Kevin Laland, cultural evolution and magical thinking

Why do good, respectable scientists escape into teleology and magical thinking as soon as they get on to the subject of the evolution of human culture?

Kevin Laland is an excellent scientist. Extended spider cognition, Hilton F. Japyassú and Kevin N. Laland, is worth half an hour of anybody’s time.  But as soon as Laland gets on to human culture he enters a realm of teleology, of magical thinking.

I have just listened to Nicola Davis interviewing him on “What role might culture play in intelligence?” Guardian  Science Weekly, 07 February 2018 .

Towards the end, Laland  is trawling through “A good theory of the evolution of language would be…” statements, and comes up with what he says is the most robust: “Language originally evolved to teach; to teach knowledge to close relatives.”

Teleology: basically it’s in the grammar.

A purpose is the intention of doing something in the future.

An intention can be expressed in the form “X did y [in order to] do (or be, or achieve) z”, where X is the subject of the sentence.

Here language is X.  Language [did something] [in order] to teach.

So, language had an intention of doing something in the future.  The intention is represented by “[in order] to”.

Language is a distributed system.  Its existence extends into many domains, acoustic, alphabetic, semantic.  If language has an intention, some very precise argument is needed to demonstrate this and to show where in language such an intention is located.  In the absence of any such argument we can assume that language is totally devoid of intention.

From the sentence “language evolved [in order] to teach” we  must therefore remove “[in order] to”.

The sentence is now:

Language evolved                 teach.

The part before the lacuna is true.  It has no grammatical or any other relation to “teach.”

The insertion into the statement of “[in order] to” creates a short, teleological, Just So Story.

Just So Stories are not science.

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Cultural evolution: a five sentence definition

The Homo sapiens extended phenotype is all that has emerged through the neural system of the Homo sapiens organism by processes of muscular contraction.  It is also known as human culture.

The Homo sapiens extended phenotype is uniquely extensive and diverse, a physical mass of, today, around thirty trillion tons.

The Homo sapiens organism, without its extended phenotype, is ill-adapted to any natural habitat, and would be unlikely to survive.

The Homo sapiens organism is a crucial, sine qua non environment for the evolution of the Homo sapiens extended phenotype.

The last two propositions lead to the conclusion that the Homo sapiens organism and the Homo sapiens extended phenotype are obligate symbionts.

That Homo sapiens evolved as the obligate symbiosis of organism and extended phenotype

Abstract

Hominin evolution has not been fully explained.  Material evidence of the evolutionary paths travelled by the hominin organism increases by the week, but accounts of how the content of hominin cognition developed have not yet produced any visualised model (except in the case of linguistics).  This absence is surprising.

Human beings do not doubt that their abnormally big brains are the basis of cognitive powers unique in the animal kingdom.  While this still seems self-evident, our increasing appreciation of various modes of animal cognition make it correspondingly harder to define exactly what it is that makes human cognition unique.  The distinction seems to be increasingly quantitative rather than qualitative.

Cognition can be described as the correlation of systems of information physically present, down to the quantal level, in the architecture of the brain, and the nervous system more generally.  The more numerous the systems of information, the more complex the cognition.  The smallest bit of information, the Shannon S bit, can only be adduced by such a correlation, by its irreducible difference with at least one other bit.  At this level of irreducibility, human cognition is the correlation of vastly more numerous systems of information than exist in the brain of any other animal.

The substantive irreducible bit of information in animal cognition is the difference between two things as perceived through the nervous system, as between, for instance, a stone and a nut.  The unique ability of human beings is to make innumerable distinctions of this sort, and to be able to operate their durable registrations in the brain without the presence of external stimuli (that is, think of a stone without being able to see a stone) in hierarchies of abnormal complexity (as expressed in cooking an egg, or building the Taj Mahal or writing or reading Cervantes’ Quixote).  This irreducible locus of culuture I call the lep.

This ability is expressed, entirely by way of muscle contraction, as the material human extended phenotype; the totality of human culture. Where an evolved species, as for example a web-weaving spider, produces through its own organism an extended phenotype upon which the organism is dependent for survival, the relation between the two is one of obligate symbiosis.  Clearly, if one part of this symbiosis evolve by the Darwinian process of evolutio; replication, variation, selection; then the other part must evolve by the same process.  As long as it is accepted that Homo sapiens is an evolved species (and we must acknowledge that this is only accepted by a minority of human beings) then a first assumption must be that the human extended phenotype, today a mass of some thirty trillion tons, emerged by a process of Darwinian evolution.

This paper will outline a physical model for the evolution of the content of hominin cognition, including Homo sapiens cognition.  The model is speculative, since the evidence for what happened over the long duration of hominin development is sparse.  If we had a fly-on-the-wall video of a day in the life of a Homo erectus family, it would help immeasurably.  We don’t.

 

Introduction

Many significant theories first emerge as physical models, which are models at least partially constructed in the visual cortex; this was how Faraday, Darwin and Einstein worked.  The physicality of biological evolution is beyond doubt, and the evidential data for it must initially be perceived by the senses.  The same should be true of the content of all cultural evolution, which is not mere behaviour mediated by conspecifics, but also individual interaction with insentient structures.  In some non-human taxa these insentient structures are in a relationship of obligate symbiosis with their constructors; the webs of spiders, the nests of birds, the hives of bees.  Neither organism nor extended phenotype could persist without the other.

The extended phenotype of Homo sapiens is the present thirty trillion tons of the technosphere (Zalasiewicz, 2016)[i].  Cultural evolutionists seldom take account of the fact that the survival of Homo sapiens depends entirely upon the extended phenotype of the species.  The reciprocal is exactly true of the extended phenotype.  At the instantaneous cessation of all humanity, the extended phenotype would cease to proliferate and begin a process of increasing entropy.  On this evidence alone the most parsimonious account of hominin evolution, and thus of hominin cognition, would be that it occurred in the context of obligate symbiosis between organism and extended phenotype.  If the organism evolved by the consensual Darwinian process, then the extended phenotype, its obligate symbiont, must have done the same.  Thus the 3my old collective of hominin organisms was the immediate environment in which the technosphere evolved.

The first step is to “specify the exact question under investigation” (Smaldino, 2016)[ii].  The current question is consensually perceived as something like, “Account for unique status of hominin cognition”.  However, cognition is a metaphysical trope.  Our perception of what cognition is depends entirely on the content, the physical extension of whatever is being known.

Human thought, another metaphysical trope, can only be transmitted between brains via muscle contraction.  I’ll repeat that in another way, because it’s a rather unusual axiom.  Muscle contraction is the immediately perceivable and only output of human thought.   “A physical system manifests itself only by interaction with another” 216ff. (Rovelli, 2016)[iii].  Much of this muscle contraction is expressed in behaviour; smiling, throwing, speaking.  In the hominin clade we have no material evidence of such behaviour from the time before the emergence of graphic art, and very little until the emergence of movie photography.

The other fraction of  the history of hominin muscle contraction, that which is not unmediated inter-individual behaviour, is expressed as material extended phenotype; a flaked stone used for cutting, the Taj Mahal.  The aggregate of this fraction of the realisation of hominin cognition has been called the technosphere (Zalasiewicz, 2016); the insentient novel content of the recently coined Anthropocene.

The first possible evidence of deliberate shaping of a stone with another stone does not, at the moment, go back further than about 3.2my, when hominin brains were not much bigger than apes’.  Human brains at 200kya were apparently big enough to optimise the persistence of production and use of the extended phenotype (EP) of the hominin clade.  It seems that further brain enlargement, with its increasing energy consumption, did not further enhance that utility.

It is customary to omit this hominin EP, the thirty trillion tons of the technosphere, from current accounts of cultural evolution.  It might be productive to do the reverse, and bring it into primary focus.  The study of cultural evolution becomes the study of the evolution of the hominin EP.

A thought experiment: if every atom of human organism were to be annihilated on the instant, the still existent hominin EP would contain much information available to an extra-terrestrial intelligence.  If every atom of the hominin EP were to be annihilated on the instant, relict humanity would be reduced to apehood in days.  Our persistence as a species is entirely dependent on the hominin EP, which includes all domesticated species of animal and plants.

