Re: Are we "special"?

John Waters (
20 Dec 1996 11:28:34 GMT

Thomas Clarke <> wrote in article

> Language is key. Some like Pinker think that language is
an instinct,
> and it certainly seems to be. However, as you so ably
point out there
> is not a lot of difference between chimps and humans
(Diamond says
> we should be Pan sapiens) so it is not clear to me that
there is room
> in the genetic differences to fit a language instinct.
There are
> differences and they do enable language, but they are
small. The
> interesting question to me is how such small genetic (and
> differences lead to such large cultural phenotypics
> Maybe it's an accident. You push the brain past a
threshold and it
> explodes into culture. [Then what pushed it becomes the
> I guess. Ballistic hunting? Ice ages?]

JW: Sounds like a cue for my song. May I add the words
Multi-age broods? If I can just squeeze my two pennyworth
in, (before James gives you a lecture on testosterone and

To avoid unnecessary post on the matter, I will preface my
little homily with a definition of a multi-age brood. It is
any brood of mammal young of different ages all of whom are
in their infantile stage of development. The age difference
must be one gestation period. The brood stage is the period
in adult life when the adult shares food with the infants.

There are two types of multi-age broods, namely LBI (long
birth interval) broods, where the age difference between
successive surviving infants is four to six years; and SBI
(short birth interval) broods, where the age difference
between successive surviving infants is one to two years.
This terminology is purely arbitrary, but closely
approximates the multi-age broods of HG tribes, and
agrarian/industrial communities respectively.

Recent calculations by Gerrit Hanenburg on this NG, imply
that the LBI multi-age brood became a hominid species
*norm* at least 1.6 Myrs B.P. This would coincide with the
emergence of H. erectus.

The LBI multi-age brood evolved as a result of the
altricial development in Hominid young. This is associated
with the growth in Hominid brain size. It resulted in the
extension of the infantile period of development of Hominid
infants. Eventually, the period of Hominid infancy grew so
long that a younger sibling could be born before the
previous born infant had reached its juvenile stage of
development. This led to the concurrent rearing of two
differently aged infants.

The importance of the LBI brood lies in the social
interactions between the infants and the nursing female. I
have already described how the LBI brood led to social
sharing in a previous article. If anyone is interested in
this, I will be happy to email a copy.

However, this thread (at this point) concerns the evolution
of hominid language. So I will restrict my comments to the
two other effects of the LBI brood, namely the development
of a S & L neurophysiological capability, and a change in
response seeker characteristic. I'll start with the latter.

If the nomenclature seems a little strange, this is because
the RSC started life as part of a career prediction

Human babies are born helpless. They are much more helpless
than other mammal altricial young, because while the other
species young can crawl towards their mothers' mammae, the
human baby can only cry. This extreme degree of
helplessness means that the human baby must get a response
from adults if it is to survive.

Human babies may be reared under one of two basic social
conditions. In this regard, they are reared either by one
adult, or more than one adult.

Babies reared by one adult only learn to respond with that
one adult in the early months of life. This is a crucial
development, because early learning can have long term
effects. A process known as imprinting causes early learned
behaviour to become stereotyped, so that the individual
continues this type of behaviour throughout their adult

As a result, babies reared solely by a single adult tend to
seek individual responses to their actions when they become
adults. I classify such individuals as Individual Response
Seekers, (or IRS's).

(In terms of careers, such individuals tend to prefer work
where they can deal with people on a one-to-one basis.
Typical careers for IRS's are Doctors, Nurses, Bank Clerks,
Hotel Receptionists etc.)

Using this method of classification, it is possible to
classify Apes as IRS's as the baby Ape is reared solely by
its mother. Furthermore, Ape mothers are usually very
possessive in the early months of an Ape baby's life, so it
is not surprising that Apes become IRS's, and tend to do
everything on a one-to-one basis.

It seems reasonable to assume that all Hominids, prior to
the establishment of the LBI brood, were also IRS's.

Babies reared by more than one adult will seek a response
from the adults as individuals. In addition, they will seek
a mass response from all the adults at once. As a mass
response is greater that an individual response, the baby
will concentrate on that type of response in the early
months of life. As before, this early learning becomes
imprinted, and this response characteristic is continued in
adult life. These individuals are called Public Response
Seekers, (or PRS's).

