...v=onepage&q&f=false
As mentioned in an annotation. [Vernon, Jul 10 2015]

Gorilla vs Australopithecus https://books.googl...v=onepage&q&f=false
As mentioned in an annotation. [Vernon, Jul 10 2015]

Lloyd Pye - Everything you know is wrong https://www.youtube...watch?v=pe6DN1OoxjE
Some good arguments [bigsleep, Jan 07 2017]

Tori Allen http://www.sapienpl...r-woman-tori-allen/
As a child her favorite pet was a monkey, and she did a great deal of tree climbing. [Vernon, Jan 08 2017]

Bicameralism hypothesis https://en.wikipedi...ralism_(psychology)
Mentioned in my anno [notexactly, Jan 09 2017]

Pirahã tribe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3
Mentioned in my anno [notexactly, Jan 09 2017]

Perceptual hash https://en.wikipedi.../Perceptual_hashing
Mentioned in my anno [notexactly, Jan 09 2017]


       It's an interesting discussion, to which I can only add one informed comment and one opinion.   

       Comment: if there was a mutation which became widespread 60,000 years ago, it should not be too difficult to find it (although not very easy, either). Sequence analysis of ancient DNA can go back 100,000 years fairly easily, given good conditions (even further, in good cases). Moreover, such a relatively recent mutation will have left strong fingerprints in modern population genetics - we ought to be able to work it out even without ancient DNA.   

       Opinion: I don't know whether social changes were the result of genetic or social factors, but I doubt that the gorilla experiment would really settle the debate. The studies on Koko and other animals haven't really even settled basic questions on intelligence to everyone's satisfaction.   

       Your proposed experiment might well reveal how long a gorilla's brain remains plastic, but extrapolating such a subtle abstraction to humans is going to be qualitative at best - you're not going to be able to say "a gorilla needs this amount of mental stimulation before this age, therefore the same is true of humans".   

       It's equally likely that one of the main changes in the human brain has been the evolution of extended or increased plasticity (so that we can learn more and for longer), in which case the gorilla experiment is going to be quantitatively flawed.   

       Still, [+] for an interesting idea.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 09 2011

       The modern period started about 400 years ago. A substantial amount is already known about this, an incredible amount actually. Most of what you want to know could probably be attained through library research. Also, a wide variety of human societies still exist that can be observed without experimentation.
rcarty, Apr 09 2011

       What sort of period did women have before that?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 09 2011

       I believe the term is septicemia. It's really remarkable we've lasted this long.
rcarty, Apr 09 2011

       I'm interested in what caused the sudden explosion of intelligence too, but using "feral children" as a basis for an experiment seems a little dubious. Is there actual evidence for this ever happening?   

       FWIW, I'm partial to the theory that a changing environment caused humans to switch to eating mostly meat, and the extra energy and protein allowed the brain to fully develop.
DIYMatt, Apr 09 2011

       Somehow I knew this was going to be a post by Vernon Just from the title. +++   

       Considering what you brought up with feral children. I wonder how much more we could push infants and young children. Is there such a thing as too much stimulation?
bob, Apr 09 2011

       //is there such thing as too much stimulation?//   

       Yes, I think we're already getting there. Haven't you seen the ads for little einstein DVDs?
DIYMatt, Apr 09 2011

       Just like Einstein had.
rcarty, Apr 09 2011

       The idea here is that culture is cumulative. Other animals have culture, but in humans why is it cumulative? I think the relevant mutation involves singing; chimps do not sing. The ability to sing and remember songs allows the accumulation of knowledge. There should be a limited number of mutations that fit the bill and the arrival of that mutation in our line is the arrival of humanness.
bungston, Apr 10 2011

       Do you truly think little Einstein DVD's are bad for children? how so?
bob, Apr 10 2011

       ¶ Content of my annotation has moved to own idea: “Chimps Whistling Free Bird”.
Ian Tindale, Apr 10 2011

       // I wonder how much more we could push infants and young children.//   

       Speaking from very limited experience (I have one daughter, Maxwell Buchanan Junior, and also spent some of my early years as a child), I think "push" is the wrong term, but I'm sure some or most children can go much further much faster than is generally accepted.   

       When my daughter was young, I could sit and explain things to her indefinitely and great detail. I never raised the option that some things were "too difficult", and I never found a limit to what she wanted to absorb.   

       I have a theory that kids could happily learn subjects up to degree level by the age of 10 or 12, if it was just accepted that they could do so and if people just got on with it. It doesn't need "pushing". We just set this arbitrary schedule for learning, which is daft. The only exceptions might be subjects (like some aspects of music or the arts) which depend somewhat on having lived and experienced.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 10 2011

       //According to the paleo-archeological record, about 50-70 thousand years ago, "socially significant" artifacts began to appear, such as flutes and decorated (with something like embossings) pottery, and painting. Prior to that, the human species existed in "anatomically modern form", according to the fossil record, for as much as 150 thousand years.// I think this is your first problem...
4whom, Apr 10 2011

       applause for [Ian Tindale]'s chimps
pertinax, Apr 10 2011

       [bob] "Little Einstein" DVDs might be bad for children indirectly, by encouraging a certain attitude in the parents. e.g. "Oh Christ, little Bobby Tables flunked the pre-school entrance exam. No chance of Harvard now. How humiliating."   

       (Strictly speaking, of course, in that scenario it's the promotion of the DVDs that's harmful, rather than the DVDs themselves).
mouseposture, Apr 10 2011

       Two chimps, a huge improvement...
4whom, Apr 10 2011

       [DIYMatt], human ancestors such as Homo Erectus had stone tools and fire, also. They also ate meat. So, this aspect of humanity was already in place when Homo Sapiens came along. Having meat in the diet may have allowed the human brain to grow to its present normal range of sizes, but this happened 200 not 60 thousand years ago.   

       [bigsleep], I just looked up some information about when dogs and humans began routinely closely associating (link). A genetic analysis indicates that the relationship goes back twice as far as the origin of modern mentalities (but not before we became anatomically modern, with our current/existing nasal system). So, I would say that dogs were an added element to the total mental stimulation of young children, but not sufficient by themselves.
Vernon, Apr 10 2011

       [I T] - that seems to be something Cyriak would take up.
neelandan, Apr 10 2011

       I'm starting to like this idea better and better. Also agree with what MB said, maybe we should be teaching kids calculus while they can still absorb it.
DIYMatt, Apr 10 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], was your parenting style (explaining etc.) beneficial to your daughter?
As for //this arbitrary schedule for learning//, I think it's mostly 'lowest common denimonator' stuff - teach to the level of average (or slightly below), as that's really all you can do in a group-learning environment. Those that learn faster are often at a great disadvantage, ignored in favour of the 'average'.
neutrinos_shadow, Apr 10 2011

       //I have a theory that kids could happily learn subjects up to degree level by the age of 10 or 12, if it was just accepted that they could do so and if people just got on with it.//   

       I used to think this, but now I'm not so sure.   

       My theory is the brain has to be ready* to learn difficult concepts before they can be learnt. It's easy to see readiness to learn in young children, but I believe the stages of readiness to learn particular things continues until the age of about 25. Of course there is variations from the average about when someone (i.e. geniuses) could learn something.   

       I am not saying that the current methods of teaching (or the age at which kids are taught particular things) are optimal. Indeed, in contrast to your hypothesis that //kids could happily learn subjects up to degree level by the age of 10 or 12// it could actually be that some things are taught to kids too early.   

       Back to the idea itself, I think it is 'sailing close to the wind' of mfd. I don't know that ways of testing hypotheses belong in halfbakery (unless it involves using a novel invention).   

       *by 'ready' I don't just mean willing (although willingness is a pre-requisite for learning), but actually able.
xaviergisz, Apr 10 2011

       So, you think there is a critical mass of learning in youth that leads to them being smarter than their teachers (since in the original environment the teachers would have, by definition of the process we are investigating, less than modern mentality). Sounds like an event that would take place during a single generation, something seems very unnatural about that progression of events. My vote goes to the dog theory, so far.
daseva, Apr 10 2011

       What do you mean by "Modern Mentality" ? Are you using as a dividing line the point where conquering Mother Nature is a more-or-less a given for a member of society ? Or where mental and/or social prowess trumps, or is considered equal to, the physical ?
FlyingToaster, Apr 11 2011

       [daseva], "smarter than their teachers" depends on the definition of "smarter". In this Idea, the teachers were adult humans of 50+thousand years ago, who had not experienced sufficient brain stimulation in their early childhood. And the students who became "smarter" only did so because they did happen to experience sufficient brain stimulation in their early childhood.   

       Note that there are exceedingly few adults alive today who experienced insufficient brain stimulation in their early childhood. This Idea does NOT claim that some even-higher level of brain stimulation exists such that children exposed to it will hugely exceed their teachers in the way that happened 50+thousand years ago.   

       [FlyingToaster], I should have added a link (done) about "feral child" so readers could more clearly understand one of the key elements upon which this Idea is based. The mentalities of truly "feral" children are not like the mentalities of the rest of us.
Vernon, Apr 11 2011

       large group sociopaths ? "Raised by Wolves" limits non-lethal confrontationality to a close-knit group of <size of wolfpack>; by that theory RbW human children should fit into neighbourhood gangs best... of course "Raised by Baboons" children could probably be chucked right into the educational system without a splash.
FlyingToaster, Apr 11 2011

       [Vernon] my point wanders somewhat like this: You're saying we can boil water by getting a lot of hot water together. I doubt this. I think the water boils because of a steady confluence of external heat and pressure.   

       At some point, you think feral adults who never did reach the critical mass are going to somehow magically catalyze the grand leap into modern mentalities, and that's what I'm contesting. You try shooting me down by saying very briefly that "they did happen to experience sufficient brain stimulation in their early childhood". But how? Who gave it to them? Their idiot parents?
daseva, Apr 11 2011

       I am bunning for the idea that there is a tipping point in the teaching of culture. But I don't think bothering gorillas would tell us much about where it happened in humans (though it might confirm that it can happen).
baconbrain, Apr 11 2011

       I am extremely skeptical about the existence of true feral children. Imaging a wolf rearing a human toddler. The wolf pups grow up and begin to hunt. The wolf mom has a new litter. The human child turns 2. Human children are dependent for time periods equal to the entire lifespans of most wild animals.   

       I think that historic "feral children" are children with developmental disabilities sometimes combined with severe neglect - the resulting abnormalities are cultivated and attributed to "feralness" by persons who hope to profit from this in freakshow-type contexts.
bungston, Apr 11 2011

       //My theory is the brain has to be ready* to learn difficult concepts// [xaviergisz]   

       You're right to some extent, in two senses. First, there may be some concepts that require an experience of life, love and loss, for which a child's brain is simply not sufficiently road-worn. Perhaps a lot of the humanities/arts might be like this (I don't know - I'm very one-sided).   

       Second, there is the fact that we depend on a lot of incidental knowledge which we are not aware of (for instance, in understanding a mathematical concept, I might "get" it by analogy with something completely unrelated, which I happen to have experienced), and it's difficult to accelerate this acquisition of incidental knowledge.   

       Finally, there's obviously *some* limit to how fast someone can learn. But things like the basis of chemical valency, calculus, molecular genetics...these are all actually quite simple unless you start telling children that they're "too advanced".   

       At least in the areas I know about (mostly sciences, a bit of maths, electronics, yada...), I could find very few - if any - subjects which my daughter had difficulties with, as long as I explained them fully. Of course I do think my daughter's wonderful and brilliant (genetics and all that), but I also think this is true for most children, to a greater or lesser extent.   

       If you take calculus as an example (and if you are truly comfortable with it yourself), there are no difficult concepts, and you can start it with only a reasonable grasp of arithmetic.   

       p.s. I haven't seen these "Little Einstein" DVDs, but they sound completely ghastly and robotic.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 11 2011

       The review for "Baby Einstein" was merely a two word review which simply read:... "Baby Shitstein".
daseva, Apr 11 2011

       [FlyingToaster], you seem to be missing part of the context of this Idea. Who were the parents of the very first Homo Sapiens? Consider the chicken-and-egg question: The answer is that the egg came first, and the animal that laid that egg was almost-but-not-quite a chicken (the egg contained a minor mutation of that animal, and today we call that mutation a "chicken").   

       So, some hominids that were almost-but-not-quite Homo Sapiens had H.Sap as their offspring. What kind of "culture" were those first-of-our-type humans raised in? MINIMAL! But H.Sap was still a bit smarter, and gradually replaced their forebears.   

       In more modern terms, the nerds beat the jocks, at every single stage of hominid evolution.   

       Of course, also gradually, early humans increased the quantity of culture that they taught their children. Which leads to this Idea, a proposed explanation for the origin of modern mentalities.   

       [daseva], Perhaps as important as the total quantity of information is the RATE at which youngest children are given that information. We have plenty of data proving that human brains are adaptable (most blind people can do echo-location fairly well), and we also know that brains are more adaptable in childhood than as adults (documented recoveries from serious injury).   

       So, the child brain simply does an appropriate adaptation to handle the flood of cultural information arriving. But in the Era In Question, their parents had received a smaller flood, and their brains did not need to make that special adaptation. This did not prevent those parents from acquiring the total amount of cultural data at a slower rate, see?   

       Note that one possible explanation for the process happening from 70 to 50 thousand years ago is the unevenness at which all education happens. One tribe might have just one child who happens to make the adaptation. Such a child might become an outcast (look up the "pink monkey experiment"). It could take quite a while for a number of tribes to be producing a number of children who made the adaptation, and who could then propagate that adaptation widely.   