So, two axioms: 1)The hominin extended phenotype has information for any information-accepting and processing system, human or non-human.  2) Current Homo sapiens persistence is entirely dependent on the hominin EP.

This dependency saves energy for the organism.  A digging machine replaces the muscle power with which human beings wielded pick and shovel.  It also has an energy cost to the organism.  The resting metabolic rate of a brain of sufficient capacity to produce and utilise the present hominin EP consumes at least twice the energy of the brains of our nearest related primates, the chimpanzees.  This energy cost could not have evolved if there was no reciprocal energy gain.  There is no possible evolutionary model whereby the big brain evolved over six million years, and only then “invented” the marvels of the hominin EP.

The gain that compensated for increased metabolic rate is the utility value of the hominin EP.  If the two things could not have emerged sequentially, small brain to big brain, and only then scant extended phenotype to vast extended phenotype, then they must have emerged diachronically.  At any stage, the extended phenotype could only increase to the extent that the brain could accommodate it, and the brain could only increase to the extent that the extended phenotype could satisfy the increasing energy demand.

A mutualistic system is one where two systems correlate in a way that benefits both systems.  Obligate symbiosis is where each system is dependent for persistence on the persistence of the other.  Trees persist in obligate symbiosis with fungi.  The fungi provide the trees with vital minerals that tree roots have too little surface area to accumulate, the trees provide the subterranean fungi with energy from photosynthesised carbon compounds.

In the absence of any counter-argument I shall proceed as if hominin organisms and their extended phenotype persist in a relationship of obligate symbiosis, as the evidence suggests.  Thus what we call a human being is not an organism exhibiting behaviour that is entirely independent of its material environment (the Cartesian view), nor is it the insentient technosphere, but a mutualistic co-persistence of the two; not the rough Lomekwi 3 stone tool or the Taj Mahal, not a hairless ape, but a superposition of two correlating systems describable at every scale that the rest of the universe is describable.

Extended phenotype is a metaphysical trope, like trait.  It can only be perceived as its content.  There is no causal link between mass of extended phenotype and brain size.  Ants have much smaller brains than dolphins but, in terms of persistent mass, much bigger extended phenotypes.  Dolphins have slight physical means (their beaks and flippers, in fact) of manipulating the material world, so modify little persistent mass, whereas ants produce ant-hills.  Dolphins do have large energy-hungry brains, and a material extended phenotype in that part of an E=mc2 universe which is  the transmission and reception of acoustic energy, possibly as language; but every atom of every dolphin were to be annihilated on the instant, nothing with significant mass would persist. Many protists, stromatolites, ants, bees, earthworms, birds, octopuses and beavers, annihilated (or merely dead), do leave significant altered mass behind them after their passing; as do human beings.

Materials and Methods

(This is a meta-study, in the sense that the writer is not discovering anything new, merely synthesising some empirical data fully available to anybody interested.  The only excuse for its presentation is that it paints with a coarse brush an unusual picture of hominin evolution that might be worth some refinement by more accomplished practitioners.  The materials and methods are too distributed and, being part of the extended hominin phenotype, too complex to be catalogued in a few paragraphs.)

 

Discussion

As an extended phenotype which is far from human, take the web of the web-spinning spider clade.  Clearly this was not a result of saltation,  one day no spiders spinning any kind of web and then the next day a spider emerging via a huge and complex genetic mutation fully equipped to weave a complex web of the sort we visualise when we visualise a spider’s web; and then spinning it.  The web-spinning of a modern spider must have evolved in minute particulars, and those which increased the spider’s available energy were selected while those that decreased it were extinguished, all by selective factors distributed between the spider organism and the environment beyond spider and web.  At the same time as the web evolved, the organism of the spider also evolved in a way that could produce, and utilise, the web; in step, minute step by minute step.

The obligate symbiosis between a web-spinning spider and its web is not just dependent on information flow from spider to web, but also from web to spider.  For the small-brained spider the algorithms of web-construction depend on the last angle between filaments that the spider encountered.  If just the information processing system correlated to the web-weaving system of every web-weaving spider were to be terminally disrupted on the instant, there would be a lot of dead spiders within however long it takes an unfed spider to die.

We who accept Darwinian evolution as the process by which life emerged and diversified have no difficulty in accepting this obligate symbiosis of organism and extended phenotype in the case of spiders.  We do have immense difficulty accepting the same obligate symbiosis of hominins, including ourselves, and their extended phenotype.  If we overcame this difficulty, then the emergence of Homo sapiens would be easier to account for.

As with the web-weaving spider, it is likely that hominin brains and the hominin EP evolved by way of obligate symbiosis.  And as with the web weaving spider, it is likely that the information flow is not one way. “A physical system manifests itself only by interaction with another.”  Like the spider, the individual human organism gains information from the extended phenotype.  A child doesn’t learn what a cup or a house is via some sort of abstract explication by one or more con-specifics.  A child comes to know what a cup or a house is by the correlation of a physical system, delimited as a cup or a house, with the physical system contained by its skin.

The hominin EP contains orders of magnitude more information than any individual human brain.  Even the World Wide Web, a fraction of the hominin EP, contains more information than any individual human brain.  The aggregate of human knowledge stored in every now existent human brain is clearly also much larger than that in any single brain, but it can only be correlated at any instant by human networks much smaller than the total population.  There is no meaningful aggregate of all the knowledge in human brains, even on the instant, and knowledge changes continuously with information flux within and between brains.

As has been said, information in a human brain can only get out into the world via muscle contraction.  There is clearly unexpressed information in each brain, but it is effectively non-existent to all other human brains.  A passing bullet might merely make this non-existence permanent.

It can be well argued that there are certain somatic processes, weeping, secreting, excreting, that are part of the phenotype and not the hominin EP; though each of these is clearly must also be part of the hominin EP, because I have just expressed their representations by way of muscle contraction, and you have just perceived them via language, which is certainly part of the hominin EP.  Every bit, and the word bit is pregnant, of human knowledge has its hominin EP equivalent.

This necessity for the correlation of at least two systems, the necessity of muscle contraction to get information from one human brain to another, leads to the logical conclusion that the hominin EP contains as much information as the aggregate of all human brains.

So, to put together the following reasonably secure suppositions:  The web of a web-weaving spider is it’s extended phenotype.  It is external to the spider organism.  It evolved very gradually from a blob of goo to its present typical structure by small, gradual steps, each step being selected, or not, by Darwinian “external factors”.  This evolutionary path was diachronically interdependent with the evolution of the spider organism, muscular, neural and excretory; that is, behavioural.  Therefore an extended phenotype, as a bird’s nest, a beaver’s dam, a termite’s mound, is an evolved structure; structure in the sense of something with extension in the material universe.  This structure persists in mutual dependence with the spider organism and its behaviour.

It is a small speculative step to test the same proposition for hominins.  Hominin material culture is the hominin extended phenotype.  It evolved very gradually from, probably, sticks and stones to the present technosphere by small, gradual steps, each step being selected, or not, by Darwinian “external” factors.  This evolutionary path was diachronically interdependent with the evolution of the hominin organism, skeletal, muscular and neural; that is, behavioural. Therefore the hominin EP, just as a bird’s nest, a beaver’s dam, a termite’s mound, is an evolved structure; structure in the sense of something with extension in the material universe.  This structure persists in mutual dependence with the hominin organism and its behaviour.

