Re: Are we "special"?

Thomas Clarke (
18 Dec 1996 14:22:37 GMT

In article <> Noel Dickover <> writes:
>Thomas Clarke wrote:


>> Man was the same species he was today 30,000 years ago.
>> So had there been biologists around they could have used the nomenclature
>> Home sapiens. However, the species would have just been a rather slim
>> hominid with an advanced tool kit and good ability to communicate by sound.
>> The same biological species today has much richer behaviors.
>> Bare nomenenclature does not capture this.

>-nastiness deleted-

Aside: I forgot the adjective "mental" in my nastiness.

>While it may appear that you and I are more or less on the same side of
>this downhill arguement, I think your above post shows where we differ.
>Yes we are the same species we were 30,000 years ago. If we were not
>special then, I would have to go with the arguement that we are not
>special now. I don't think we can just say that because we have
>developed neat tools and infinitely complex societies, this makes us

True enough, I suppose. But I would like to leave open the door
for the fact that (ca) 30,000 years ago we were potentially special
in the sense I am trying to push for the word.
Much of what Homo sapiens does today is culturally, not biologically,
based. Some authors have pushed the idea (Jaynes, a litte fringy,
Merlin Donald more mainstream) that our current style of thinking
is a result of the interaction of culture with the biological brain,
an operating system shift so to speak sometime in the last 10,000
years or so.

With regard to the special issue, if our neat tools and such are
just culture, just a software shift, then why has no other species
gone through this non-biological change?

>Being a cybernetics guy, I'm a big believer in feedback. Positive
>feedback systems can deviate drastically from a current steady state if
>given the proper initial kick.


>... Becuase H.S.S.'s ability for
>language is largely instinctual, this would have to be hard coded into
>our DNA.

However, I do not think the change in DNA can be very great.
Just a little twist in the way the brain is organized which we
don't yet understand. The difference between humans and chimps
DNA-wise is so small and the anatomies are so close that it must
be some small difference that leads to feedback (as you point out)
that makes the brain language-capable. One think pointed out by
Steven Pinker in the _Language Instinct_ (by others) is that because
of early birth, humans brains are still developing after birth while
they are in the presence of language using adults. Perhaps this
influences the structure of the brain so that the crucial DNA
difference may be that leading to large brain -> early birth ->
language behavior influenced brain development -> language ability.

>So my question really involves an analysis of where we sit in relation
>to other species in terms of developing flexible and adaptive (and no, I
>am not referring to some stupid pop reference to chaos theory here)
>social structures. And yes, I think this trait led to morphological
>changes in the genus Homo over time. It is this trait, I believe, that
>provided the possibility for complex societies to form at a later date.

[yes, the concept of chaos is ill-defined] Lots of loops like the
above could operate. Hunting behavior can enable the use of skins
can make hairiness less necessary makes the use of skins more necessary

>Jane Goodall once said that she thought the big difference between
>H.S.S. and Chimps involved our ability to discuss past and future
>events. This allows us to maintain and modify over time, the knowledge
>necessary to adapt to our environment.

Did she emphasize the "discussion" or the "past and future"?
These may be inseperable, but certainly animals have some ability
to remember the past and choose behavior to reach a desired future
result independent of their linguistic abilities.

Tom CLarke