       [MaxwellBuchanan], many years ago I read a book that, among the things it described, mentions an education experiment that some teacher did to his child. Be careful! That child became very knowledgeable at all sorts of things, except for social skills. Not so good an outcome, in other words. Sorry, I have not remembered enough of the incident to be able to see if some mention of it exists on the Internet.
Vernon, Apr 11 2011

       [daseva], let's expand that hypothesis and see where it goes. People learn new things all the time, despite their best efforts not to. I know all kinds of things that my parents did not, because I have had different experiences. My learning was not limited by their experience. In some fashion it was strongly influenced by them by their habit. Let us not forget that huge technological leaps may be influenced by the simplest changes and observations which may not require that much gray matter to create. A simple stick is the difference between starving and feasting on eating ants living inside a log, for instance.
RayfordSteele, Apr 11 2011

       At some point in simian development did a critical mass of ideation cause monkey see; monkey do?
reensure, Apr 12 2011

       // That child became very knowledgeable at all sorts of things, except for social skills.//   

       Yes, that's a potential problem. But it depends - if you are determined to create a junior Einstein and put teaching above all else, you will cause a problem. On the other hand, just explaining things to a kid who wants to learn won't (I think) cause problems other than the risk of them getting frustrated at school where things go slower. So, you need to be careful about that.   

       Also, a lot of the supposed "social problems" faced by really smart kids are largely the result of the differential between them and other kids. If it were realized that early education could be a lot faster, and if it were the norm, there'd be no issue.   

       Against that, though, is the fact that I'm not a teacher. Education is full of nonsensical ideas and methods, which are brought in on the basis of fashion rather than on the basis of evidence that they work. So, I ought to veto myself on the grounds of uninformed meddling.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 12 2011

       I'm not sure I buy the argument. Or rather, I think there are other things that we need to think about when we're talking about the birth of culture and the explosive rate at which it's grown since that birth.   

       The first thing is the neurology that we, and other primates have been shown to share, sometimes called "Mirror Neurons" or "Monkey See Monkey Do" neurons - where watching someone manipulate an object with their hands, actually stimulates the same nerves in the brain that control the watcher's hands. We are wired to mimic, hard-wired to learn how to use tools. I don't know how long it takes in evolutionary terms to favour one particular alignment of neurology over another, but assume such a change could occur faster than say, growing a new leg.   

       Less strongly, I wonder whether we can link culture to technology and tool use. As mentioned earlier, culture is what enables the geek to best the jock, and that suggests being able amplify one's strength beyond one's physical capabilities.   

       Following on from that, there's a secondary skill that people have that is not directly linked to the use of tools - that is even more directly tied to culture - and that's the ability to link cause and effect over a long period of time. For example, planting a seed, and 6 months later, reaping the resultant crops takes faith, knowledge, and a deeper understanding of cause and effect than that required of a hunter/gatherer. It also settles communities around a food source, which in turn provides time to teach, and engage in societal and cultural activities. So emerging almost directly from farming, we see calendars, communities, civilisations, beaurocracies, money and organised warfare.   

       I don't know, but I wonder whether it is this switch to an agrarian lifestyle that drove the formation of this cumulative thing we call culture. Once started, subject to catastrophe, it can only go one way - and any such cumulative system (compound interest, gravity, evolution) will continue to grow and build upon history to create some of the most interesting structures in our universe.
zen_tom, Apr 12 2011

       Agriculture sounds like a good candidate (and must, in any case, have had a huge impact on communities, as you point out). How does the timing fit? When did agriculture start?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 12 2011

       I think your theory is rubbish Vernon. But if you really want to pursue a line of thinking that creates some miraculous transformation of Homo Sapiens around 70,000 - 50,000 years ago then try this quote from Wikipedia ("All hail to Wikipedia!") about Neanderthal man...

//Genetic evidence suggests interbreeding took place with Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) between roughly 80,000 and 50,000 years ago in the Middle East, //
DrBob, Apr 12 2011

       It’s not just farming, it’s excess. Once you have a viable enough agriculture to produce excess, that excess can be stored and managed and even traded. The community that produced the excess require irrigation and drainage, rat-proof storage (pots), perhaps later, tokenised effort transfer (money) and bureaucracy to manage it all. As time goes on, less of the explanation as to why things happen (including disasters such as crop failure and disease and plague) is by supernatural causes such as angry gods, alignment of planets etc, instead by direct observation or inference or induction of measurable effects.
Ian Tindale, Apr 12 2011

       //Genetic evidence suggests interbreeding took place with Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans)//   

       At least as of a few months ago (can't vouch for anything newer) the evidence for that was shaky. Not only is a lot of the Neanderthal data badly contaminated with modern human DNA, but also the poor quality of the Neanderthal data* means that a lot of inferences have to be made to really make sense of it. There was good evidence about a couple of years ago that there had been no interbreeding; the recent data is probably better, but as far as I know the claims are by no means bulletproof.   

       *ancient DNA is horrendously degraded, which means that not only do you get small snippets, but there is lots of damage to individual bases, which can be mis-read as a result.   

       On the other hand, hybrids often show some novel and often beneficial features, so who knows? Interesting possibility.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 12 2011

       [DrBob], while the interbreeding with Neanderthals is certainly a possibility, with hybrids being an interesting consequence, there is a somewhat significant flaw in the idea.   

       The Neanderthals were range-limited to Europe and part of the Middle East. And one of the 70,000-year-old culture-related items was found in South Africa, where Homo Sapiens ruled exclusively.   

       A lesser flaw is somewhat more speculative. To the extent that the Neanderthals were a different species than H.Sapiens, interbreeding should not result in viable offspring --the definition of "species" is a crucial fact. Or, if offspring did result, they should be infertile. If there were actual fertile offspring, then by definition the two breeds of humanity could not have actually been different species.   

       [zen tom], somewhat relevant to what you wrote is a notion that occurred to me yesterday, that perhaps a simpler way to define the Change that happened 50+thousand years ago involves logic.   

       There are two recognized forms of logic, called "deductive" and "inductive". The former is much easier than the latter. Perhaps the latter didn't even exist, until the Change happened. That is, yesterday's notion was that the birth of inductive reasoning is the essence of the Change. (By the way, agriculture as an organized activity is considered to have begun about 10,000 years ago, well after the Change.)
Vernon, Apr 12 2011

       //agriculture as an organized activity is considered to have begun about 10,000 years ago, well after the Change.// Quite so. Also, there are still humans who have never become agricultural, and it would be difficult to argue that their brains, or their culture, are less sophisticated than those of us aggies; or that they do not posses a 'modern mind', to use your term.
spidermother, Apr 12 2011

       //-the definition of "species" is a crucial fact.//   

       Indeed so. Nobody knows the karyotype (chromosome structure) of Neanderthals, nor are we likely to in the foreseeable future (the DNA is way, way too fragmented to deduce long-range structure). It's the karyotype that is a major determinant in whether the chromosomes can pair up, which in turn determines whether hybrids are likely to be possible and/or fertile. Other interspecific hybrids do exist, and are sometimes fertile, so it's not impossible (it only has to happen very rarely; perhaps Neanderthals and Homo were interbreeding constantly in some areas, with only a few viable or fertile offspring).   

       "Species" is a fuzzy term anyway, and the "interbreedability" definition is not very solid.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 13 2011

       //and it would be difficult to argue that their brains, or their culture, are less sophisticated than those of us aggies//   

       Really? I think we're agreed that there's unlikely to be a physiological difference of 'sophistication'. But it is patently obvious and easy to suggest that the culture of an isolated hunter gatherer tribe is measurably less sophisticated than that of say, Ancient Rome's. That isn't to say it's less important, or less worthy of survival - but it *is* less sophisticated, and tangibly so.   

       But I guess, that's not the question at hand, which is whether this cultural sophistication is linked to a biologically Modern Mind or not. But it does add weight to Vernon's argument that nurture provides the balance of sophistication, on top of the raw goods that nature has already provided.
zen_tom, Apr 13 2011

       [spidermother], I hadn't mentioned agriculture as having anything to do with the Change. I simply stated, basically, that animal-level sophistication is known to be inadequate stimulation for a young child to become non-feral, and that Neanderthal-level sophistication was likely also not adequate stimulation for a child to become non-feral. To say nothing of the level of sophistication of Homo Erectus, the ancestors of both Neanderthals and H. Sapiens.   

       Even the sophistication of H.Sap was not adequate, for more than 100,000 years of the existence of the species, for young children to become non-feral. But the sophistication of the species gradually grew, and happened to BECOME adequate 50-70 thousand years ago. That's all.   

       It is not a coincidence, I think, that the Late Stone Age began at that time. All stone-age tribes living today are Late Stone Age, and have adequate sophistication so that their young children can become non-feral, or Mentally Modern.
Vernon, Apr 13 2011

       //[spidermother], I hadn't mentioned agriculture as having anything to do with the Change.// I know - other annotators were speculating about that; I was agreeing with you that it was unlikely!
spidermother, Apr 13 2011

       There is one piece of information which could settle the argument: how fast did "mental sophistication" spread? A genetic change will spread much more slowly than a cultural one.   

       As an example, the ability to digest lactose confers a modest survival advantage in the right circumstances, but it will still take many generations before the gene is widespread. In contrast, once someone figures out how to treat a type of root to make it edible, that knowledge will spread immediately to their immediate community, and quite quickly to other communities.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 13 2011

       Vernon, I wasn't trying to suggest that your take-off point was caused by interaction with Neanderthals, i was merely pointing out that you can find correlations anywhere if you look hard enough. But correlation isn't the same thing as causation.

I would also challenge z_t's comments about sophistication. Which is more sophisticated? A complex financial & military machine that relies on conquest & exploitation to keep it working or, say, a simple tribal culture that provides for everyone in the tribe and keeps its resource requirements on a sustainable level? In systems management we strive for simple & elegant solutions yet when it comes to social structure we seem, in this particular dialog, to be arguing that simplicity means a lack of sophistication.

One of my objections to Vernon's idea is that it equates sophistication with tangible, physical artifacts, but sophistication is about attitudes & organisation, not about making 'stuff'. You can argue that 'stuff' provides evidence of a developing culture and I'm sure that that's correct but it doesn't mean that a society that hasn't left behind 'stuff' wasn't developed, which is what Vernon seems to be implying by his use of the word 'feral'.

My main objection, though, is that it seems to be peddling the idea that a) there was some sort of overnight transformation and b) that there was a single cause of it. I wouldn't hold myself out as any sort of expert on palaeontology but a quick perusal of the interweb (which is always true) gives me the following time line:-

Tool use amongst hominid species goes back at least 2.5 million years.
Homo Sapiens reached it's current physical characteristics around 200,000 years ago.
First 'artistic' artifacts (decorated shells) appear at about 75,000 years ago
Cave paintings & some musical instruments (Vernon's 'flutes') are at about 40,000 years ago.
There's a ceramic figurine at 29,000 years ago.
Pottery is at about 18,000 years ago.
Cities start appearing around 7,500 years ago
And finally we get to literature (the Epic of Gilgamesh) at 4,000 years ago.

That doesn't look to me like a sudden leap forward. It looks like a steady (but accelerating) development.
DrBob, Apr 13 2011

       //Which is more sophisticated?//   

       It's a tricky one - but I think it is important distinction to make - I do agree that complexity doesn't always = better. And I take your point that sophistication doesn't always mean more complex, e=mc² is both simple, and sophisticated.   

       But on sheer number of participants, we have to conceed to having a sophisticated society. Or put it another way, the amount of specialisation that Rome (for example) could support was measurably high. OK, it wasn't ultimately sustainable (unless you count the Roman Catholic church, which is still going after 1700 years) but was able to withstand a certain level of pressure from competing civilisations. So while I can't draw a direct boundary between sophisticated and unsophisticated (it's more a spectrum type thing) I do think it's reasonable to say one is more-so than another.   

       Going back to the number of participants, it all depends on what level you decide to cast your net. Take a collection of molecules - if they are sophisticated enough, you get to refer to them as a cell. Get enough cells together that are suitably sophisticated, and you get to call them an organism. Get enough organisms, and you get a family, or a population. And get enough populations together and maybe you get to describe a city. Keep zooming out and the self-similarity seems to appear at some stage after a level of sophistication allows a critical mass of individuals to be described as a cohesive unit is reached.
zen_tom, Apr 13 2011

       bigsleep, - you forgot Chuck Norris.
Ian Tindale, Apr 13 2011

       //the culture of an isolated hunter gatherer tribe is measurably less sophisticated than that of say, Ancient Rome's// Perhaps we mean different things by 'culture' and 'sophisticated'.   

       To pick a specific example, Australian Aborigines before European contact had language, mythology, trade, law, land entitlement, knowledge of plants and animals, and marriage rivalling those of ancient Rome. Granted, the Romans achieved technologies far beyond those of the Aborigines, and, by way of writing, greater cultural quantity and complexity. On the other hand, New Guinea highlanders practiced agriculture for thousands of years.
spidermother, Apr 13 2011

       [bigsleep] The ability to alter one's landscape is also a key stage in human development. What about the invention of the bulldozer?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 13 2011

       Vernon, i posit that your thesis is simply proof that we are still struggling to see past our navels. In a thousand years the evidences of man's apex that you point out will seem radically foreign and crude. You will be proto-modern and future Vernon will chuckle at your lack of insight, technology, culture. It will wonder at how you got by, and how much you seemed inferior. Then It will posit that somehow a few hundred years after your death true modernity was born and that all creatures before that point were feral and inferior. Then it will be teased by other "moderners" for the absolute Vernon'ness of his theory and everyone will pour sythbeer in their sustenance ports until it foams out the top in celebration of how things don't suck anymore, except for the price of clean high quality oxygen which is simply making it hard to get by.
WcW, Apr 13 2011

       Hey! I'm a thousand years ahead of my time! I already chuckle at my own lack of insight, technology, culture.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 13 2011

       Having a beer and thinking about how great you are is the apex of human male achievement. Wherever that happened first was the birth of male civilization. I'm not up enough on the inner workings of female civilization to know when of how that was born. Help me out here ladies! Did you make the beer that got the first man thinking about how great he was? I wouldn't put it past you!
WcW, Apr 13 2011

       Tui beer - made exclusively by women - <link>.
neelandan, Apr 13 2011

       //Did you make the beer that got the first man thinking about how great he was? I wouldn't put it past you!//   

       I read that as "Did you make the mirror that got the first man thinking how great he was..."
blissmiss, Apr 13 2011

       Equally important was the beer that got him thinking about how great _she_ was.
spidermother, Apr 14 2011

       [WcW], the facts about "feral children" are well documented. And for anyone who accepts Evolution as the explanation of the origin of humanity, it logically follows that SOMEWHERE along the way, our ancestors created an environment stimulating enough for young children to become non-feral.   