It will be argued that the hominin EP is unique, both in its mass and its complexity, and therefore is qualitatively different from the phenotypes of all other animals.  It is indeed different, and it is indeed many orders of magnitude more complex than the extended phenotype of any other animal.  Take a coral reef.  It is the product of three correlated systems of information, the coral polyp, the substance and form which constitutes the reef, and the wider ocean, substance and ecology.  The substance and form of the reef can be an imposing edifice, but it does not correlate with any other entity in the polyp’s extended phenotype because there is no other entity.  The hominin EP on the other hand constitutes a very large number of correlations of systems of information which persist in a continuum.  This continuum persists as a distribution across a space of the same dimensions as cyberspace.  The nodes that define the space are every material occurrence of the hominin EP, and their persisting registrations in the architecture of every living human brain.  The almost empty cup of coffee by my hand is connected back in time to the first ancestral cups, across the universe by its own gravitational field, through the hominin EP to the fact that coffee drinkers throughout the world know what a cup of coffee is; and by agricultural and trading practice, meteorological change… a universal continuum.  How can this magnitude be accounted for by mere evolution?

The question is answered by the answer to another, what is the ability of the human brain that all other animals lack?  It is possible that the answer is relatively straight-forward.  It is not the ability to imitate, nor is it sociality or social complexity, nor is it the ability to recognise the difference between two perceptual objects, as it may be a lion and a lion-sized rock, or an edible and a poisonous fruit.  Nor is it language.  Language is certainly part of the hominin EP and did, I suggest, evolve in obligate symbiosis with it, but did not initiate it.  The evolutionary roots of the hominin EP go back a long way, and are certainly there in macaque monkeys that diverged from the hominid line about 25mya.  The early evolving hominin EP both provided the ecology in which language could evolve, and had reached a stage of complexity where it could not evolve further without language.

The ability manifested by hominins at the time of the emergence of the specifically hominin extended phenotype was the holotype of human competence.  Macaques had hammered stones with stones, and licked the resultant powder, ignoring the adventitious flakes.  At some protracted time after 3.5mya, hominin individuals recognised the chance products of their hammering as entities good for cutting, of the same type as the found stones good for cutting they were already using.  Macaques have never expressed this act of recognition.  The evolving hominins had the capacity, not of invention, but of recognition.  And they had the capacity to shut their eyes, look away, and still have that entity stored in the brain.  They had a durable registration of all that is a >flake that is also a cutting tool<, and everything else in the world that is not a >flake that is also a cutting tool<.

This is the hominin genius.  Chimpanzees can enact it in the context of the already evolved extended human phenotype, but it seems they can’t perform autogenic acts of type recognition, the sequence distraction (attention moving away from the object) and “re-engagement where you left off”, which necessitates not only a persisting passive registration of the object in the brain, that which triggers simple recognition, but a replicable registration of the object in the brain which triggers anticipation of the object being present even when the context of its probable appearance is not immediately available to the senses.  If the worked stones of Lomekwi 3 really are the product of Australopithecus afarensis or a similar taxon, then they could perform this act of durably registered recognition and anticipation over three million years ago.

The significant word in all this is recognise.  The competence is not one of invention,  it is one of persisting registration of a type in the brain such as will trigger recognition of that type even when an immediate stimulus for acquiring it is absent.  It is collecting behaviour, but not the same as a squirrel storing nuts.

Collecting without an evolved stimulatory pathway, as in a hominin picking up a stone good for cutting and carrying it home (a manuport), is significant, but it did not build the Taj Mahal.  It constituted only a part of the evolving hominin competence.  The other part was to recognise, initially probably only as a brain-neuro-muscular registration, the spatiotemporal relationship (the semantic space where the verb would emerge) between hand, hammer stone, core, anvil stone and flakes durably registered as cutting stones, such that after a period of distraction, a few seconds or a whole day, the operation of striking flakes off a core resting on an anvil stone — the same operation as a chimpanzee cracking a nut — could be repeated.  That is to say, they knew you had to hit the core with the hammer and that would produce flakes with a cutting edge.

This unique competence, of not just recognising a potential specific dynamic relationship between two objects when the objects are present, but of retaining a durable and addressable representation of this relationship when the physical referents are absent, is clearly described in Iain Davis’s game-changing Carta lecture, University of California, UCSDTV https://www.ucsd.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=25398 [iv].  It constitutes anticipation, or foresight.

Clearly anticipation, foresight, are not uniquely human, or even uniquely warm-blooded.  An African hunting dog can superimpose durable brain registrations of a particular dynamic environment upon an in-the-world dynamic environment being instantaneously registered by its perceptions; it can anticipate that when a colleague is moving in from the left, the prey will move to the right, where possible.  But the human foresight is thus.  It can superimpose durable brain registrations of a certain static environment, not upon a simultaneously perceived in-the-world environment, but upon the persistent registration in its brain of another dynamic environment that has no simultaneously perceived correlate in the immediately external world.  The correlation is between two information systems both within the organism; organism advisedly rather than just brain, because the whole organism is needed to perform acts such as using a stone to cut with, or knapping a flake.  This sounds abstruse, but in naturalistic terms it just means seeing a stone of a certain type and thinking, that will come in useful, with a context, largely represented in the visual cortex, of how this may be so.

This is the competence which has the potential for building the Taj Mahal.

This evolutionary departure point, Australopithecus afarensis or Homo habilis, required the (very very slowly) increasing ability to divide the world up into more and more discrete things, >?<, that might much later become the >cord<, the >awl<, the >chisel<, the >bowl<, the >basket<, the >spear<, the >cloak<, all initially adventitious morphological loci, each with a function that contributed to more efficient nutrition or other means of balancing the energy equation, and each a durable registration in the brain; and to locate each of those loci in a matrix of dynamic spatiotemporal relationships, or actions.

The remaining and more intractable problem is this.  If the hominin EP evolved in a Darwinian process, by which I mean one of observed phylogenetic heritability, continual replication with fidelity, an envelope of fractional variation, selection by external factors; how can this evolution be described?

Here information theory may be useful.  The smallest unit of information is the Shannon bit S, the minimum number of alternatives between two possibilities.  N = the number of actual possibilities in a system. The Shannon bit is conventionally the base 2 logarithm of N:S = log2N, so that when N = 2, S = 1.  The S bit is the fundamental , irreducible unit of all information transmission.

There have been half-hearted attempts to identify such an irreducible entity within the metaphysical trope culture.  These have been made in a context where human material culture is conceived of as a discrete, downstream, informationally inert system that did not evolve, but was in some undescribed way the product of another trope, human cognition.  Thus the task is made impossible.  Dawkins (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976)[v], rather off the cuff, suggested the meme as the replicating entity, but the meme too is a metaphysical object.  It cannot replicate.

The possibility of such a replicating entity is therefore denied, without further discussion.  Boyd and Richerson in their seminal Not by our Genes Alone (Boyd, 2005)[vi] discount it in a few unargued assertions. However, the possibility of replication with fidelity is inherent in the uniquely hominin competence outlined above.  That competence is based on recognition of type, and that in turn is derived from the recognition of the difference between two entities; between a stone good for cutting and a stone good for bashing, where N=2 and S=1. The whole environment of this early hominin, not just stones, could be reduced to such distinctions.  A stone good for cutting is not just the irreducible difference between itself and a stone good for bashing, or throwing, or scraping.  It is also the irreducible difference between a stone good for cutting and everything else in the universe.  That is the information in the system that is the type of a stone good for cutting when it correlates with its durable registration in a human brain.  That correlation is a distributed persistence, not just within the stone or the brain, but across the space-time continuum that connects the two.  Dragging in the space-time continuum may appear to be the gratuitous appeal to the authority of a higher power, a rhetorical trick.  And we know now that space-time is not a continuum, but quantal.  Nonetheless it is a pedestrian fact that the correlation of two systems requires a field between them.  An insentient object like a stone good for cutting may be perceived by a hominin as light.  The atomic structure of the surface of the stone receives light in one set of frequencies and radiates it in another, which is received in the visual cortex as a system, an image, which correlates with a persistent registration of the type stone good for cutting.  As long as this process continues across the space-time continuum, so long will the image of that particular, unique stone correlate with the system in the brain: type, stone good for cutting.  Correlation necessitates modulation.  Thus the briefly perceived particular stone  modulates its persisting registration as a type in the brain.

