Re: Social evolution of hominids

Phil Nicholls (
Tue, 14 Jan 1997 13:37:35 GMT (Paul Crowley) wrote:

>Phillip Bigelow <> wrote:
>>Susan S. Chin wrote:
>>> The benefit of continuous sexual
>>> receptivity in human females, according to Owen Lovejoy, is to ensure
>>> that the male stays with the female, even during periods when she's not
>>> fertile (ovulating).
>>As with many behavioral theories for hominids that have been put
>>forth, I always ask this question: Is the hypothesis testable?
>Phil, I think you should switch to Chemistry or some other
>discipline that allows high standards of proof. It will
>never be the case in PA. There will always be a lot of
>uncertainty about events of many millions of years ago. Your
>insistence on the wrong sort and degree of proof prevents
>you from approaching the issues in the right frame of mind.
>These events happened. We have to seek reasonable
>explanations for them on the basis of what slender evidence
>we have and try to present a coherent overall picture,
>always trying to acknowledge the uncertainties. That is the
>nature of the enterprise. It's not Engineering or Maths.

No, but IS science. No one is talking about proof or degree of proof
but a distinction needs to be made between speculations and
hypotheses. Speculation is not bad, speculation to something more
productive but there is a great deal more to physical anthropology
than the wild speculation and just-so stories. Unfortunately, this
aspect of physical anthropology is not as "sexy" and therefore of
less interest to the amateurs and dilatants. It is, however, the meat
and potatoes of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and the
Journal of Human Evolution. Speculations and "grand theories" are
the desserts.

>Take this issue. The approach should be to consider all the
>possible explanations for it. There aren't many. Then
>attempt to attach a probability to each, stating the degrees
>of uncertainty, also saying how other aspects of hominid
>evolution would link in.

This issue has been explored by numerous anthropologists. Some have
explored it with grand sweeping speculations and others have explored
it with careful labored analysis of primate behavioral data. Others
have explored it by careful analysis of archaeological data.

>The change was substantial


>and must IMO have happened at least 500 kya.


>It would have probably have been associated with other radical changes in social structure,
>lifestyle and habitat, which would have been reflected in skeletal

"Probably" implies probability.

>This would put it at the CA/hominid boundary or
>the australo/homo one.


>But the first stage is to consider possible explanations.
>I'm not aware of any - other than the facilitation of
>monogamy. Are you?

I am aware of the fact that most human societies are not monogamous.
Are you?

Phil Nicholls
"To ask a question, you must first know
most of the answer." Robert Sheckley