       (Those who don't accept Evolution need not participate in this discussion, since all the evidence is against them, and so they have nothing worthwhile to contribute.)   

       My Idea is that a non-feral human can be called "Mentally Modern", while a feral human lacks the ability to create things such as have been discovered as belonging to the "Late Stone Age". It is those artifacts that have lead paleo-archeologists to think that those people were Mentally Modern.   

       Either the Change from feral-ness happened at the time this Idea talks about, or it happened at some other time. If you think it happened at some other time, what evidence can you offer to support such a position?
Vernon, Apr 14 2011

       BS Vernon. Like many species we are biologically reliant on social contact. Without it children do not develop properly. They are not feral, they are developmentally disabled and their behavior isn't "wild" it's deranged. Many many species require social interactions to develop into adulthood or even survive briefly. Teaching and learning basic skills is nothing unique to humans and nothing that separates us from our ape cousins. The children of our ape ancestors were never feral.
WcW, Apr 14 2011

       [WcW], obviously you have missed the point. A feral child raised by animals is quite capable of socially interacting with those animals, while simultaneously being unable to interact socially in human society. Because our society is much more complex.   

       The paleo-archeologists think that prior to the Late Stone Age, human society was also far less complex than it became during the LSA, because the degree of Change in variety and quantity and quality of associated artifacts. So, why did this Change in the artifacts happen then, and not more than 100,000 years earlier, when Homo Sapiens became anatomically modern?
Vernon, Apr 14 2011

       The brain is still going through evolutionary changes, protein concentrations are changing inside the thing and what not. Perhaps for a while there we weren't all that bright even though we could walk upright.
daseva, Apr 14 2011

       The explosion of artifacts in the LSA could be due to the development of more persistent artifacts. It could also be due to rapid changes in culture and the development of lifestyle changing technologies. There was no point where the mass shifted and modern humans were born, we simply lack the perspective to see the individual steps and changes that were occurring at all times. For instance we cannot know if language as we know it arose in multiple locations or multiple times, we cannot know what technologies existed then were lost, we cannot even understand why our ancestors mare perilous cave descents to make art. We can only assume that our ancestors were intellectually similar to us, and that they knew a good thing when they saw it.
WcW, Apr 14 2011

       [WcW], you are at least partly wrong. The quality of the stone tools of the Late Stone Age was significantly greater than the tools made before the LSA --and you can't deny that stone tools are plenty long-lasting. Ditto for fired-clay pot-shards that were decorated with embossings --there were NO decorative embossings on pot-shards prior to the LSA. The mystery remains in need of an explanation, therefore.   

       I point again to the existence of Koko the gorilla, a member of a species normally considered to be mere animals, yet has enough brainpower to have learned sign language (and can create new sentences, not just imitate humans). A feral child raised from infancy in an animal society, and introduced to human society, as, say, a teenager, generally cannot do what Koko can do (see the "Reality" section of the "About Feral Children" link-page).   

       Homo Sapiens, H. Neandertalis, H. Erectus, and likely even H. Habilis all had/have more brainpower than a gorilla, and so could potentially all could do what Koko can do. But NONE of them can do it easily when raised from infancy in only an animal-level society --gorillas certainly don't, and if a feral H.Sapiens can have a "nearly insurmountable difficulty" learning a language, there is no reason to think our less-brainy relatives could do any better.   

       So, try again, to explain why anatomically modern H.Sapiens took more than 100 thousand years to begin to leave artifacts indicating that Modern Mentalities were walking the world.
Vernon, Apr 15 2011

       I don't see any mystery there. It took a few million years for anatomically similar insects to develop communal societies. The gradual changes that occur in behavior and culture have no anatomical implications. As I see it the balance of the changes in the LSA were due to the development of a large surplus of labor due to changes in the food supply. This surplus labor produced an exponential proliferation of manufactured goods of a more luxurious quality. The basic intellect was the same, but suddenly there were specialists who could focus on only one craft. Same brains taking small steps that made huge increases in available calories causing a major cultural shift. In and of itself it does not represent a change in the brains, the children, or the modernity of the mentality.
WcW, Apr 15 2011

       [WcW], you are still making an error, though not quite so large an error as before. There was no major increase in food production until agriculture was developed, 40+thousand years AFTER the beginning of the Late Stone Age.   

       On the other hand, it is fairly well documented that members of a hunter-gatherer tribe tend to work fewer hours per day than members of an agricultural community, to obtain enough food for the day. This is, of course, affected by Location, Location, Location, since some places are more rich in food sources than others.   

       Overall, throughout History, whenever good supplies of food were available (and rather a lot like was described by Thomas Malthus), hominid populations rose to the points where intra-tribe competition forced tribes to split, and inter-tribe competition forced tribes to wander, looking for still-more food sources. That's the simplest explanation for why Homo Erectus left Africa --the place was as full of H.Erectus as could be accommodated!   

       But the preceding means that as LATER families of humanity came into being, they had to compete with an entire Eastern Planetary Hemisphere already full of H.Erectus, who was no slouch in the top-of-the-food-chain department.   

       So, while hunter-gatherer H.Sapiens may have spent less hours per day working to obtain food,. than later agrarians, they had to spend more time fighting for the territory containing the food. Nevertheless, when NOT fighting, there would have been at least some time for a certain amount of individual specialization to occur --especially if division-of-labor had mostly excluded women from fighting; women would have had more time become the first specialists, than men.   

       (Which leads pretty directly to my Idea here! Social interactivity among women --even while doing "women's work" stuff, which notably doesn't involve being silent while hunting game-- would foster the gradual invention of true language among women moreso than among men. And with women being the ones interacting most with infants, then as the generations passed, the infants were subjected to greater amounts of social stimuli, including the developing language, until some became the first non-feral humans.)   

       I agree that the agrarians were able to become better specialists than the hunter-gatherers. But YOU, [WcW], are implying that the hunter-gathers couldn't do much at all in the way of specialization, and in that you are wrong. The Late Stone Age began when all humans were hunter-gatherers.   

       So, once again, if you cannot accept my Idea, then the mystery remains for you to explain, why anatomically modern hunter-gatherers took more than 100,000 years to enter the LSA, and start decorating their pots.
Vernon, Apr 15 2011

       //why anatomically modern hunter-gatherers took more than 100,000 years to enter the LSA, and start decorating their pots.// A more pertinent question is why Koko's ancestors didn't. That is the answer you are looking for. As it stands it seems like you are looking for an "irreducable complexity" for intelligence.
4whom, Apr 15 2011

       I'm ruminating my way through the change from hunter-gatherer through hunter-opportunistic-agrarian: the relatively long lifespan of humans allowed them to not only notice that last year's latrine is the next year's garden, but also capitalize on it. There's elephants involved too.
FlyingToaster, Apr 15 2011

       You're thesis: That modern human patterns of thinking are caused by exposing apes to "data" is bizarre. In the wild, apes have a huge body of linguistic, sensory, and behavioral knowledge that is acquired in exactly the same way that our children learn. They are inclined to become experts in their natural field of study, getting by in the environment that they are adapted to. Mathematics is useless in that environment and an ape that wasted much time on it would die pointlessly. As we developed more and more complicated tools for molding the world around us, we gradually adapted to learning new bodies of information. These new channels of learning no longer represented a fatal distraction from environmental threats or a simple waste of calories. Its is hard to teach an ape sign language not because the ape is "feral" (omfg) but because that sort of learning is not re-enforced in the biology of the brain. If apes evolved a tendency for sign language learning (rather than an instinct for hand signs which they already have) then this would become exponentially easier with every generation that befitted reproductively. Our ancestors underwent a similar unlocking. Learning, even in "moderners" seems to ram up against certain biological barriers. These barriers are evolutionary limits to the plasticity of the brain that prevent the organism from becoming distracted from other imperatives. In rare cases this system of regulation fails and individuals show bizarre symptoms of deregulation. (photographic memory for instance). There is no reason why every human brain isn't capable of photographic memory. Every ape brain is similarly capable. Elephants may actually have adapted photographic memory. We don't have it because it is maladaptive. Before the LSA learning behaviors like decorating pots were maladaptive. When conditions allowed variations to survive that were the idiot savants of the day; making pots with squiggles on them all day long, killing other apes in new and novel ways and basically much less inhibited about experimenting with everything it had a huge impact in the fossil record. Koko's brain and thus much of what Koko is capable of is a product of biology. Although you may not recognize it, your brain is similarly limited. Nothing magical happened in the LSA but that evolution under the influence of culture and environment favored individuals who, 100,000 years previous would have died while gazing at their navels.
WcW, Apr 15 2011

       Hey, [WcW] that's what I said, just not in so many words...
4whom, Apr 15 2011

       vernon really likes words. If you don't use enough he won't take you seriously.
WcW, Apr 15 2011

       I see it this way.   

       In hunter gatherer society a baby is born with a mutation. Let's call him little-guy, might be little-gal but that's a whole different path.
999 times out of 1000 little-guy ends up in a shallow grave or fed to the wolves but one in a thousand toughs it out.
999 times out of 1000 little-tough-guy becomes troll or boogeyman, but one in a thousand makes himself a niche in the group.
999 times out of 1000 little-socialized-tough-guy lives as an outcast on the fringe but one in a thousand pulls off something cool.
999 times out of 1000 it does him no good so life is short, hard and crappy, but one in a thousand does something that helps another. Maybe he levers a boulder off someone and he makes a buddy
999 times out of a 1000 it ends up going Mice-and-Men, but one in a thousand times he helps out Alpha-buddy.
For shits and giggles let's say little-tough-socialized-guy is puny.
He can't chuck a rock or pointy stick as hard or far as the others so he figures out how to make a sling or atlatl. Everyone mocks little-socialized-tough-guy but he manages to bring in small game, maybe figures out the first fish net, or shoes for his poor widdle feet, so they put up with him.

       Now the day comes when there is famine. Folks start going hungry, but hey, little-guy has still got a layer of fat. He shows them how to make their own atlatls/nets/shoes and suddenly little-tough-social-guy becomes little-buddy.   

       Stuff goes Rudolph and everyone does the glee-shout. Life is good, long and happy for little-buddy.   

       Tribe number 2 sees tribe 1 having way too much fun for how tough times are and wants to know why. Through spies or pow-wows tribe 2 learns about tribe 1's little-buddyness and wants little-buddy of their own.
They decide to take little-buddy, in some cases they trade for little-buddy and he gets passed around like a party favor. Maybe he gains some prestige and gets to pass on his genes as well as his survival knacks. Maybe he's been playing alone for a long time and does other weirdness like singing or doodles, maybe he's made a critter buddy or two. Others mimic this weirdness hoping it will rub off on them or their kids like a good luck charm.

       Sometimes little-buddy is a bit of a douchebag and figures out how to make the jump to being Alpha buddy.
It doesn't take much to convince a protohuman that you have powerful strong juju. Some magic mushrooms get sprinkled in the stewpot, a few farts get stored in an animal bladder, a well timed fireball later and presto... little-guy is Merlin.

       999 times out of 1000 this leads to superstitious brutality, the first secret societies, or monarchies, but one in a thousand of these little buddy scenarios results in cooperation and benefit for an entire group instead of a select few.
The first sciences are born and passed down through song and story.

       Now tribes start looking out for potential little buddies, they begin teaching them and feeding them. They become the shamans and priests.
Sometimes it's good and sometimes not so good but in this way, it has been evolutionary cons rather than pros that have shaped modern man.
Where the entire animal kingdom breeds only for advantage, we have purposely bred away our evolutionary advantages for the betterment of the group over that of the individual.

       [2 fries...] That argument also applies to organisms of similar characteristics in similar environments. This is why Koko's ancestry, or progeny, would not be good test subjects in this idea. There is something missing, something that differentiated early "man" from early "non-man". I firmly believe that this distinction goes back further than the known age of earth (6000 yrs), and is, previous comment notwithstanding, not related to some irreducable complexity of the mind.   

       There are plenty of theories on why we (completely selfishly) regard ourselves as pinnacles of intellectual industry. These are both incorrect and irrelevent, or at the very least, unprovable. Trying to duplicate this result with organisms that didn't make it to that perceived point over many oppurtunities is banal and, quite frankly, halfbaked. Oh, I see, yes well then, move along nothing to see here...
4whom, Apr 15 2011

//There is something missing, something that differentiated early "man" from early "non-man".//
I am sure that this is already somebody's theory somewhere but in my ignorance I claim it as my own.
I think that smoking is your missing piece. The making of fire would have come much later then the keeping of fire.
Some poor schleppy in the past needed to get close enough to the heat of a natural fire in order to survive a night, figured out that one coal can make another, and a hot rock can warm a bed.
Enter the first smudge pot or pipe.
You can bet your ass that this was not discovered by one of the Jock in-crowd getting jiggy with it back in the cave.
It was the first nerd.