The type stone-good-for-cutting will be populated by many variations, both found and recognised before the emergence of controlled striking, or knapping; and after its emergence, when struck flakes will vary within one envelope delimited by the nature of the material, and another envelope delimited by the skill which constitutes the technique of the knapper.  The selecting environment in which such cutting tools function, as it might be cutting meat, type A, or cutting plant fibre, type B, will lead to differences being recognised within the type: stone-good-for-cutting.  In this way new loci of irreducible difference will emerge.  Within the categorical type, there are sub-types.

This ability for categorisation is again not peculiar to hominins.  It can be diagrammatically represented by a branching tree.  Any sequence of differentiation in an animal brain: prey animal: worth chasing/not worth chasing; is, within the brain, categorisation and sub-categorisation.  But in the process of knapping stone, the human competence is to retain in the architecture of the brain a persistent registration of the differences between types, and a persistent registration of the dynamic relationships between types, as it might be between a hammer stone and a core. That durable registration can initiate and modulate, through so far unknown complexities of feed-back, a sequence of neural, muscular and skeletal actions that eventuate in, on average, flakes of either type A, or type B.

The locus of irreducible difference upon which this model is based is difference between types, not between objects.  Within a type there may be hundreds, billions, of in-the-world examples, each at some scale different from all the others; ball bearing for instance.  Type is a hard word to pin down.  Here it is used it to signify, for example, the set of all knives in the world; their in-the-world signifiers (words, pictures); and their persisting and distributed registrations in all human brains.  I don’t think we yet know enough about the dynamic state of the brain to describe the precise nature of this distributed persistence, knife.

Here is a worked example.  There is a type knife.  Every instance of that type has a unique morphology at the microscopic level.  There are more significant differences of morphology that divide sub-types; knife with a  20cm blade, sharp point and serrated back for stabbing / knife with a rounded tip for pushing food onto a fork.  There are manifold differences of substance in the various parts, steel, bronze, ceramic, wood, ivory, leather.  We can assert that something is a knife, and something else is a dagger.  If any human being is asked to visualise a knife, each human being will visualise something unique within a uniquely connected neural architecture.  And yet we all know what a knife is.  And we know how it differs from a dagger morphologically.  A knife is a backed blade with one cutting edge, a dagger has two.  Morphologically there is likely to be a continuum between knife and dagger, and therefore at the margin arguments will happen, but for most people most of the time there is no confusion.

And here a remarkable fact about human cognition, and about language, becomes significant.  A knife is an in-the-world object which a hundred thousand word monograph could analyse and anatomise in exhaustive detail, and yet—

“He laid the knife on the table and smiled, radiantly, as if the whole evening had been a joke.  Then the smile, it was hard to tell the exact instant, stopped spreading across his face, and he picked it…”

—and yet when you just read that, you did not have to refer to such a compendium of knowledge as the monograph to work out what a knife is.  You knew on the fly, stored it almost instantaneously in short term memory so you could pay attention to the phrase “on the table” [table ditto], and when you got to the word “it” you could immediately correlate it with “knife” rather than with “table”.  There must be a unique, dynamic but persisting structure that is a functioning element of this episode of recognition.  It cannot be a widely distributed synthesising system like long-term memory which can take days to come up with a name you have forgotten.  The processing speed has to be high enough to get the whole thing done in a fraction of a second.  That unique, persisting, dynamic structure is the locus of irreducible difference signified by the word “knife”.

The locus of irreducible difference, a dynamic structure small enough to be almost instantaneously addressable, is a discrete functional element of what happens when you read knife in continuous text.  It is also a necessary nexus in decoding language.  It is probable that “knife” actuates a complex almost instantaneous pulse around the brain which provides context and thus a more particular knife morphology (abattoir, café, a grape to be peeled) which certainly involves the visual cortex, but that pulse is cued by the material locus of the registration of irreducible difference that is knife and nothing else.  That discrete locus may itself be distributed, but will be small.  This recognition cannot address the whole of the brain potential that could write the monograph on knife, which one way and another will correlate with the entirety of human knowledge, because that would require virtually infinite processing power to read a sentence containing only four nouns, knife, table, evening, joke.  Information theory, thermodynamics, take precedence over infinity.

An information system that is one (S)bit must be located in at least one human brain, but it is derived from objects in the world (say, the set of all knives) and from the distributed system of “knowing what a knife is” across a continuum of all human brains.  It is the smallest possible set of attributes which differentiates a knife from everything that is not a knife, inherent in the correlation of these two distributed systems, that is the type.

I return to another set of correlating systems of information; the web-weaving spider, its web, and the wider environment.  The replication of the web weaving spider organism is concordant with the necessary conditions for evolution: observed phylogenetic heritability, continual replication with fidelity, an envelope of fractional variation, selection by external factors.  The replication of its web across many generations of both web and spider is also concordant with those conditions.  The external factors which acted selectively upon web morphology were the spider organism and the wider environment.  So the web also evolved; and it is a general condition of extended phenotypes that they evolve alongside their symbionts; octopuses and their little cities, birds and their nests, termites and their mounds.  So it is parsimonious to suggest that the hominin extended phenotype also evolved.  Also, apart from Just So stories, there is not other current explanation.

From this evidence, knives evolved according to the Darwinian model.  It is I think irrefutable that, in order to be replicated, a knife has to go through a human brain; or did before the age of AI and robotic machines.  It is widely agreed that insentient objects do not spontaneously replicate.  Leave a knife, or even two knives, in complete isolation in a drawer and the quantity will never increase.  The same is not true of rabbits.  But replication of knives does take place.  There is a variation of form, size and substance both across time, and at any instant across the world, but within that envelope knives have been replicated for tens of millennia.  Go anywhere in the world, use the correct words to ask to borrow a knife and people will know what you want to borrow.  Knife is a stable type with a phylogeny that goes way back beyond the emergence of Homo sapiens.  Subtypes are replicated with fidelity.  The knives I use to eat with at home have been replicated in their hundreds of thousands, identical at the natural visual scale.

The problem that remains is to identify the irreducible locus which carries the information necessary for replication with fidelity of the hominin EP.  Once that is done, variation and selection by external factors raise no problem.  At the onset of the production of stone tools, excessive variation, both in the structure of the raw material and the competence of the organism, was something that evolution might suppress, leading to uniformity and economy in the replicating process. Likewise the environmental factors which selected certain types of stone tool over others, and certain morphologies over others, are already well described and argued.

An irreducible locus is not infinitesimal.  Both an actual knife and the dynamic neural structure which is its locus of irreducible difference in the brain, have extension.  They persist in three dimensions and time.  The difficulty is that we are looking at three correlated systems of information, the knife, the organism, and the continuum through which they correlate.  We know that if every human organism was annihilated on the instance, knives would no longer replicate, so the organism is part of the environment of replication.  We also know that if the entire hominin EP were annihilated on the instant knives, being thus non-existent, would fail to replicate.  Thus the information upon which the replication with fidelity of knives is conditional is distributed between the organism and its extended phenotype.

As with any system of information down to the node of a grain of space, there can be no singularity.  Such a node can only be described as its relationship to other nodes.  The same goes for a gene.  A gene is conventionally described as a sequence of nucleotides with the information required for a ribosome to build one protein.  A nucleotide is therefore the irreducible entity within the system of life.  But a single nucleotide contains no information useable by another system.  Its useful information only emerges in its correlations with other nucleotides.  Likewise, within the same system, a single gene carries information within the environment of its chromatin infrastructure, and of its correlated messenger RNA; and that in the context of available ribosomes, and so on.  The information necessary for the production of a protein, let alone a whole organism, is distributed throughout the phenotype, which necessitates two-way correlation.  This leads to a very complex picture of biological evolution.  But biologists do not say as a result, biological evolution is an impossibility.  They say, this means there is a lot of work to do.  Then they get on with the work.