(In terms of careers, such individuals tend to prefer work
where they can receive a mass response to their activity.
Typical careers for PRS's are Actors and Entertainers,
Politicians, Priests, Surgeons [who work in aptly named
theaters] and Barristers [Attorneys]).

In an LBI brood, there is a newborn baby and an elder
sibling, both of which are concurrently reared (and fed) by
the mother. Both are still in their infantile stage of
development. The younger infant is a helpless baby, so it
seeks a response from its mother in the usual way.

However, as the elder sibling is still being fed by the
mother, the younger infant will attempt to gain a response
from this individual as well. As far as the newborn baby is
concerned, the elder sibling may appear as another adult.
So this apparent multi-adult environment leads the younger
infant to try to gain a mass response to its actions.

As a result, the younger infant in an LBI multi-age brood
becomes a Public Response Seeker. In time, Hominid
communities would comprise a mixture of IRS's and PRS's.

The key element in a mass response is synchronization.
Reciprocity leads PRS individuals to form circles where
each can alternately entertain and respond. On a larger
scale this can lead to formal arrangements such as theaters
and arenas.

To maximize such a response, the PRS individuals must
organize their audience into a large cohesive group. The
synchronized audience reaction to stimuli can lead to
unified teamwork. Examples of non-unified teamwork are
baseball, basketball and soccer, where individuals do
different things but with a common aim in mind. Ape hunting
parties are also an example on non-unified teamwork.

Unified teamwork, by contrast, involves individuals doing
the same thing at the same time. Examples of unified
teamwork are a tug-of war team, a rowing eight, or a choir.
This last mentioned team brings us back to speech and
language. Darwin speculated that language may have started
with singing, or tribal chants. Perhaps he was close to the

Either way, language also requires synchronization. In this
context, the change in Hominid Response Seeker
Characteristic may have played an important part in the
development of unified speech and language.

The second effect of the LBI brood would be to develop the
underlying neurophysiological and physiological changes
which were necessary for the evolution of modern speech and
language. It is proposed that this came about in the
following manner.

Long term ethological studies of many mammal species have
shown that normal individuals survive, mate and reproduce
better than abnormal individuals. Furthermore, such studies
have shown that good mothers tend to rear normal
individuals, while bad mothers tend to rear abnormal
individuals. As a result, there is a continual trend
favoring the development of good mothering characteristics.

However, this trend does not lead to perfect mothers in any
specie because individuals comprise a mixture of male and
female characteristics; and perfect mothering
characteristics clash with the demands of perfect fathering
characteristics. As the Alpha males tend to father most of
the offspring, this clash of demands reduces the potential
for perfect mothering.

That said, if there were any mothering characteristics
which did not create disadvantages for the Alpha males,
they would be selected for *ad infinitum*.

When a nursing female rears two differently aged infants at
the same time, she may tend to rear them as though they
were same age twins. If she treats the newborn as though it
was the same age as its elder sibling, the newborn will
become abnormal, although the elder sibling will be normal.
Alternatively, if she treats the elder sibling as a
newborn, it will become abnormal, although the newborn will
be normal.

Even worse, if she treats both infants as though they were
the same median age, then both infants will become

If the mother of a LBI brood is to rear two perfectly
normal individuals, she must rear them independently. This
means that she must be able to summon them independently,
with individual names. Furthermore, these names must be
distinguishable from the names of any other adult, or
infant, in the community.

Although a perfect mother of a multi-age brood could never
become an actual reality, it is possible to predict the
qualities which such a mother would have.

For example, a perfect hominid mother would require a very
good memory, in order to remember exactly the right diet,
exercise and training required by each infant at any
particular stage of its infantile development. In addition,
this mother would need a very good ability to
differentiate, in order to give precisely the right kind of
rearing, to the right infant at precisely the right time.
Furthermore, she would have to have a very good managerial
ability, in order to sequence the various elements of
infant rearing in their proper order, and schedule
independent feeding, grooming and training for her
dependent infants.

There is no reason to believe that any of these special
characteristics would clash with the demands of an Alpha
male. Quite the contrary, they would probably improve the
males performance. So these mothering characteristics could
be selected for *ad infinitum*.

In this regard, linguistic studies have shown that the
basics of language, namely: phonology; syntax; semantics;
lexicon and pragmatics; all require precisely the same
physiological and behavioral characteristics - in terms of
memory, differentiation and management, as the rearing of a
LBI brood.

The LBI brood may not be particularly remarkable, but
sometimes the least remarkable changes can lead to the most
remarkable long term effects.