       Nerds rule.   

       the known age of the earth is'nt 6000 years [4whom].
WcW, Apr 16 2011

       the known age of the earth is not 6000 years [4whom].
WcW, Apr 16 2011

       [4whom], Koko's wild ancestors haven't done anything fancy because none ever experienced a lot of cultural stimulation as infants. This makes them rather equivalent to feral human children raised by animals.   

       While I think gorillas have been known to use a tool or three in the wild, they are basically, when left to themselves, on a Naturally slow slow track of cultural development. It's almost a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, where brainpower needs stimulation to be creative, while creativity requires brainpower.   

       I also think the paleontologists are still looking for the reason why, among human ancestors, their brains started getting larger across the kilo-generations. It may have something to do with the human arm more than the hand, since among the primates only humans (and their relatives/ancestors back to Australopithecus) have arms that allow ACCURATE throwing. (see link)   

       Nevertheless, the fact remains that Koko and other gorillas do have enough brainpower, PROVIDED such a brain receives enough stimulation in infancy, to develop "speech creativity" (can devise new sentences at will, not just mimic sentences heard). Koko may be only human-toddler level in this department (which makes sense since the brain of a human toddler is not much larger than that of an adult gorilla), but Koko's achievement is more than any other nonhuman animal is known to actually accomplish, regardless of "potential".   

       It is therefore reasonable to think that any human ancestor with at least as much brainpower as a gorilla also had that same potential for will-powered creativity. But it was simply not actualized, due to the environment that all those brains experienced as infants, until 50+thousand years ago.   

       Obviously this claim could be tested if we had a raised-by-animals feral child available for thorough study. How much creativity does such a child exhibit? As "just a human animal", we should expect some cleverness (in the references of the Wikipedia article, #40 mentions one who escaped and is presumed to be back in the wild).   

       But a great deal of Mentally Modern human creativity is directly tied to complex social interactions, which feral children don't experience. So far, the arguments against this Idea seem to be based on the ASSUMPTION that a bunch of humans growing up together (with NO signifcant exposure to culture) will somehow automatically create a complex culture out of nothing. Hah!   

       Prior to the Late Stone Age, all or almost-all Major Creative Events (like the taming of fire) were much more happenstance and serendipitous than acts of focused will/thought. (Note that the popular fictional family, "The Flintstones" are described as being "Modern Stone Age", which logically makes them more recent than the LSA, and therefore their mythology can be ignored as irrelevant to the Change that occurred at the beginning of the LSA.)   

       [WcW], what I have described is not bizarre at all. The average gorilla has some potential (for will-powered speech creativity) that is normally not actualized. For the past 50+ millennia, that same potential in humans DID get actualized, mostly by being exposed to enough different things that were associated with abstractions (specific sounds).   

       Next, some of what you wrote has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. I quote: "Its is hard to teach an ape sign language not because the ape is "feral" (omfg) but because that sort of learning is not re-enforced in the biology of the brain" --- I NEVER CLAIMED THAT "FERALNESS" WAS A CAUSE OF ANYTHING. Feralness is a RESULT of cultural ignorance! ("ignorance", of course, means "not knowing stuff") There is no way you can find an error in what I wrote if you talk about stuff I didn't describe!   

       I've just added 3 links about culture, language, and the Late Stone Age (the links were "news" on the "SlashDot" web site just a couple days ago as I write this). As far as I can tell, it all "fits". Cultural development evolved very slowly among humans, with "monkey see monkey do" (mimicry) being the prime rule, until ENOUGH cultural items were developed, so that when taught to young children that they responded by inventing a true language, and began an explosion of will-powered creativity in other areas as well.   

       The key facts are very simple and thoroughly known: (A) when a human child does NOT experience "enough" cultural items, feralness is the result --and (B) when a gorilla DOES experience "enough" cultural items, non-feralness is the result. Part of this Idea's main text was about experimenting to find out the quantity of "enough".   

       It seems to me that if we actually did that experiment, we would thereby find out something about how much stuff humanity was working with, just before the start of the Late Stone Age. You do know, don't you, that every culture is closely associated with its artifacts? (If you don't, look up "Clovis".) The thing is, humanity had negligible culture (relative to modern definition), prior to the LSA.... Everywhere, human artifacts were blandly alike. Monkey see, monkey do!
Vernon, Apr 17 2011

       "when a human child does NOT experience "enough" cultural items, feralness is the result"   

       No, the result is a poorly educated human child. The thing that really distorts behavior and makes children seem "inhuman" is a lack of normal social relationships. The brain is simply unable to handle the lack of certain pre-programmed relationships. (mother, in particular). It is very hard to rectify later.   

       "when a gorilla DOES experience "enough" cultural items, non-feralness is the result"   

       No. The gorilla may appear more human but the underlying biology of the brain and behavior is not changed. The gorilla is no more like a modern human than it's wild relatives and these changes will not become cultural unless they provide a substantial advantage.   

       Modernity arose gradually, as a result of changing pressures. The changes occurred at the usual sporadic pace of evolution. Information and culture result from changes in the underlying brain and biology. The reason that you will likely have a very hard time learning a new language after the age of thirty is due to brain biology. The reason why ESA man struggled with aesthetic thinking and LSA man didn't was due to biological, not informational changes. In the same way other hominids appear to be developing different patterns of cultural development that showed a similar lack of plasticity. Your emphasis on a distinction between the "modern" thinking of a human and the "animal" thinking of other species shows both a lack of imagination and, seemingly, an inability to recognize your own limitations.
WcW, Apr 17 2011

       I think a potentially more answerable question would be the origin of mental illnesses. Many have a strong hereditary component and, given their debilitating nature to the individual, it's interesting to wonder why they have remained so abundant in the gene pool.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 17 2011

       That's a popular theory, but it has problems. First, lots of mental disorders are destructive to the society (apart from what they do to the individual); only a subset has any discernable societal value. Second, the idea that a gene can thrive because it benefits the society (whilst harming the carrier) is basically 'group selection', which is skating on a thin creek after the horse has put its eggs in one kettle of fish in the sea.   

       The strongest argument would be if half-doses of genes (heterozygotes, or various allele-combinations) had some distinct advantage that outweighed the disadvantage of having a homozygous gene or a dud combination of alleles. This would be a bit like the sickle-cell gene (beneficial to carriers, not so to sufferers). The shitty gene combinations can be pretty shitty sometimes.   

       Anyway, here I go again bulldozing the discussion of at a tangent. As you were.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 17 2011

       [WcW], your feeble attempt to distort the facts doesn't change the facts one whit. You wrote: "The thing that really distorts behavior and makes children seem "inhuman" is a lack of normal social relationships" --and I wrote: "when a human child does NOT experience "enough" cultural items, feralness is the result" EXACTLY the same thing, because the lack of normal social relationships IS "not experiencing enough cultural items".   

       Next, you wrote "The gorilla may appear more human but the underlying biology of the brain and behavior is not changed" --you are neglecting to remember that gorillas and humans have something like 96% of DNA in common. Go get a book, "The Naked Ape", by Desmond Morris (a zoologist), and read it, to see just how much humans and other animals are more alike than different, even in basic behavior.   

       The main limitation of the smaller-than human gorilla brain is the quantity of cultural information that it can absorb/process, which is why Koko can express herself only at smaller-than-adult-human toddler level. But the most important fact is that she can do it at all --her brain is big enough to handle that much cultural info. And your blather has not changed that fact one whit.
Vernon, Apr 17 2011

       //gorillas and humans have something like 96% of DNA in common.//   

       This is one of those popular phrases (more commonly applied to chimps) which is very attractive and seductively misleading. It actually means almost nothing.   

       If you prefer, I can tell you that you have 100% of your DNA in common with E. coli - (all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order). If you want me to be less flippant, I can point out that you have a substantial part of your DNA in common with a radish. (So do I - nothing personal.)   

       Apart from the fact that the "96%" is actually wrong, I might also point out there are at least a couple of hundred genetic mutations which will give you the intellectual capacity of a persimmon, yet involve changing less than one part in a billion of your DNA.   

       People really, really really don't get what DNA is about, how it makes bodies and brains, and why "96%" is as non- significant as 1%.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 17 2011

       Vernon I know that you feel that you are making a reasoned argument. I'm just asking you to consider the widely held view supported by massive primatological research that the proclivity to devote massive investment if toolmaking, language and other "modern" activities is regulated by biology. That no amount of nurturing has proven effective in humanizing our ape relatives and that we are forced to accept that, to a large degree, our own character is similarly fixed. Your assertion that you are ignorant of the scientific consensus on this issue smacks of trolling.
WcW, Apr 17 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], I was not mis-using the statement I made about human and gorilla DNA. You know full well that DNA includes base-pairs, and genes, AND chromosomes. Our arrangement of genes into chromosomes differs from various other animals, but the total collection of genes, and the proteins they code for, are something like 96% the same as the genes of a gorilla (and even more-nearly the same, when compared to a chimp).   

       If DNA wasn't as significant as I'm talking about, we wouldn't be able to use it to trace evolutionary pathways. But we can, and it is.   

       [WcW], I never said that Koko was "humanized". I said she was able to do something that lots of idiots/bigots think only humans can do: use sign language as well and as meaningfully as a human toddler.   

       Language requires a brain able to process "abstractions" --symbols of one form or another (words or hand-signs, for example) that are deliberately associated with real-world things. Since Koko IS able to do that, she is strong strong evidence that various ancestors of humanity (perhaps as far back as Homo Habilis) could have handled abstractions and language, also.   

       Nevertheless, there are no indications of any hominids dealing with abstractions until H.Sapiens did it at the start of the Late Stone age. The mystery is, "Why then, and not sooner?"   

       If you don't like the explanation/Idea proposed here, then you need better reasons than the nonsense you have spouted so far. Here's a thought-experiment: If a large group of human infants were raised by animals together, obviously the humans could interact with each other as well as with the animals.   

       I predict the human children would all end up "feral". They will not spontaneously create language in a cultural vacuum. And neither did the ancestors of humans, except GRADUALLY, such that many myriads of years were required.   

       What would YOU predict?
Vernon, Apr 18 2011

       //Our arrangement of genes into chromosomes differs from various other animals, but the total collection of genes, and the proteins they code for, are something like 96% the same as the genes of a gorilla (and even more- nearly the same, when compared to a chimp).//   

       That is exactly my point. Yet a gorilla cannot solve 96% of the clues in the Times crossword, nor will his exam grades be 96% as good as a human. The 96% is meaningful in evolutionary terms; it is not a predictor of mental capacity.   

       Try changing 4% of the characters in a computer programme and see what happens.   

       As I pointed out, I can make a single-base change in your genome which will completely obliterate your mental capacity.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], now you are taking what I wrote out of context. I was talking about underlying biology and basic behavior. Therefore you should read "The Naked Ape" also!
Vernon, Apr 18 2011

       Not only have I read "The Naked Ape", I've also spent several years looking at the genomics of the hominids (a few years back, now). I am simply pointing out that the degree of genomic similarity allows you to infer close relatedness, but has nothing worthwhile to say about the niceties of brain development and intelligence, and will not have until we understand functional genomics a lot better than we do now (which is virtually not at all).   

       You pointed out the "96% genomic identity" as if that implies that our brains are "96% identical" in some meaningful way. It does not - it really does not, at all, any more than a programme with only 4% errors will run smoothly, or a leap across 96% of a chasm will be almost as good as reaching the other side.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       I think there's a simpler explanation - that no-one thought of making art, or complex tools, until someone thought of it, 50-70,000 years ago. Once some people had started, everyone else rushed to copy them.   

       Just like no-one had thought of saving and re-sowing grains until someone thought of it about 10,000 years ago, and everyone started copying them. Just like no-one thought of making books mechanically with little inked metal letters until someone thought of it 600 years ago, and then everyone rushed to copy.   

       It is the idea, and the social or mechanical advantage it confers, which leads people to copy it.   

       No need for any biological change. I don't think anyone needs to posit a genetic shift in the mid 15th century, to explain the phenomenal rise of the printed book, the Protestant reformation, the Enlightenment and the rise of modern Science.
pocmloc, Apr 18 2011

       human evolution has occurred in that time
WcW, Apr 18 2011

       Yes, but not that much.
pocmloc, Apr 18 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], based on what you wrote, you should be well aware that genetic variations among normal H.Sapiens tends to be as much as 1%. Also, you are probably aware that a significant fraction of the differences between gorilla and human DNA will be found in the "junk" stuff that doesn't seem to code for anything. So, just because you CAN "go overboard" and focus on how changing just 2 genes can lead to plant-level intelligence (or, why not talk about miscarriage during pregnancy?), there is no actual need to do so. It is not really relevant to the basic fact that these two species are very closely related (as compared to most other species).   

       [pocmloc], I think you are missing a key point. The thing that is missing from the paleo-archaeological record, prior to the Late Stone Age, is ANY expression of abstract creativity. No decorative carvings. Just basic grunt-type stuff (like tools for surviving, albeit reasonably well) is all that has been found. Humanity apparently just existed, and nothing more, until the LSA began. Humanity didn't "live" (in terms of the expression "get a life!").
Vernon, Apr 18 2011

       //It is not really relevant to the basic fact that these two species are very closely related (as compared to most other species).//   

       I don't think I'm explaining myself very clearly, because you're contesting the only point on which I agree with you. Yes, it does show that we are very closely related, and it is a good measure of relatedness.   