Distribution is not itself a problem.  An (S)bit is distributed.  All information is distributed.  Any description of a system, such as the locus of irreducible difference as a structure in the brain, knife/dagger, or knife/rest of the universe, “is also therefore always the description of the information which a system has about another system, the correlation between the two systems” (Rovelli, 2016).  In the case of the irreducible locus of difference, it is this correlation which is the basis of replication with fidelity.  The correlation is a dynamic persistence across a continuum.  It is very difficult to grasp.  Physics can handle such concepts without boggling, natural human understanding has more difficulty.

I might help to give this correlation a name.  Let us call it the lep, which is a monosyllable, is not yet a lexeme in English[1], and might have as an acronym Locus Extended Phenotype.  A lep is the (S)bit of hominin culture.  1 lep = the irreducible difference between two systems of information.

The extension of 1 lep in the dynamic structure of the brain is very small; the systems with which it correlates can be of any size.  You can read the word knife on the fly and decoding will occupy a fraction of a second because correlation of small systems is much faster than that of big systems.  Think of the respective reproductive processes of E. coli and elephants.  Nonetheless, if I give you some matches, charcoal, a copper ingot, some clay, some wood and leather and tell you to make a knife, your registration of the lep knife is necessary to the outcome, that you make a knife and not a  spearhead.  The lep knife will correlate with at least three distributed systems: 1) the information latent in the stuff I’ve given you, 2) all information about knives in your brain, and 3) the rest of the world and all the information it contains useful for making a knife, like the presence and significance of oxygen.

This correlation is a dynamic process, not a statistical property. The information about knives in your brain will be many orders of magnitude larger than the irreducible lep knife; fires, bellows, moulds, and the hoped-for morphology of the knife you are about to make.

It is likely that all these correlations in the brain do not persist as bigger and bigger conglomerates of discrete dynamic neural structures each of which is absolutely identical to all the others.  They persist as dynamic alliances between differentiated neural structures, right down to the finest possible reduction, the lep.  Some leps will be identical, they may even form groups of two or more, but in “Knife”, the monograph, the lep knife will correlate with a number of leps upon which at the moment we cannot set a limit.

Each large complex correlation (a concept in natural language) is also different from every other, and can be addressed via the nexus of a lep.  We know the difference between mathematics and chemistry (discrete leps), but you cannot reduce mathematics to an essence, you can only reduce it to its particles; ultimately, to leps.

If we regard these correlations as within a continuum, then information travels through the continuum as various material structures. You’ve been challenged to make a knife.  You look at the gear on the ground.  The copper ingot receives information from the sun, the excitation of its surface atoms emits this information both as heat and light at transposed energies.  The eye receives this light through the lens, and at the retina it is transposed into electro-chemical information, goes through a process of selective destruction for increased informational efficiency and travels to the brain, where it correlates with the kinds of conglomerates of leps outlined above, which correlate with many other systems.  One of these systems will be the lep ingot, and another the lep copper, which as a pair tell you that this is a copper ingot (not a copper pipe) and this is a copper ingot (not a silver ingot).  Further on in your exploration ingot will correlate with the information that you have the components of a furnace but you do not have a hammer.  Melt and cast, not bash.

In this process information moves from the sun to the lep through many transpositions.  Information will be gained and information will be lost.  Overall the whole system will lose information.  Entropy increases.  One definition of life is that it is an enclosed system that can transfer entropy from inside itself to outside itself.  It gains information (such as 1 lep) but the universe loses more.  The hominin EP does the same, with the concomitant gross loss of information from the biosphere which already haunts its hominin component.

To conceive of the watch on my wrist or the International Space Station as composed by leps seems like the outer reaches of fantasy.  In biology things are different.  Darwin did not know what were the basic “factors” that composed life, what it was that  selection acted on.  Mendel produced genes as a verbal and visual model.  This was gradually co-related with continuing  biological discoveries until in the same short period, and respectively, Rosalind Franklin produced X-ray crystallographic images, and Watson and Crick a 3D model, of the DNA sequence structure.  Electron microscopes are rematerialising clearer and more complex images of the genome by the day.  Through this evolutionary process we can now see DNA, and that makes belief much easier.  There is no way at the moment that we can see the structure of the distributed system of a lep as it is encoded in the dynamic structure of the brain.  In that sense it is still an “unknown factor”.  But it occupies a space which can be filled by further information.  There is no reason why in the future we should not be able to see a “lep”, just as we can see the sequence of nucleotides that make up a “gene”.

My watch is not composed only of metal, jewels, glass and leather.  It contains information.  An exhaustive explication of the properties of a lep will have to wait for a book, but each component will have a lep, and each component will also be composed of leps (a cog wheel has teeth, as does a saw) and every lep has a phylogeny, some short, some going way back before Homo sapiens.  So yes, a watch is complicated, but what did we expect?  Biological forms are complicated, as our own organism.  We have to deal with it.

Another worked example; the question is, “What was the process  of replication, variation and selection by which the burin evolved?”  The following answer is purely diagrammatic, it does not pretend to be a literal history.  A burin precursor can be simplified as a rectangular lithic flake with a short edge retouched so it slopes.  This  tool is one of the upper Palaeolithic tool types and is replicated with fidelity over millennia.  Occasionally in its manufacture a shoulder might be  struck off by mistake at the acute angle.  This mistake was a variation upon the type burin precursor, a rectangular scraper or blade.  It would be uneconomical to reject this broken ‘second’ as mere waste, since it will still have some residual use as a kind of chisel.  It is at some time discovered that the miniature transverse edge that results from this mistake can be used for engraving and scouring square-sided grooves in hard materials such as antler or bone.  The variant is recognised as a sub-type, >precursor with missing shoulder and resultant spall<.  This recognition of the spall becomes a lep spall.  This is selection by the wider environment, proximately the organic material which the spall would cut, without which the spall would carry no useful information to the knapper.

The inadvertency of striking off the shoulder to produce a spall develops into a deliberated strike.  Skilled flint knappers recognised the dynamic relationship between hammer stone and flake blade that produced the spall, and thus the burin.  They start deliberately striking burins, rather than recognising them on the odd occasion when they fortuitously occur (nothing is ever “invented”). The resultant now preconceived tool becomes a type in its own right, a lep, burin.

The phylogeny of a burin is clear.  It is derived only from its precursor.  It is not derived from a flint projectile point, or a quern, or a stone wall.  And it fulfils the conditions of observed phylogenetic heritability, continual replication with fidelity, an envelope of fractional variation, selection by external factors.

Where there had been one lep, there were now three, distributed between replicating objects in the world, blades, spalls, burins, and persisting as discrete dynamic encoding structures in hominin brains.  And the whole process conforms at every level with the necessary conditions of Darwinian evolution, within a context of obligate symbiosis, from which the burin fortifies its persistence by having a place in this paper, and human beings, through the bone needle, got warmer and better-fitting clothes.

The same goes for my watch.  The evolution of complex machines requires further explanation.  It is dependent on reticulation and intromission.  I conclude with a short observation on the bicycle, which is descended from the hobby horse, diagrammatically a beam supporting two in-line wheels at either end, but with no drive chain.  This is a four wheel cart, morphologically  squashed laterally as far as it will go without vanishing into two dimensions.  The drive chain is an intromission.  One component is the chain ring, a large cog turned by a crank.  The mechanics of a crank depend on rotation about a fulcrum, and far back in the phylogeny of a crank we can see the first trimmed branches stuck under a large stone, or into a fissure in a promising slab of rock, and acted upon by one or more hominin organisms, their efforts synchronised with rhythmic grunts ancestral to the word, in English, and its attendant lep (because verbs too are leps derived from a dynamic relationship of their respective nouns)  “Heave!!!”

The model I propose is speculative and full of gaps.  It also seems to me to fill a gaping explanatory hole without any competition.  It might serve as a default postulate until the competition shows up.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In Ireland it is an alternative to leap.

[i] Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: geological perspective

Jan Zalasiewicz,(et al.) The Anthropocene Review 1–14 © The Author(s) 2016 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav OI: 0.1177/2053019616677743 anr.sagepub.com

 

[ii] August 12, 2016   Draft of chapter to appear in: Computational Models in Social Psychology, edited by R. R. Vallacher, A. Nowak, & S. J. Read. Forthcoming in 2017 from Psychology Press.