       My point - my only point - is that 4% difference (even if only a tenth of that is in coding sequences) is more than enough to change brain function out of all recognition (or anything else, for that matter).   

       The "1%" variation in the human genome is selected variation - ie, we've selected out those mutations that make people too dumb to breathe.   

       (As it happens, neither of those numbers take into account copy-number changes, which account for much greater variation both between and within species.)   

       Anyway, this is now arguing for the sake of arguing, so whatever.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       Quite apart from [Max...B...]'s quite valid points, (an opinion a happen to share (which is no validation, I am sure)), I am a bit concerned with //Humanity apparently just existed, and nothing more, until the LSA began.//   

       In any data set in which the vast majority of data has been destroyed, or is obfuscated to a certain degree, it is possible to draw (any amount of) conclusions. Paleo-anthropologists are amongst the first to admit to this. [Vernon] seems not to be as forthcoming. The truth is we don't know what made us, us. We ARE a fair way along the path of what makes others NOT us. No matter what degree of percentage difference there may be in our DNA sequences, it may be that a critical part of "humanity" lies within a .000x% difference (or none at all and we are just blowing wind up our own arses). Notwithstanding the aforementioned, using paleoanthropological data as a, well as a gospel, is misleading and incorrect.   

       Besides, I think we all know the earth is only 6000 years old and has a fusion reactor at is core....
4whom, Apr 18 2011

       It will be interesting to see how much we differ from our close relatives on a proteomic basis. I suspect that gene dose has a lot to do with our differences: quantitative rather than qualitative differences. These are the sorts of differences that could occur gradually over time; with the new quite compatible with the old.
bungston, Apr 18 2011

       That's almost certainly true. The second difference will be in regulatory genes - subtle tweaks that alter the expression levels or timing of whole swathes of genes.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       Or we could just be a short spurt of life taking advantage of our skills in just the right amounts to kill ourselves off eventually. Then who would be the winner in the long game of "Life"?   

       The organisms that we don't manage to eradicate before our inevitable demise might turn into the next aeons winners...and what exactly will they be asking themselves? Hopefully not the same dull questions.
4whom, Apr 18 2011

       Blimey, you're full of cheer!
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       You plan to paint your door with...lamb cytoplasm. Yes, yes that's absolutely...fine. Fine.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       //All this while I should be trying to vaccuum the last,// Nothing worse than dust inside a new shoe, is there?   

       [Vernon], absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because these palaeolithic partygoers did not leave piles of non-biodegradable litter behind at their raves, does not mean they were not constantly out of their heads on strange cocktails of drugs, improvising wildly on leather drums and throat singing while dressed in feather capes and strange woven grass hats.
pocmloc, Apr 18 2011

       Ah, you've been to one of my aunt Michael's parties, then? Strange, most people don't remember them.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 18 2011

       I have to go with [poc...] on this one, having been forced to scuff my own new shoes (to reduce someone else's desire for them), trying to get bits of unknown fungus out of the house can be hard. Speaking of fun guys, there is a rather serious anthropoligical case for natural psychadelics being at the birth of "human consciousness". So Koko's out of luck, unless she can get her, quite capable, hands on a mushroom, or seven.
4whom, Apr 18 2011

       [big...] you owe me a new keyboard!
4whom, Apr 18 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], my simple point is that Koko's brain was adequate for the task of learning sign language, and enabling her to exhibit at-will creative sentence construction. So no matter how much human and gorilla DNA differs, the two species are alike enough in this matter that other differences are relatively ignorable. The main RELEVANT difference is strictly brain-size related, such that Koko can't grow beyond a human toddler's abilities.   

       [4whom] and [pocmloc], it has been previously pointed out that certain culture-related artifacts (stone carvings, pot shards) are quite able to survive burial for many thousands of years. The researchers have found plenty of campsites used by early humans and earlier hominids. But when they are dated, ONLY the campsites younger than 70 thousand years or so include such artifacts --all the older sites lack them, even though various other things (crude stone tools) have been found in abundance.   

       Therefore the conclusion is quite reasonable, that some aspect of the Modern Mind, associated with culture, was lacking among the earliest campers. I've simply linked that with the factual observation that a feral human is the result of a huge lack of exposure to culture in the formative years   

       --And the fact that if the first chicken came from an egg laid by a bird that was almost-a-chicken, then the first humans were raised by animals that were almost-human, but were animal enough to lack culture. Which meant the first humans HAD to be feral. All of them.   

       [4whom], if you REALLY want to see a Mad Idea..., where Religious notions factor into this one, then consider the possibility offered by the religions that talk about reincarnation. Only the soul matters, not the body. So God would have created a bunch of souls in God's Image (offspring!), who then found the physical Universe to be a playground (souls are immortal and can't be hurt by such trivial things as supernova explosions or diving into a black hole).   

       But about 60 thousand years ago, a bunch of souls discovered the Earth and thought that humans were neat. Started occupying them. Started being mean to each other because of the innate selfish animal behavior of those bodies --acquiring bad Karma! Got stuck (sometimes called "the fall of Man"), and have mostly stayed stuck in a cycle of reincarnations, ever since.   

       The thing is, being fully communicative even before getting stuck in human bodies, it logically follows that right away those souls would start using those bodies to socialize. Late Stone Age begins immediately, therefore, and not sooner.   

       Lacking suitable experimental evidence supporting the existence of souls, though, all we talk about with confidence is that feral humans gradually, over many myriads of years, developed enough aspects of a society that eventually, 50+thousand years ago, their children were enabled to make the kind of mental adaptation for it, that caused them to grow up non-feral, and eager to express themselves.
Vernon, Apr 18 2011

       I don't know about you, but most people don't regard broken pots as particularly cultured. Fine wine, great classical music, and subtle literary impressions of the nature of human experience maybe. Now, about the archaeological evidence for those things...
pocmloc, Apr 19 2011

       [pocmloc], truly ancient pots are generally found in shards because of the weight of accumulation of dirt upon the pots. Sometimes, of course, the shards are simply found in an ancient trash heap. Reasonably often, though, enough pieces are found to reassemble the main shape of the pot, and allow any deliberate (especially if embossed) decorations to be noticed.   

       None of the most ancient pot shards have culture-related (artistic expression) decorations.
Vernon, Apr 19 2011

       Perhaps earlier cultures didn’t use pottery. Or perhaps they hadn’t discovered firing of clay. So all their pots lasted a shorter while, eventually disintegrating without trace. Or perhaps earlier cultures used gravity containment, and all the equipment was on hire.
Ian Tindale, Apr 19 2011

       We shall never see the like of the Neander Valley Cheesehenge again.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 19 2011

       just when I though that things were running out of gas, Vernon finds another gear and takes the whole thing in a radically different direction. Reincarnation? SNAP! And now it's all chickens and eggs and more feral children than you can shake a stick at.   

       "that Koko's brain was adequate for the task of learning sign language, and enabling her to exhibit at-will creative sentence construction. So no matter how much human and gorilla DNA differs, the two species are alike enough in this matter that other differences are relatively ignorable"   

       or you could say that the thesis hinges on a high level of relative ignorance. Since I don't believe that you are an ignoramus I'm going to assume that this is a hyperbolic statement that is not meant to be dissected rhetorically.
WcW, Apr 19 2011

       [WcW], I was just messing with [4whom], since the silly notion that the world is only about 6000 years old comes from Religion. But, see, religions don't even agree on that; the Hindu philosophy seems aligned with an "oscillating Universe" hypothesis ("Big Crunch" follows "Big Bang" follows "Big Crunch", endlessly).   

       So, as you should have noticed, my last anno returned to the facts. Something you have avoided here, all along, with your equally-silly implications that as soon as humans began to exist, they couldn't qualify as being "feral".
Vernon, Apr 20 2011

       What makes you think that the modern mind is not feral?
pocmloc, Apr 20 2011

       [pocmloc], that depends on the definition of "feral". The one used here is explicitly associated with children raised outside of any culture at least as recent as the Late Stone Age. Other definitions can be applied however you wish.
Vernon, Apr 20 2011

       //If this isn't trolling then it is a highly devoted effort to promulgate a discussion// Hey! Even trolling has to evolve. Perhaps this is the H. Sapiens sapiens troll as opposed to the H. Erectus troll...
4whom, Apr 20 2011

       Something here about a 'superbrain'. A neato term for 'collective mind'. Might help this discussion. Then again, probably not. (linky)
daseva, Apr 20 2011

       One day late [bigsleep]. Skynet became self-aware yesterday, if the Terminator series is to be believed.
4whom, Apr 20 2011

       [WcW], the definition of "feral" used here is not non-standard, since the phrase "feral child" has been around for a long time. And that particular definition is a necessary part of this Idea.   

       Next, you are stupidly telling an outright lie in stating that this Idea is well baked. In the main text is described one proposed mystery-explanation that involved a mutation in the brain. I sent an email to the person who had devised that explanation, and received this reply:   

       "Many thanks for your alternative take on how modern human behavior originated.   

       Best wishes,   

       Richard Klein
Stanford University"

       Next, I've not seen any data indicating that any parrot has ever done more than "parrot" things its heard. Find a link to support your claim!   

       Next, regarding this that you wrote: "Education alone changes very little in what the brain is capable of" --another easily-proved-false statement on your part, ESPECIALLY since I've already mentioned the "Reality" section of the (linked) Wikipedia article on feral children, in which it is stated that they experience "nearly insurmountable difficulty" in learning a language. The young brain really is more able to learn than older brains!   

       Next, I've already posted a link about claims that dolphins may have a language, but I have NOT claimed (another stupid lie on your part) that having language makes them --or any other creature-- "human". I've merely claimed that this is intimately related to non-feral-ness (as used throughout this page).   

       The invention here is an explanation for a mystery, PLUS --most important!-- a way to test it. Primatologists have not-at-all deliberately raised many gorillas like Koko, but with different amounts of cultural-exposure in infancy, to see which ones become able to creatively express themselves, and how much exposure it takes to trigger it.
Vernon, Apr 21 2011

       The most famous parrot with speaking abilities is Alex [link] an African grey parrot raised by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg.
The bird knows over one hundred words and undertands basic sentence structure and can answer simple questions. Fascinating stuff.

       [Vernon], your doing exactly what Mr. Klein did, just with many more words. Did you look at the article I linked? He says it's collective consciousness which made the LSA. Yet, you simply glossed over the theory or ignored it. Hypocrisy is truly a way of life...
daseva, Apr 21 2011

       [2fries], thanks for the parrot link. Note that the parrot required special teaching, just as did Koko. Since other parrots, not so well taught, have not exhibited the same level of mental skills, it logically follows that ordinary parrots qualify as "feral" when not given such training. Just like gorillas. AND humans.
Vernon, Apr 21 2011

       Enough research has been done on enough parrots for long enough that, by now, at least a few talking parrots must have escaped.   

       If they 'get' language, it must give them a huge advantage. Imagine being able to overhear a human saying "Yeah, next time one of those parrots craps on my picnic table, it's a dead parrot." or "This guy in England is on the lookout for a Norwegian Blue - I'm going to try my hand at netting one for him." Imagine being able to say to a fellow parrot "They leave the crates of fruit by the back door of the restaurant on Tuesdays at about 4pm". Such parrots would quickly outstrip their speechless cousins.   

       As a result, we can expect, any day now, to be confronted by a flock of second-generation dominant parrots who will not only say that they want a cracker, but that they'd like it right now, because beak-marks on car paintwork can be so disfiguring, thankyouvermuch.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 21 2011

       "This parrot is an ex-parrot!" - Monty Python
neelandan, Apr 21 2011

       [daseva], what I had read, before posting this Idea, was that Professor Klein had proposed that a mutation of the human brain had occurred, which caused the difference between human behavior before (lacking artistic expression) and during (lots of artistic expression) the Late Stone Age. What I posted here (and emailed him) was a way of showing why a brain mutation wasn't necessary, because simple evolution of cultural complexity could explain it.   

       Note that if the brain-mutation idea was correct, then why is it difficult for feral children to rejoin society? Without such a mutation, then the difference is strictly associated with cultural exposure in the earliest years of growth.   

       There is thus no hypocrisy here; I really thought I was proposing something different. Not to mention, I wasn't aware that the "collective unconscious" idea had been proved by Science to truly exist.   

       [MaxwellBuchanan], you are making the unwarranted assumption that a knowledgeable parrot will be dedicated enough to put a lot of effort into training other parrots, all by themselves. Remember the classic quote, "It takes a village to raise a child."? The implication is that several knowledgeable parrots would need to work together, just as it took several humans to teach those parrots in the first place. Well, humans have the advantage here, over both parrots and gorillas, by being Naturally more sociable. (Just imagine the social friction if the rush-hour pedestrian population of New York City was replaced by an equal-sized and equally squished ("personal space") crowd of gorillas!) I'm not aware that parrots flock like some other birds....
Vernon, Apr 22 2011

       [Vernon], it's fascinating to hear more about how this idea started in your brain re: reading Klein. I caught my presented article on the fly, basically. It felt like blind luck at the time.. I dig that website, who shouldn't? Flog the bastards. Anyways.   

       It's a combination of both, what caused our nauseatingly incessantly fucktard personality towards the elements. Like everything else.. you start with a really good idea. A really sound feeling idea like communism. You run with it... and you end up with what. Modern mentality. A boring, non- descript, combination of a bunch of shit and shitty shit and you really can't decipher the shit from the jewels cause, lets face it, they're far to far between the jewels that is.... its a hellhole man... a dirty rotten shit hellhole.. and we're a'll along for the ride. [marked-for-depression]
daseva, Apr 22 2011

       [daseva], many ideas build upon other ideas. This one, for example, couldn't be as sensible if there had never been any such thing as a "feral child". Or if no gorilla had ever been raised like Koko. But because those things have happened, they constitute valid pieces for an Idea like this one.   

       Now, most ideas have imperfections that various people are only too willing to point out. But if an idea is truly worthy, it will be able to survive such pickiness. So far as I can tell, this one is holding up pretty well.
Vernon, Apr 23 2011

       Clearly this is not the forum for exploring your inspiration re: Klein unless it involves an invention. "we should try to teach apes some skills" doesn't cut the HB mustard.
WcW, Apr 23 2011

       I'm not even sure I understand the theory (sorry [V], short attention span)... is it that mankind's penchance towards civilization is genetic and based on Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal interbreeding ? neat... mfd-theory, but neat... pretty vague though, especially since your argument that "feral" children aren't able to join society actually counters the premise.
FlyingToaster, Apr 23 2011

       The idea is for an experiment to prove that there is a discontinuity in generations whereby adequately trained children turn from their feralish parents into modern minds... I think.
daseva, Apr 23 2011

       [WcW], the experiment I described has a more precise element to it than what you wrote. A bunch of infant gorillas should be taught/socially-stimulated by different amounts, to discover the amount of information that triggers creative expressiveness.   

       [FlyingToaster], feral children do not count against this Idea, because they are feral ONLY because they did not receive enough information/stimulation in infancy. And the record of ancient human habitations clearly indicates that the total number of things they worked with gradually increased for many myriads of years. Until the Late Stone Age began, at which time there was an explosion of artifacts.   

       Therefore I simply propose that at the time the LSA began, THAT was when the total quantity of information and cultural stimulation first sufficed to affect infants/toddlers in the way that is now common for almost every human alive (feral children excepted, of course).   

       [daseva], perhaps another way of describing the discontinuity is to think of the brain of a youngster as "shifting into a higher gear", with respect to its ability to process information. The fact that Koko the gorilla can do it proves that the total quantity of brain-mass needed, to be able to do such a shift, is not as much as hominids have possessed since at least Homo Habilis.
Vernon, Apr 24 2011

       Maybe we should begin by teaching apes to go and pick up our shopping for us.
Ian Tindale, Apr 24 2011

       //[MaxwellBuchanan], you are making the unwarranted assumption that a knowledgeable parrot will be dedicated enough to put a lot of effort into training other parrots, all by themselves.//   

       Actually, my annotation was largely facetious. However, it does raise an interesting point.   

       Learned animal behaviours (for instance, bluetits learning to pierce milkbottle tops; crows learning to judge traffic speed so they can eat road-kill; chimps learning to crack seed-pods using rocks; and many more) generally *are* passed on both across and between generations as long as they remain beneficial, at least in birds and mammals.   

       The fact that language is (as far as we know - and admittedly there are only a few studies on this) not passed on suggests that animals don't really 'get' language in the same way that we do. I think they learn it in the same way that a dog will learn to raise a paw to ask for a treat from its owner.   

       It doesn't take a village to teach a child to speak; children will absorb language if given any opportunity to do so. There are cases of children developing their own language when deprived of it. In contrast, non-human animals learn language (at least as we define it) only with intensive training and rewards. They lack the biological sponge that makes language inevitable.   

       On the other hand, what do I know? Maybe even now the parrots and gorillas are teaming up somewhere deep in the congo. They may even have stolen the necessary hardware and be posting here on the HB.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 24 2011

       Curse you, [MaxwellBuchannan] for a damned snitch!
mouseposture, Apr 24 2011

       [MaxwellBuchanan], I'll reiterate something I wrote earlier, about humans being much more social/sociable than either parrots or gorillas. I doubt the two species will be teaming up to do anything.
Vernon, Apr 25 2011

       //Until the Late Stone Age began, at which time there was an explosion of artifacts.//   

       {glares suspiciously at [8th of 7]}
pertinax, Apr 25 2011

       //I'm not aware that parrots flock like some other birds....//   

       You should have seen the rosellas stripping my almond tree. "Flocking parrots!", I almost shouted.
pertinax, Apr 25 2011

       Now I'm waiting for 'On the origins of feral internet persons...'
RayfordSteele, Apr 25 2011

       (wanted to laugh my ass off but could not due to being on the phone) Thank you Rayford, you just made my morning.
WcW, Apr 25 2011

       A lost child alone in the wilderness finds a solar laptop....   

       "It takes a village to raise an idiot."
FlyingToaster, Apr 25 2011

       //humans being much more social/sociable than either parrots or gorillas.//   

       We may well be. Nevertheless, parrots, gorillae and many other species pick up and pass on useful learned behaviours easily and rapidly - why don't they pick up or pass on language?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 25 2011

       // Nevertheless, parrots, gorillae and many other species pick up and pass on useful learned behaviours easily and rapidly - why don't they pick up or pass on language?// That's what I said! ( not in so many words)
It is far more important to investigate why they haven't passed on a language, or, more acurately, why we think the language they have passed on ( they quite obviously communicate) isn't one.

       As I have tried to allude to before, most of science, but more specifically sciences involving us and them, falls on an anthropological sword. Who is to say "we" are correct. Especially given such an eroded library of data? We are measuring ourselves, and others against ourselves, without fully understanding ourselves, nevermind the others. What kind of scientific process is that?   

       //On the Origin of Modern Mentalities// ~ On the Origin of Outdated Modalities, I would give you a point.
4whom, Apr 25 2011

       //That's what I said! ( not in so many words) //   

       Ah, sorry about that.   

       On the same theme, if animals "got" language and had a humanesque ability to master it, they would all be talking. It's inconceivable that, given a few million years, a species with the ability to "do" language would not be doing it - it would be a completely overwhelming survival advantage.   

       As to why we don't call other animals' languages languages - many people do, and it's a semantic question. But they are orders of magnitude simpler than even the simplest human language. A primatologist might tell you that bonobos have six distinct alarm calls relating to different threats, and this is probably true. But no bonobo (wild or trained) can say the equivalent of "I think I saw a lion behind the big rocks, but it might have been a gazelle."
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 25 2011

       I think you are limiting 'language' to an auditory thing. Information conveyed by scent might be much more precise than vocalizations.   

       I don't think most (if any) animals can produce a wide range of scents on demand - I am sure scent is as important as sound to many animals, but only because their vocal language is not much more precise than their scent language.   

       How would a bonobo say "I think I saw a lion behind the big rocks, but it might have been a gazelle." in scent?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 25 2011

       When he pissed himself of course.
Kidding, sorta.

       Most critters aren't communal enough to need that level of communication. I can't be sure, but I'd bet good money that Meerkats have warning vocalizations which differentiate between carnivore and herbivore intruders.   

       // I'd bet good money that Meerkats have warning vocalizations which differentiate between carnivore and herbivore intruders.//   

       I'm sure they do. I'd also bet that they've had similar vocalizations for the last million years or more. Therefore, they do not "get" language in the same way we do, or their vocabulary would have exploded into full language by now. (Can you imagine a group of humans who have words for "jaguar" and "elephant", but who take a million years to develop a word for "tiger"?)   

       The same argument applies for all species - adaptive cultural evolution (such as language) will happen very much faster than physical evolution (such as the capacity to do language) - so it's reasonable to assume that all species use language up to the limit of their brains' physical capacity.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 26 2011

       It's pretty easy to get hung up on sound as the main component of language. Even in humans that isn't necessarily the case. Gestures, scents (the pheromone trails of ants for example), colour changes (squid apparently use polarised light to communicate with each other whilst staying camoflouged) and even bio-electricity are all used to communicate.

It's also interesting to note that animal communications aren't limited to just their own species either. Most commonly, they can learn the alarm calls of other species but there are other examples of inter-species communication as well.

Of course, communication isn't the same thing as language but my own suspicion is that language is not the sole preserve of humans. It's just that we have developed a more sophisticated grammar. Well, some of us anyway!

Amusing but probably irrelevant sidenote: I saw a pigeon (not normally regarded as the brightest of creatures) crossing the road a few weeks ago. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, but on this occasion it was using a pedestrian crossing and had an initial attempt at getting across (there was another pigeon on the opposite side of the road that had found something tasty looking to peck at) but there was too much traffic and it had to scoot back again. It then stood on the pavement, pecking at imaginary food, until a human came along. When the lights changed, the human crossed the road and the pigeon followed close behind and so joined the other pigeon for a peck at something more substantial.
DrBob, Apr 26 2011

       I’d like to ask a question (as the hb isn’t really a place for posing questions via idea, this is nevertheless perhaps a bit out of fit).   

       Spiders have been going for millions of years, even hundreds of millions of years (if you’re aware of the recent coverage of the large fossil Golden Orb- Weaver Nephila jurassica spider dug up in China, dating to middle jurassic). Other older spider species were already highly evolved prior to the introduction of fully developed insects (and in turn, angiosperms — flowering plants). The various species of spider each spin a typical web suited to that species lifestyle. Web patterns vary across species, but individuals within a species will always adopt more or less the same parametric strategy for their web each time.   

       The question is: where is that information kept?   

       It doesn’t come into the spider from outside. In other words, it isn’t taught by other spiders, nor is it learned in some way through sensory input. So where is that web-spinning pattern information held?
Ian Tindale, Apr 26 2011

       Perhaps they have a mass subscription to 'Knitting Monthly'?

Christmas presents must be a bit boring at a spider's house. "Ooh, mum. You've knitted me another web. How nice!"
DrBob, Apr 26 2011

       //Christmas presents must be a bit boring at a spider's house. "Ooh, mum. You've knitted me another web. How nice!"//   

       Spiders eat their mothers*, so you can hardly expect Mom to put herself out for the little ones.   

       *according to EB White, anyway.
mouseposture, Apr 26 2011

       This thread got me wondering - are there languages which are "better" than human languages, in the same sense that human languages are "better" than animals' languages?   

       I don't mean just by adding more words for new things (which we do as necessary). I mean, could there be aliens who look at our language and consider it as primitive as we consider animal languages to be?   

       It's easy to imagine aliens with qualitatively different and better technologies, but surprisingly (for me) difficult to imagine aliens with qualitatively better languages. Yet at the same time it's hard to believe that we have reached a linguistic pinnacle.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 27 2011

       Our language is so crude, we have to translate our ideas into sounds, and then our interlocutor has to translate the sounds back into ideas.   

       I'm sure the aliens who just swap ideas back and forth, are looked down upon, by the ones who would not stoop to thinking in such a crude a fashion as an idea.
pocmloc, Apr 27 2011

       //Our language is so crude, we have to translate our ideas into sounds, and then our interlocutor has to translate the sounds back into ideas.// I am not sure that that was what [MB] was talking about...
4whom, Apr 27 2011

       Well, it wasn't, but only because I hadn't thought of it.   

       I was thinking about spoken (or written) language, and whether it could be better (in some fundamental way) than what we have at present. But perhaps [pocmloc] is right, and the next development would be an ability to convey and record thoughts (and experiences) directly.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 27 2011

       You have to hand it to [Vernon]. His ideas do start immense swathes of annotism. There's another 1/4 of a novelsworth here.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 27 2011

       //You have to hand it to [Vernon]. His ideas do start immense swathes of annotism// sp: Onanism
4whom, Apr 27 2011

       In the mean time (not normal by any standards) I seem to have penned a four page reply to [MB]'s question on "language". In the absence of the over-bakery I have posted it on my farcebook notes. It has no place here...
4whom, Apr 27 2011

       OK, well what about the Clangers? Their language seems to be somewhat more advanced than ours.
pocmloc, Apr 27 2011

       //perhaps [pocmloc] is right, and the next development would be an ability to convey and record thoughts (and experiences) directly//   

       I strongly disagree. Translating ideas into language is a way of improving the ideas. Formulating ideas in language (writing, principally, but also speaking carefully, or, if I'm really struggling, even talking to myself out loud) helps my vague, ill-formed, sometimes wrong ideas get their logic tightened up, the gaps in evidence filled in, their unsuspected weaknesses revealed -- and all of this before anybody reads what I've written, or reacts to what I've said.   

       Shirley this isn't idiosyncratic. It's the principle of "You don't really understand it until you can explain it to your grandmother" applied to ones own ideas.
mouseposture, Apr 27 2011

       [bigsleep] According to that logic, if you don't really understand a subject, you'll still find it easy to explain to your tutor at Oxbridge.   

       (Just quibbling. Actually: good point.)
mouseposture, Apr 27 2011

       I think we need language so that we understand our own ideas.
Ian Tindale, Apr 28 2011

       OK, you may have a point. It seems to me that languages evolve naturally, and so while I would expect the languages to be used by a given population to be fairly well fitted to that population's needs and uses, I am not sure we could say that ours currently is the best that could ever be. As societies and organisms continue to evolve, then I would expect their languages to also evolve.   

       Eco's book (linked) covers the "lingustic engineering" attempts to leapfrog this evolutionary algorithm, and is a cracking read if only as an enormous and erudite catalogue of failures.
pocmloc, Apr 28 2011

       //I think we need language so that we understand our own ideas.//   

       Yes, that is a very good point, about which I had forgotten.   

       On the other hand (as Richard Feynman pointed out), there are plenty of things which we can imagine quite precisely yet cannot convey concisely. He used the example of a crankshaft (you can see it in your mind's eye, and if you're an engineer you can see it fairly precisely, but you can't describe it easily in words.)   

       Another example would be a pebble. I can remember what a pebble feels like in the palm of my hand. If it's a particular pebble, I can feel it quite precisely and distinguish it, by feel, from any other pebble. It's quite a precise sensation (and I can also imagine it quite precisely), but I can't express it in language easily.   