 

[iii] Reality Is Not What It Seems, Carlo Rovelli Penguin Books London 2017

 

[iv] (accessed 30/11/17) Iain Davidson (Univ of New England, Australia) CARTA – Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origin of Us Premiere Date: 8/2/2013; 21 minutesCARTA: Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origin of Us Iain Davidson: Stone Tools and Cognition: Lessons from Australia.

 

[v] The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press London 1976 ISBN

 

[vi] Not By Genes Alone, How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, University of Chicago Press June 2006

 

 

How the wolf became the dog

The Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev was interested in the inheritance of fur colour in Silver Foxes.  When he started his long experiment, Stalin was dead, but the atavistic simplicities that seem to underlie the flowering of dictatorships lingered.  Stalin had favoured the theories of Trofim Lysenko, who believed that characteristics acquired during a lifetime could be inherited; that weeds are spontaneously transmuted into food grains, and that genetics was a fake science.  Thus, anybody who advanced Darwinian or geneticist ideas was an enemy of Stalin and of the Soviet state.  Dmitry’s much older brother had done just that, and was executed without trial in 1937.  Stalin died in 1953, but Mendelian genetics was not permitted in the Soviet Union until 1964.

By 1959 Belyaev had observed that some silver foxes in captivity, in fur farms, were naturally tamer than others.  Darwin, who in 1859 did not know that genes existed, and referred in his theory to the loci of heritability and variation as “unknown factors”, had written in the On the Origin of Species that he suspected that the evolution of some characteristics caused by some of these “unknown factors” would be chained to other characteristics through the same “unknown factors”; or in genetics terms, that some genes operated in concert with other genes, so if you get the effect of one you get the effect of the whole suite.  Belyaev applied this to silver foxes, and surmised that the genetic substructure of tameness, and thus domestication, might correlate with certain physical characteristics.  In 1959 he began his series of experiments in which he selected for breeding, from a pool of thirty male foxes and a hundred vixens, only those who in very brief and sparse windows of contact were tolerant of, or even attracted to, human presence.  This experiment lasted the final twenty six years of his life, but that was a ridiculously short time in which to imagine that a process of evolution, replication, variation, selection, could take place.

Take place it did, nonetheless.  Darwin had noted that domestic animals tended to have characteristics such as as floppy ears, curly tails and spotted coats that were absent in their wild forebears, and by the twelfth generation of Belyaev’s selective breeding the tame silver foxes were not only tamer—the corticosteroid level in the their plasma had fallen to half the level in a control group, and after 30 generations the level had halved again — but, as Darwin had seen already, their coats became patchy, their ears floppy, their tails more curled in a ways that “tend to make animals appear appealingly juvenile to humans”.

Thus it seems likely that some animals have become tame or domesticated because long before they did so such developmental potentialities for variation have been established in their genetic and epigenetic structure.  If we are to avoid teleology —that these animals had these potentialities so that they could be domesticated and serve mankind— then we must suppose that this range of developmental potentialities, from calm, accommodating and deferential to aggressive, stressed and unpredictable, had some function that allowed for a stable complexity of social structure in the wolf pack.  Within the pack the tractable and cooperative, and the aggressive and dominant, are kept in a balance by selection, and this optimises predatory and reproductive success.

It has recently been observed that the same species of bird will, in times of plenty, feed the offspring that squawks the most and therefore is most in need, but in times of famine will feed the biggest. There is a general rule of reproductive success and maximum proliferation of genes here.  If there’s a lot to eat, feed the whole brood.  If there’s a dearth, feed the one most likely to live.

The size of a wolf pack will depend on the availability of prey.  The availability of prey will depend on absolute numbers of prey animals, and on competition from other predators, both conspecifics in other packs[1], and other predatory species.

With excessive expression of dominant and aggressive characteristics, alpha wolves of both sexes spend too much time strutting their stuff and fighting.  Hunting and rearing young become secondary, and such a pack might well fail entirely and vanish.  Too much mutual tenderness, care and sympathy would be fine as long as prey was abundant, all young fed, the weaker cherished (as in the bird in time of plenty).  But even in the best of times such a pack would expand until it started to deplete its resources, at which point the diminution of resources, because they too have to reproduce, becomes exponential.  The TLC-driven pack would try to spread the rapidly diminishing nutrition evenly among the young, and they’d all die.

In this case the constant state is a balance between the size of the wolf pack and its nutrition resources.  The pack size increases when food is plentiful, and decreases in time of dearth.  The selection takes place at the level of the genes and epigenetic processes that allow variation between TLC and aggression.  In the optimum circumstances the pack increases with TLC, this causes dearth, the residual aggressive individuals bully the softy TLC individuals into subservient cooperation; that is they are allowed to hunt, which is to their own advantage, because lone wolves are less successful hunters, but they are not allowed to breed within the pack, and if they do, their offspring are killed.

This leads to an excess of aggressive-dominant individuals.  There is no way the TLC lot can survive in this environment.  Food is scarce, the alphas use the TLCs’ hunting skills but do no allow them to feed adequately, and because the aggression of the alphas prevents them from hunting efficiently anyway, the level of nutrition is ever decreasing.  The desperate TLCs are driven off the kill.  They either fight, and die, because they’re not so good at fighting, or they flee to the wolf-wilderness, the debatable lands of the territory.  Where they will hear each other, smell each other, meet each other.  And because they are naturally cooperative, they will form a hunting group pair, threesome, and in time a pack, that is much more cooperative and efficient than the relict alpha population, staggering around on their last legs, famished but still snarling at each other rather than getting on with useful work.  But within the new TLC population will still be genes of dominance, ready for selection when food grows scarce again

The central point is that within individual wolves, and incidentally foxes, there is a developmental factor, the potential for genetic and epigenetic variability, that can be, and apparently has been, in the last 40,000 years, and probably much less, expressed as a bias towards co-existence with Homo sapiens.  Cooperation with humans was a potential present in the wolf organism.

Wolves that were proto-dogs were so because they were tolerant of, and over generations even attracted by, human beings.  But it takes two to tango, and it’s not so clear what humans saw in the proto-dog.  Maybe it is the human, particularly the juvenile human, tendency to neophilia, to explore new things.xplained so glibly.  Function must play a part.

The problem of explanation is one common in evolution.  It’s the transitional stage.  Once a complex system with two initially discrete components, as it might two hunting parties, one composed of dogs and one of humans; or indeed the system of a large-brained species such as humans co-existing in mutual dependency with their clothes, homes, tools, utensils and weapons; once these complex systems are up and running, it is easy to see how they work .  The intraspecific bit of the taming between dog and human, the combination of two mutually accommodating species that each gain advantage from the other, most certainly happened, since here we are together.  How the competition and mutual hostility between wolf and human made the transition to cooperation is harder to work out. The speculation has a limited development space.  It must not be teleological. There must be a functional advantage to both.   The possible time frame for the domestication of the dog coincides with the major wave of Homo sapiens spreading through Asia and Europe.  The transition took place in a cold landscape where the principal prey animals of both wolf and human, by biomass, were caribou.

The behaviour of the modern wolf is the nearest evidence we have of how the wolf ancestor to dogs might have behaved.  At the mythical level a sharp distinction between dog and wolf has been drawn over the evolutionary history of the taming; dog is archetypal friend to man, wolf archetypal foe.  This is marked in Eurasian folk literature and is with us to this day.

In the climate of the Palaeolithic when dogs emerged, the principle prey by biomass, and by use (meat, fur, antler), the caribou, migrated long distances between winter and summer feeding grounds, and humans as a result did the same.

Both wolves and humans are social hunters.  That is to say there is a complex of interdependent roles.  And many features of their total hunting repertoire would overlap.  They seem to be in direct, stable opposition and competition, as the man wolf archetype suggests.  In order that cooperation should emerge from this close competition, there must be an overall energy saving, which might be smooth or might be lumpy, that is it might bring in absolutely more energy for less effort, or it might raise the level of dangerous minima, times of potential extinction of the group through famine.  Either way , the taming must move towards a least energetic state compatible with homeostasis for the human/proto-dog combination, which is lower than the equivalent for each group on its own.