       So, imagine a "language of thoughts" which had its own grammar, vocabulary and rules, but which allowed me to make you 'feel' the same pebble in your hand, or which allowed me to make you 'see' the crankshaft in your imagination, exactly the same way I 'see' it in mine.   

       Such a language (and, to be a language, it has to have rules and structure) would still force me to marshall and refine my own thoughts before expressing them - indeed, it might force me to do so in much more depth than our current language does. I can say "imagine a pebble in your hand", and you'll get the general idea, but your imaginary pebble might be round, golfball-sized and sun-warmed whereas mine is ellipsoid, the size of a cigarette pack and pleasantly cool; there's also its density, its smoothness, its colour, its dampness, pits in its surface, and a hundred other details which can only be expressed laboriously with our current language. If I had a language to express those qualities easily, it would also force me to decide on all of those details, instead of just thinking about and saying "a pebble".
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 28 2011

       “If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” — Edward Hopper
Ian Tindale, Apr 28 2011

       Was Hopper describing a limitation of language, or of himself?
He doesn't say "it" was unexpressable in language, only that he, personally lacked the ability to do so. Perhaps he'd have understood "it" better had he been able to express it in a poem, rather than a painting.
mouseposture, Apr 28 2011

       I'm gonna go ahead and say the guy was assuming his own brilliance, sheesh.
daseva, Apr 28 2011

       " //[MaxwellBuchanan], there is significant additional data, of which a great many people are unaware. There is a *major* claim that human DNA alone defines us as persons, but that claim has been *proved*false* by the data about "feral children". Without significant Nurture, all any human ever becomes is just a clever animal, incapable of creatively manipulating abstractions, or doing other things that distinguish persons from animals.//   

       Interesting, but also, alas, complete bollocks. For one thing, there are few, if any, documented cases of children growing up without any assistance from adult humans. Reports of children "raised by wolves" (or chimps, etc) are invariably found to be unfounded.   

       There are cases of children raised in pretty horrific circumstances, without much contact or communication. Not surprisingly, they don't develop language or many other skills, and cannot easily acquire them in later life.   

       However, even the most "feral" children have skills far and above those of animals. They are perfectly capable of abstract thought, of complex planning and of deferred intentions.   

       To argue that a human becomes equal to an animal because of severe deficits caused by lack of childhood care is roughly the same as arguing that a chimpanzee raised without other chimps becomes a fish; instead, it becomes just an imperfectly-developed chimp.   

       //Almost as interesting is the apparent fact that humans have exhibited person-type behaviors for roughly 60,000 years, while anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years. //   

       As I believed I mentioned earlier, this claim is also interesting but also of a highly testicular nature. We have no idea of the detailed neuroanatomy of ancient humans, so we have no idea if their brains were anatomically or cellularly the same as those of modern humans.   

       Suppose I gave you the skulls of (a) a typical modern person (b) a Nobel prizewinning physicist (c) a person with severe mental retardation due to a genetic anomaly (d) a person with severe autism and (e) a person with severe schizophrenia - you would not be able to tell which was which.   

       Given that more genes are involved in shaping the brain than any other single organ, it is highly likely that significant evolution of the brain has occurred in the last 200,000 years. Given that most of these changes will not correspond to musculoskeletal changes, anyone who claims that humans 200,000 years ago had brains identical to those of modern humans is talking (as I may have already mentioned) bollocks. It's not impossible, but there's not a shred of evidence for it."   

       --Posted by MaxwellBuchanan to the "Tolerance Test" page, and moved to here.
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], your claim, that all cases of feral children are unsubstantiated, appears to be unsubstantiated. Google for the phrase "feral child" and see for yourself. Also, the definition of the phrase allows for some early human contact; it is known that the more early contact a feral child has, the more possible is adjustment to human society after spending years away from it. Note those early years are also the same years in which the mental stimulation of human Nurturing causes a particular region of the brain to become more developed, and doesn't develop as much in feral children, and *can't* develop after a certain age.   

       I'm going to add some links and then write more of a reply to your message.
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       [Maxwell Buchanan], in continuing to reply to your message, I ask you to think about how we know about the failures of brain development of feral children. Each one that was captured last century, and later died, was probably autopsied out of sheer scientific curiosity. In the last 30 years or so we haven't had to wait for them to die because we can do CT and MRI brain scans. That we have such data means your claim is more than just "unsubstantiated" --it has been refuted.   

       Next, you appear to have something backward. All of us are by-default animal life-forms. It is our minds that let us declare that we are more than *only* animal life- forms. The capabilities of our minds are related to how our brains develop, AFTER birth. A feral child's brain can be less competent than that of Koko the gorilla or Chantek the orangutan, even if more competent than their wild cousins, simply due to being a bigger brain.   

       Do keep in mind that a bigger brain is not automatically a better brain; sometimes it exists merely to control a bigger body. That's why we don't see much about the degree to which blue whales might qualify as persons. If they do, it isn't because of the size of their brains.   

       We know that a big chunk of our own big brain is devoted to very fine eye-hand coordination, letting us throw things accurately --but that has nothing to do with what makes humans mentally superior to other animals. As the main text indicates, and the data in the links support, it is specialized brain development after birth, in response to very-much-greater mental stimulus than ordinary animals normally receive, that does the trick.
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       We are superior to any other animal in that we can make a cup of tea and bring it from one room into another and set it down on a table, usually with no untoward mishaps and quite often hardly paying much attention to the specific orientation of the cup. Apes can’t do that, they’d be all over the shop with it. But it’s interesting that apes, when they perform a task, don't seem to be visually fixated on it as much as they should be.
Ian Tindale, Jul 08 2015

       There are aspects of the human species that are significantly different from our cousin Great Apes. Imagine a city like New York inhabited by 10 million gorillas, and you have a recipe for something like a many-sided civil war; gorillas are far less social than humans.   

       In most species that exhibit social-ness more than "herd-ness", only smallish groups (maybe 40 at most) are stable. That tendency extends to humans whenever we think about "gangs", but we are much-more-able to tolerate both larger groups and groups-of-groups, than other social species. We could not have cities without that tolerance.   

       I SUSPECT that a major reason humans are less physically strong than same-size gorillas and orangutans (even weaker than smaller chimpanzees) is because it was an adaptation we had to do, for our rather- extreme degree of socialization to become possible. (On the other hand, our strength may be more "repressed" than missing; look up "hysterical strength" some time.)   

       A significant chunk of our brain is devoted to social interactions; it probably develops fairly normally in a feral child raised by wolves, because they are somewhat social, too. But acclimatizing to the degree of normal human sociability might be rather difficult for the feral...normal human children usually encounter many more than only 40 other humans in their early years, see?
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       [Ian Tindale], you have described another aspect of eye- hand coordination. Also we use our eyes in other ways, too. There is an interesting thing about just how visually oriented humans are, in a literal sense. Simply stand on one foot in the middle of a room, and close your eyes, and see how long you can stay balanced. A blind human can probably do rather well at that trick (the brain has to pay more attention to the proprioception sense, when the visual sense is missing).   

       It occurs to me to think about stereoscopic vision. Many herbivores have wide-set eyes that let them scan for predators; they don't have to do precision looking to eat grass or tree leaves. Apes are mostly vegetarian, but are also insectivores, and tree-dwellers, so they needed stereoscopic vision both to catch bugs, and to catch tree-branches when jumping. Humans took that feature and adapted it for major predation of other animals (again ties with rock-throwing).
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], while it is certainly true we haven't got good data about just what early humans were maximally capable of, you seem to have missed the point that Koko the gorilla and Chantek the orangutan represent. Their "modern" brains are far less sophisticated than the brains of early humans; even Homo Habilis had a rather larger brain than modern gorillas and orangutans. Then there is the case of Alex the parrot, able to do more than just "parrot" words. with an even- smaller and non-mammalian (to say nothing of being non-primate) brain. The simple fact is, the mental stimulation that a brain encounters, in the youthful/"plastic" stage, is extremely important --and without it, humans don't become so-obviously mentally superior to normal clever animals, like chimpanzees.
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       There is a very plausible theory (see link) that it's all because of cooking. When human-kind discovered cooking we suddenly had access to a lot more nutrition (cooked food has less nutrition in it, but it's much, much easier for the body to extract). This meant that we could supply energy to larger brains, we needed smaller jaws (compared to apes, for example, the 'gape' of a human jaw is tiny), we needed shorter guts, and we didn't need to spend all day eating (e.g. apes need to eat all day to extract enough nutrition from raw food). This freed up time in the day to spend on luxuries like language and culture. The need for someone to tend the fire while someone else hunted forced us into pair-bonds and social relationships. We are now as adapted to cooked food as cows are to grass, and cannot survive on a completely raw, unprocessed diet.
hippo, Jul 08 2015

       There are several techniques of replasticizing the brain/mind.
FlyingToaster, Jul 08 2015

       [hippo], yes, I agree that cooking helped humans acquire their modern physiology. If I recall right, it was Homo Habilis that first managed to control fire. Now think about all the ways that fire-control and cooking can go wrong, and the things that need to be learned to ensure it goes right. Those were certainly among the things that had to be taught to youngsters (even today, there is learning involved, with respect to kids with sticks and marshmallows and campfires). It was PART of the total variety of mental stimulation that young humans received.   

       (added) Cooking wasn't the only thing affecting human physiology, though. There is significant evidence that some of human evolution took place in coastal regions, letting us acquire enough body fat to float (other apes sink in water), and body-hair aligned to reduce drag when moving through the water. Heh, having lots of water handy might have helped them learn to control fire.
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       I propose that language is essentially a cloud storage medium, which has the useful secondary characteristic of communication with other people using that language. I don’t think communication is actually the primary purpose of language. Communication is a very close second, though.   

       The primary purpose is to store labels, and store interrelationships between labels, and build models out of those label interrelations. This would be quite difficult in the brain alone, with just processed sensations, if those evaluated and weighed sensation sequences were not identified by a name. We need to call something something in order to conceive of it.   

       I think this is because we’re adapted to a semi- stigmergic offline memory storage for all those sensory sequence interrelationships, or at least, the words that they have now become. The maintenance of what a word means and how it fits with other words is no longer an individual problem or workload. Words are an interchangeable currency among people, offloading the storage load to “the cloud”.
Ian Tindale, Jul 08 2015

       [Vernon], you still have not addressed the completely fatal flaw in your argument.   

       There is no evidence whatsoever to say that the neuroanatomy of humans was the same 200,000 years ago as it is today. Not a shred.   

       They had the same brain size, on average, as we do. But so what?   

       I ask again: if I give you the skull of a Nobel laureate, and the skull of someone suffering from severe mental retardation, do you think you could tell them apart? Of course not - that kind of thinking went out with phrenology.   

       Of course culture (and nutrition, and freedom from disease) play a role in developing human intelligence. But genetics also play a role, and unless you can find me a 200,000 year-old well- preserved brain to look at, you're whistling out of your arse.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 08 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], are you deliberately ignoring the point represented by the skills of Alex the parrot, Koko the gorilla, Washoe the chimpanzee, Chantek the orangutan, and possibly others? NONE of them have/had human neuro-anatomy, and all of them could creatively manipulate symbols. On what basis can you say that early hominims had such low-quality neural systems that they could not do at least as well as Alex, IF they had experienced modern-human Nurturing?
Vernon, Jul 08 2015

       [Vernon], perhaps we are talking at cross purposes here.   

       You are saying that _because_ humans were anatomically modern 200,000 years ago, their lack of symbolism and other "human" attributes must be due solely to cultural/environmental factors.   

       I am simply saying that there is no evidence whatsoever that they were neuroanatomically modern. In fact, it is very unlikely that they were. And the most subtle alterations in the brain's wiring can make profound differences to cognition, emotion, interaction, motor skills...   

       It is fine to speculate on what contributed to the development of human-ness. However, to exclude neuroanatomical evolution as a component is silly.   

       As to animals being capable of learning some skills such as image manipulation, I would respectfully point out that:   

       (a) Their abilities are quite severely curtailed - typically to the level of a 2, 3 or 4-year-old human.   

       (b) They never pass on these skills widely to others of their species; they do not acculturate their skills. The flame, once lit, simply doesn't catch.   

       Of course there is a huge cultural component to being human. But there is also a genetic component. To insist that _only_ cultural changes have happened in the last 200,000 years is as silly as insisting that _only_ genetic changes have happened. It takes both.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 08 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], it appears that you ARE deliberately ignoring the point represented by the existence of Koko et al. *It*does*not*matter* if hominim brains were not neurologically modern even 2 million years ago (to say nothing of only 200,000 years ago); the basic primate brain still existed on top of the mammalian brain on top of the reptilian brain --while Alex the parrot only had a modified version of the reptilian brain. Dolphins are known to have very significant mental abilities, with only the mammalian brain on top of the reptilian brain.   

       Then there is a Logic thing, in that the lack of evidence *for* something is not actually evidence *against* that something. But we do know that youthful brains are "plastic" in quite a few species, enabling them to more- easily adapt to different environments. See the fox- experiment link.   

       You are basically saying that because we have no evidence that young human brains were plastic enough, all those years ago, they simply weren't plastic enough. I'm saying humans have always been part of the spectrum of life-forms on Earth, and if enough species of mammals have something in common, like youthful brain plasticity, it is silly to think that that something is automatically excluded from humans.   

       And so, as indicated in the main text, modern human mentalities exist because of the large amounts of abstract data acquired by those minds in their early years --and they don't exist if the data isn't provided (feral children result). Ancient humans, before roughly 60 thousand years ago, simply didn't have that much data available to be acquired; therefore they were all feral. But IF that data had existed, we could have been at least as non-feral as Koko and Chantek much earlier.   