Wolves optimally hunt large mammals.  When the caribou are on the move, which they are most of the time, they follow them and watch for signs of weakness or panic.  They then run down chosen victims, which may change according to the course of the hunt.  They take various roles, chasing, heading off, distracting, bringing down, and killing.  They will utilise contingent bits of landscape, rocks, trees, cliffs, small round boulders over which the caribou are ill-equipped to run and become easily exhausted, gullies and uneven ice to check and turn and the prey with as little energy expenditure as possible.  The hunt economy, as well as minimising energy expended in running, can have bigger deficits.  The killing of a large mammal is a dangerous moment and wolves can easily be fatally wounded or killed by hooves or antlers which, if the pack is at an optimum size, is itself a serious energy depletion.

Upper Palaeolithic humans hunted, I guess, in much the same way.  There would have been a big overlap in technique.  So one must look at what specialisms each species brought to the deal.

Wolves had superior speed, wider field of vision, faster vision processing and better topographical navigation systems based on this speed, and also, possibly, better and faster-acting protocols for cooperation across short time durations.  (Their visual processing was not nearly as versatile as that of humans, who at that time could carve an image of the hunt on a sliver of prepared bone).

What wolves lacked was efficient killing ability, which was a danger area for them.  Otherwise they seem, as a species, well set-up; the present grey wold has survived to this day.  The present grey wolf survived those thirty or so thousand years.

And what do humans bring to the deal?

Wolves and caribou have around the same to speed.  Humans are the slowest runners.  Caribou protect themselves by keeping close to other caribou.  If threatened by the presence of a wolf pack their first  tendency is to move away, but they do so en masse, they are much bigger than wolves, in summer they have sharp hooves and they have big antlers.  A caribou can kill a wolf (our own red deer in our national parks can kill a human being, and do).  A wolf getting too close to a fleeing herd is liable to get a broken jaw or leg, soon fatal.  They have to wait for exhaustion, panic, and spatial vulnerability to make things easier.

What all three species have in common is the ability to cover ground fast, around the same speed, over long distances.  Performance wise they are all in the same sort of envelope, except that the human top speed, and I’m talking Usain Bolt here, is ten miles an hour slower than wolf or caribou.  A human being is not likely to catch a caribou with its bare hands.

What humans bring to the deal is their extended phenotype.  There are two parts to this that are relevant, technology and cosmology.

By the time of the mutual taming, our species had a lot of evolved extended phenotype.  It had enough art, painting, ceramic and stone and bone sculpture and relief work, music from bone flutes, even landscapes carved on bone that look like large scale maps, to provide an exhibition at the British Museum in 2013. http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/past_exhibitions/2013/ice_age_art.aspx   And they had weapons that could kill at a distance, the kind of thing that would be very useful to a wolf because it minimised the danger of the kill.  First, humans had an evolved physiology that could whip the hand up to speeds approaching ninety miles an hour.  Then they had projectile points stuck on sticks hooked to throwing sticks, which amplified the speed of missile launch.  You didn’t need to get within the reach of antlers and hooves in order to kill.

In addition to this humans had their cosmology.  This, the evidence is wide-ranging, was not just a bed-time story they told to the little ones.  As with the Australian songlines, cosmology was an evolved historical record, composed not of kings and battles but of, at the finest grain, of rocks, swamps and clouds, rain and stars, animals, insects, plants and rivers, fire, human beings, spirits, weapons, paintings and work in fibre, sculpture and aerial maps, canoes and kangaroos, each in and out of human brains in huge numbers of combinations and alliances, modulations of the total meaning space that has found homeostasis in a multi-media narrative.  It is an epistemological account, if lacking in detail, an account of how they knew things, not as lone things, as a kangaroo or a caribou or a wolf or a projectile point, but in huge intermodulating complexes.

This cosmology is not just an evolved historical record.  It is the ancient and durable account of how things are and how they work, and therefore it is an analytical and predicative instrument.  It has survived because it is a record of how to survive, not for an hour or a day but over tens of millennia, in an environment, rich in nutrition it is true, but with hostile maxima and minima of weather and nutrition which will kill, in days or sometimes in hours, a group without the knowledge of the Songlines.

And those competernces are what the humans will have brought to the deal with the wolves.  Wolves are opportunist hunters, following the herds, approaching them, making them anxious, pursuing them to panic, exhaustion and chaos, isolating and killing.  Man 30,000 years ago did much the same, but the evolved cosmology gave him a space-time chart that was with him always, a map of the land and the seasons.  If, at that time, you asked a wolf when the caribou would start to move north, or how long they would move for, or where they would stop and turn again, a wolf wouldn’t know what you were talking about.  A Palaeolithic human would not answer you in a way which was familiar.  They would regard the wolf with an entirely different intellectual apparatus.  The animal’s ontology would come across as ambivalent.  It would be in some senses an enemy, but in others a figure of respect.  One can infer from the modern wolf that the relationship of human and wolf was dual.  Honour, respect, correct manners and close cooperation were features of both societies.  And both were hunter-killers.  The old dog-ancestor wolf and Eurasian upper Palaeolithic humans would have existed in the same tundra landscape, among the same fauna; not just caribou but hare, fox, elk, bison and mammoth.  In winter the humans and caribou are clad in the same skins and two-layer fur, a fine thick undercoat next to the skin (for the humans this would be a second skin), and an upper layer of long hollow fibres, like quills.  The wolf hair is of the same two part type, the outer guard hairs particularly good at shedding ice, which is why the human hunters may have wolf pelt trims around the borders of their hoods to avoid their breath freezing out on the fibres.  Thus, more or less uniformly insulated in fur from the freezing air, this triarchy moves across the space time-continuum, wolf, human, reindeer, a stereotypical Christmas card or, since that particular tripartite deity was not to appear for another twenty or so millennia, a boreal universal White Moon Amanita card.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t account for how the dog came to be.

So: the function of the big human brain is to accumulate for yourself and your descendants as much extended human phenotype as possible.  The human extended phenotype thirty thousand years ago was large, but hardly the minutest fraction of what it is today.  Yet it is a feature of the architecture of the human brain in a healthy ecology that it registers and processes everything available.  We may feel, because we are more informed by quasi-infinite feeds of news, opinion and information generally, that our brains have and use massively greater capacity than the hunter gatherers’, but I mix with modern humans on a daily basis and I’m pretty sure this is a delusion.  It is true that the content of my ideoverse and the content of the ideoverse of a Palaeolithic caribou/reindeer hunter would be very different.  Their insentient material culture, stone, bone, antler, wood and hide and amanita, meat and fire and spears and berries dried, masks and other objective loci of rites, would take up a lot of meaning space, but so would the landscape and its inhabitants.  Animals would play a big part, particularly those they hunted and those they hunted alongside.  Wolves were a cosmological  conformation of tooth and fur and speed and ferocity, but alongside that also a confirmation of well ordered life in lupine camp and in the hunt.  They would  already have had a considerable presence in the paleo-meaning-space long before some of them became dogs.

Still, how?

There are various notions.  The first is that wolves kind of hung around camp fires and humans tolerated them so long as they didn’t come too close because to continually chase them off was a waste of energy.  Wolves have long canine teeth evolved to rip the perineum out of large mammals so that they bled to death, but they also have molars and jaws powerful enough to crack their main bones and get out the marrow.  But humans used stone tools for the same purpose, so the likelihood of humans tossing the wolves whose eyes glowed with the reflected gleam beyond the firelight the odd bone to keep them happy is slight.  I can see the picture, but I can’t see how we move on from there.