       However, I won't disagree much with what you wrote about passing the data on; many animals are simply not as social as humans (and we don't know how long we have been that social). Chimpanzees, however, appear to be social enough; see the link.
Vernon, Jul 09 2015

       //They never pass on these skills widely to others of their species; they do not acculturate their skills// Actually in some cases they do pass on learned skills. This is especially true in certain primates. Read last link.
xenzag, Jul 09 2015

       //[MaxwellBuchanan], it appears that you ARE deliberately ignoring the point represented by the existence of Koko et al.// Well, shame on me. I just don't think it's as relevant as you do. Yes, some animals are fairly smart; yes, they can therefore learn to do some things. Equally, dogs are fairly smart and can be trained to race. It doesn't mean that formula 1 cars were lumbering tanks until they somehow acculturated racing.   

       //*It*does*not*matter* if hominim [sic - you can mean "hominid" or "hominin"] brains were not neurologically modern even 2 million years ago (to say nothing of only 200,000 years ago); the basic primate brain still existed on top of the mammalian brain on top of the reptilian brain -- while Alex the parrot only had a modified version of the reptilian brain. Dolphins are known to have very significant mental abilities, with only the mammalian brain on top of the reptilian brain.// In which case, why raise the question of why humans spent 130,000 years without modern culture? Why not 130 million years?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2015

       Next up, on the origin of pointlessly boring origin essay discussions...
RayfordSteele, Jul 09 2015

       No, I'm going to refrain from whacking that particular bee-hive... for now.   

       dun-dun DUH!   

       [MaxwellBuchanan], it wasn't I who originally asked the question about why the earliest of modern humans didn't have art. I simply offered a logical answer, based on known data about feral children.   

       And because of the data about Koko et al, I suspect Homo Erectus, whose brain was more than twice the size of a gorilla or orangutan (but about 3/5 the size of ours), had the potential to become a rather more- capable person than the average 3-year-old modern human (and Koko and Chantek, of course). Too bad none are around for us to find out what they might have actually become if exposed to the data associated with modern human Nurturing.   

       I'm adding a link about the "hobbit" found a few years ago. A chimp-sized brain controlled fire and made stone tools....
Vernon, Jul 09 2015

       [Vernon], we don't know a lot about the cultural and social development of early hominids. Assuming that they were culturally equivalent to other animals is probably wrong, but we don't know for sure.   

       As I indicated above, I don't doubt that there is a strong element of cultural development in humanity's evolution. However, the general observation is that behavioural and physical evolution tends to happen in parallel, with mutual interdependence. Behaviour can't develop until critical brain structures are in place and, conversely, behavioural changes impact on physical evolution. It's likely that the two are closely interlocked.   

       It's clear that animals such as chimps _can_ learn certain behaviours when trained; but it's more difficult for them than for humans, and they can't go as far. This suggests that the brain structures needed for those behaviours are better developed in humans than in animals.   

       In summary, I am suggesting that human evolution has been as a result of physical (including neuroanatomical) evolution, and that cultural evolution has run more-or-less in parallel with this. Given the relative speeds of cultural versus physical evolution, it is likely that cultural evolution (especially if it had a selective advantage) did not lag very far behind the physical evolution that enabled it. It's certainly quite unlikely that it lagged behind by 130,000 years or more.   

       The way to settle this would be to get a complete genome sequence for an ancient (200,000 y.o.) human. If it's identical to that of modern humans, then you're right. It's quite possible that we'll get this information in the next few decades.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], in a way you are now agreeing with things I wrote earlier. I never stated that Australopithecus Afarensis could do more than a chimpanzee. Its brain was about the same size as a chimp, so I tend to think they could have done about the same as a chimp that learns sign language today. To whatever degree they couldn't do as well, that would be the "brain efficiency" thing you have focused on (the hobbit certainly had a more efficient same-size brain).   

       Still, the hobbit brain was a lot like that of Homo Erectus, and the normal member of that species had, as previously mentioned, a brain more than twice as large as a gorilla or orangutan. I would expect H.Erectus to do significantly better than Koko or Chantek, in terms of their equivalence to a modern human 3-year-old. I finally found a chart showing a lot of different brain sizes (not the more-common brain-to-body ratio); see link. My case is made more solid with a comparison of gorilla brain shape to A.Afarensis (other link).
Vernon, Jul 10 2015

       [Vernon] I never disagreed with some of the things you said. My point was that cultural advancement is enabled by a suitable brain. Once a suitable brain exists, the cultural advancement will tend to happen fairly quickly (compared to evolutionary changes).   

       If the brain isn't really up to scratch, cultural development will be limited. You might be able to push it a little further by training, but it won't tend to happen of its own accord, and probably won't stick if it's stretching the brain's capacity.   

       To make an analogy, you might be able to train a seal to manipulate things with its flippers, but seals are unlikely to produce great pianists of their own accord; hand-eye coordination tends to develop in parallel with hand development, and vice versa. And with piano development, obviously.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2015

       Good point. Against that, however, there is the fact that there is bugger all to do in Wales, but no corresponding increase in local intellect.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2015

       Well of course, there needs to be   

       blimey, was it really worth all this endless scrolling and flipping and swiping just to get down this far, to post a pretty contentless reply that adds nothing at all?   

       …some sort of stimuli.   

       No, not really worth it, what a waste of time. Don’t bother even reading this far.
Ian Tindale, Jul 10 2015

       I'm steeling myself to read the actual idea one day. Or at least one of [Vernon]'s ideas.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2015

       //Well, if we have been physically modern for about 200 thousand years, why have we been mentally modern for only 60-or-so thousand years?//   

       LLoyd Pye presents a good argument that humans were genetically engineered by aliens. The long delay might have been by design, or just the aliens having the patience to repeat "These cows are small, but the ones out there are far away" for 100,000 years. His older (low-res) presentation with diagrams etc is the better one on UT.   

       Well worth a watch. I'd be interested to hear what a biologist thinks, especially about the teaser at the end.
bigsleep, Jan 06 2017

bigsleep, Jan 07 2017

       [bigsleep], the fundamental problem with any "uplift" scenario (like aliens messing with human DNA) is, where did the aliens get their intelligence? Who was FIRST, and how did that happen?   

       The hypothesis presented in this Idea shows how modern human-class intelligence could have happened purely as a result of Natural events. (It is indeed Natural for many species to teach things to their offspring; humans just do it to much greater degree than other species.)   

       There is one thing that apparently hasn't been mentioned on this page (either in the main text or annos), that adds weight to this Idea. It is known that when a human child is raised at a fairly high altitude, compared to a similar human raised at sea level, the high-altitude human will experience certain stresses that result in growing a larger lung capacity and a higher red-blood-cell count. The young human body is physically adaptable, within limits. See the Tori Allen link for another set of possible adaptations.   

       What this Idea's hypothesis proposes is that the young brain, when stressed with an inundation of abstractions in early childhood, grows some extra processing capacity to handle that. It is that extra capacity that allows ordinary humans to manipulate abstractions such that we can do true language and the arts. It is the lack of that extra capacity that results in feral children.   

       It is known that for a couple million years preceding the start of the Late Stone Age (when humans began exhibiting artistry), human knowledge passed on to their offspring slowly increased. Excavations of older sites simply find fewer different types of things than excavations of younger sites. Therefore less-ancient humans had more things to teach their offspring, than more-ancient humans. And when the Late Stone Age began, **enough** total teaching happened that young humans grew extra brain capacity to handle it. It's pretty simple, really.   

       I have every reason to think the same sort of thing could happen on alien worlds per Evolution and allowed adaptations, just as I've described for Earth. Therefore I don't need to embrace the "uplift" hypothesis. It remains a possibility, but is not a necessity.
Vernon, Jan 08 2017

       //Who was FIRST, and how did that happen?//   

       The primordial soup idea is probably how it happened first, but scientists say that on earth at least it happened too fast so its more likely that life was seeded here.
bigsleep, Jan 08 2017

       [bigsleep], I was talking about intelligence, not life. If life- forms have to be uplifted to become intelligent, then how did the first intelligent species arise?
Vernon, Jan 08 2017

       //happened too fast//   

       Has anyone ever come up with a good explanation as to why life doesn't spontaneously arise all the time? It can't purely be that every available amino acid gets eaten.
theircompetitor, Jan 08 2017

       Second-class life (the sort based on carbon, not silicon) is abundant on your planet, and apart from photosynthesizing forms, "everything lives by eating something".   

       So, "life" arises spontaneously all the time, and very soon afterwards, something - amoebae, bacteria, plankton - comes along metaphorically says to itself, "Ooooh ! Lunch !"   

       Either that, or the immune system of some higher organism decides "That doesn't belong here" and splats it ...   

       The essential thing for ultra-primitive life to survive is an almost complete absence of competition.
8th of 7, Jan 08 2017

       Still, wouldn't we expect multiple trees of life to exist
theircompetitor, Jan 08 2017

       They did.   

       The unsuccessful ones got eaten.   

       There was this bloke called Darwin, maybe you've heard of him ... ?
8th of 7, Jan 08 2017

       If you could trace the evolutionary tree back far enough (I mean to the point of pre-biotic life), you would probably find that it has multiple roots. In other words, there was probably convergence quite early on, from several initial starting points.   

       (Of course, since then, there have been multiple convergences, such as the convergence of bacteria and proto-eukarotes to produce eukaryotes with mitochondria; ditto photosynthetic plants with chloroplasts; ditto many interspefic and intergeneric hybridisations.)
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 08 2017

       What did the first life ever in the universe eat? How long did it take to a] find it, and 2] realise it was for eating and iii) know what eating is?   

       & how many times did this process begin, and not all three of those were satisfied, so ended?
Ian Tindale, Jan 08 2017

       //What did the first life ever in the universe eat?//   

       Chemicals. Depends on the environment, but anything that can be reduced, oxidised or otherwise reacted is a good starting place.   

       Frinstance, my mate Phil has spent years working on self-replicating nucleic acids. Unfortunately he doesn't have an entire ocean at his disposal, so it's taking a while, but he's more-or-less got an RNA that'll catalyse its own replication from ribonucleotide bases. Dump it in the right primordial soup, and it would "eat" ribonucleotides and reproduce. Whether or not RNA, or anything like it, was actually the first replicating molecule is an arguable point.   

       //how many times did this process begin, and not all three of those were satisfied, so ended?// Scientists now know enough about the origins of life to be sure that we don't know the answer to that. The universe would look the same to us now whether the emergence of life on Earth (or wherever it started) was a one-in-a-trillion chance that happened only once; or an odds-on event that will have happened on every remotely habitable planet.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 08 2017

       Ah, but I'm talking about pre-primordial - before the soup - before even the pot has been got out of the cupboard, and before any of the ingredients have been grown and prepared. No life yet at all. What would have been lying around in such close proximity (ie on top of or underneath) that it can do anything like reacting usefully (where usefully means not using it up so there's none left in close proximity any more, and not killing the first life instead of feeding it, and not turning into the thing doing the eating).
Ian Tindale, Jan 08 2017

       //What would have been lying around// There's all this stuff called chemistry, and there's an awful lot of it lying around.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 08 2017

       Now there is of course - there's chemistry, geography, maths and science (and the rest is history). But back then, at the initial instances of the Hadean Era, there wasn't even water. Then there was, but no life. Then there was. But wait, what chemistry other than water would have been in water? There was a long time after before there was water when there was water but before life, and then there was life, so what was happening if all the conditions were there but life wasn't yet occurring until it eventually did?
Ian Tindale, Jan 08 2017

       //what chemistry other than water would have been in water? // Plenty. Perhaps I'm missing your point, [Ian]. It's possible - it's been a long decade.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 09 2017

       // I think a potentially more answerable question would be the origin of mental illnesses. Many have a strong hereditary component and, given their debilitating nature to the individual, it's interesting to wonder why they have remained so abundant in the gene pool.   

       — MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 17 2011 //   

       This reminds me of the bicameralism hypothesis [link], which (in part) posits that schizophrenia may be a reversion to the bicameral mind that humans used to have, before we developed consciousness a couple of thousand years ago or so.   

       // (Can you imagine a group of humans who have words for "jaguar" and "elephant", but who take a million years to develop a word for "tiger"?)   

       The same argument applies for all species - adaptive cultural evolution (such as language) will happen very much faster than physical evolution (such as the capacity to do language) - so it's reasonable to assume that all species use language up to the limit of their brains' physical capacity.   

       — MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 26 2011 //   

       Counterexample: the Pirahã tribe in the Amazon [link]   

       // On the other hand (as Richard Feynman pointed out), there are plenty of things which we can imagine quite precisely yet cannot convey concisely. He used the example of a crankshaft (you can see it in your mind's eye, and if you're an engineer you can see it fairly precisely, but you can't describe it easily in words.)   

       Another example would be a pebble. I can remember what a pebble feels like in the palm of my hand. If it's a particular pebble, I can feel it quite precisely and distinguish it, by feel, from any other pebble. It's quite a precise sensation (and I can also imagine it quite precisely), but I can't express it in language easily.   

       So, imagine a "language of thoughts" which had its own grammar, vocabulary and rules, but which allowed me to make you 'feel' the same pebble in your hand, or which allowed me to make you 'see' the crankshaft in your imagination, exactly the same way I 'see' it in mine.   

       — MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 28 2011 //   

       I think what we need for that purpose is a perceptual hash-based [link] language. Who wants to post that as an idea?   

       (It was only after copying and pasting all three of those that I realized that all of the things I wanted to respond to were by the same person.)
notexactly, Jan 09 2017


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