There is the neophiliac plasticity of young of both species which might attract them to each other, on the same lines as the tapir became a sporadic part of village life with the anaconda people.  It is plausible.  It has a lot of anecdotal stuff going for it. Except that I don’t think their parents would have allowed it.  I think both sets of offspring would be severely discouraged from playing with alien and dangerous neighbours, however much you might respect them for certain qualities you have in common.  Wolf pups and children, however much freedom they were given to play, however much cheek they were permitted to adults that would not be tolerated in low status adults themselves, would have been guided into superordinate protocols upon with the homeostasis and survival of the group depended.  These would have prioritised not getting killed or injured, and watching and learning so as to become an actively and appropriately useful co-operator in the optimally functioning group.  It would not have included hobnobbing with trans-specific bad influences.  I guess the caste prejudice might have been stronger on the wolf side than on the human.

Other-species familiarisation with the human organism is not unknown.  There is sequence on You-Tube.  Two elderly men, tourists not scientists by the look of them,  are sitting on the edge of a camp somewhere in the central African rain forest.  Two mature male gorillas shamble up with three adolescents.  They approach the men.  The adults stop about three metres from the men, and squat.  They allow the adolescents to go forward, touch the men, feel their clothes and skin, take off a hat to look underneath.  After a couple of minutes the adults grunt and gesture.  The adolescents go back to them and make as if to walk off down the path but one of the adults, with the polite arm gesture of an official who points out that the exit to an art gallery is not the way you came in, diverts them off the path and into the forest.  The End.  It’s lovely to watch, and makes you proud to be a hominid.  What it means scientifically, on You-Tube, is less certain, but as I’ve already suggested, while anthropomorphising other species can be overdone, theriomorphising humans is probably corrective.

Adventitious correlation of hunting practice is not unknown in nature. With wolves and humans, both species hunt, and in a manner that is concordant.  What is more, young wolves, or at least young grey wolves, when they are first taken on a hunt, just watch from a distance, and only gradually physically explore the roles of fast runner, balker, distractor, topography exploiter, perineum ripper and, if particularly large and powerful, muzzle clamper and suffocator.  We can assume that the same pattern applied to humans, though anthropological evidence would suggest that, unlike with wolves, hunting was a male only occupation.  Extended phenotype was to blame, perhaps.  Once the by then obligate clothing had emerged (unnecessary in the African cradle of Homo sapiens, indispensable in the ice-age tundra), and cooking, and fire, somebody had to manage the complex technology of domestic life.  There is an argument that early man, as a sex, traded meat for copulation.  The evidence of my grandparents’ generation suggests rather that they traded meat for a share in the outcomes of the technology of home, even when home lacked a roof, and may well have had to earn sex in much the way we do, by charm and status, good grooming and good humour, and excellent manual skills.  A big penis, valuable as a display item where the mean temperature is 25οC, is less so in the icy wastes under a couple of inches of hide and fur.  Of course nowadays the technology of the home is, hopefully, as much the burden of men as women, at least in northern climes.

So there in the tundra, still, we have the caribou and, following them at a short distance, the wolves and the humans.  If increasing anxiety, then fear, has accelerated the caribou herd to a headlong rush, and two predators in its path check this charge slightly, causing an energy draining eddy in the caribou ranks, this small loss for the collective prey, gain for the collective predators, will be one small factor in the economy which, when finally summed, will lead to the outcome, a kill or not a kill.  It doesn’t much matter in the heat of the moment whether the diverters are wolves who have cut across the rocky shorter distance between two points to get in front of the herd, or humans who have used the larger spatio-temporal metaversal map at their disposal to take a short cut at dawn in the expectation that that was the way the caribou would go.  It might even be a man and a wolf who had got there at the same time by their different journeys and could see advantage in each other’s presence as long as each kept a seemly distance.  If we can imagine a proliferation of instances like this, where certain roles are confined to one species, and others distributed among both, we get a pattern of the hunt with men and dogs which emerged millennia later.

There is still the problem of the kill.  If one of the advantages for wolves hunting with men was that men with projectiles could kill at a distance and this saved the wolves the risk of physical damage by hoof or antler, then for cooperation to be of any use the men would have to share the kill with the wolves, and this seems unlikely.  It would only be in the pre-kill stages of the hunt that the interspecific fluidity of certain roles would benefit both, and each would make their separate kills.  But there might have been occasions when, with a group of caribou cut off from the main herd and corralled not only by relatively static men with spears but behind them fast moving wolves casting a virtual net across lines of escape— a map capable of realisation in the human metaverse— the kill would be enhanced, a slaughter, a pile of dead; hecatombs for the sacrifice.  And evolved in the cosmology of the men was already a totemic wolf worthy of respect, probably one with a mythically shared phylogeny with men, though not perceived as such in the Darwinian sense, more in the sense of the Amazonian hunters who were descended from the ancestral anaconda or early North Americans descended from the Salmon People.

In this situation, some sort of deposition of the surplus kill, that benefited the wolves, might seem politic.  It would be better determined in a cosmological context, for several reasons.  First, it would probably be unpopular at a demotic level: “You’re not giving our meat to them fucking vermin, mate.”  The average shaman probably wasn’t possessed of  the dullest intellect of the group by any means, and their ideoverses would have developed along a phylogenetic continuum that was at variance with that of the, let us happily stereotype, the gorilla-muscled spear chucker, the one who if he was teleologically endowed enough could invent American Football on the spot.  Within the average shaman’s cosmology there would long have been a development space where proto-votive offering was foregrounded because it had a totally opaque but functional differential advantage.

The second reason is that protocols for rewarding the wolves for their part in the hunt would probably have evolved as functionally effective  rituals.  Most animals and birds are genetically biased towards ritual behaviour, display, mating, taking over at the nest, and such evolved behaviour is the material spatio-temporal locus of all intraspecific interaction.  It can also arise interspecifically, though usually in displays of aggression.  In fact ritual behaviour has evolved from hardwired signing behaviour, the twitching tail, the angle of the ears, that has become part of a usually intraspecific process, what we would call in natural language a social process, such as mating, or greeting.  I read a long time ago an account of an incident where a man who worked with non-wild wolves was talking about wolf etiquette.  One day he’d gone into the enclosure of a big male wolf with which he got on well.  He had gone in to fix a loose fence rail.  He had just bent down to see what needed doing when he was knocked off his feet with tremendous force by a forty five kilogram bolt of fur muscle and bone.  The breath knocked out of his body, doubled up on the ground, he expected the worst, but when he opened his eyes he saw the wolf stalking back to the place where it was doing whatever it had been doing before.  He realised his error.  Carrying tools, absorbed in his task, he had forgotten to make the physical, up close greeting ceremony with this male with a very high sense of self-regard.  He staggered to his feet, went across and did so, and the wolf reciprocated as if nothing disorderly whatsoever had transpired a few moments before.  Protocols, protocols.  Look at our great statesmen on public occasions, and remember baboons.

I’m not suggesting anything teleological.  I’m not suggesting that the shaman might have overridden demotic short-term speciesism because he could foresee that ritual deposition of votive flesh would be long-term functionally better than random chucking of scraps, which produces ambiguity and no dog-trainer would approve of.   I’m merely suggesting that such ritual behaviour would have evolved, with maybe the shaman and his tendency as a significant locus, because its long-term functionality was a differential advantage to both species.

And thus today all well brought up dogs cohabiting with well brought up humans are still ritually fed.  “Sit.  No, no sit. SIT…Oh, alright then.”

This seems to me the most probable way it happened, but there’s no data to work with, so I’m not sure.

Cultural Evolution and the Cartesian Divide

When I blog I tend to refer to the “Cartesian divide” and the “Cartesian rational soul” as if they were on the tip of every cultural evolutionist’s tongue.  Clearly they’re not, but  Descartes was, rightly, a hugely influential mathematician and, as Hobbes said, a rather worse philosopher, by which he also meant a bad natural scientist.  Here he was also hugely influential, and his philosophy continues to evolve around us, perhaps an even worse influence now than it was in the Seventeenth Century, so we need to talk about it. Continue reading

Paul Smaldino, models and @CESConf2017

The Cultural Evolution Society has recently held a highly successful meeting in Jena.  Paul Smaldino, who was there, had previously published online (August 12, 2016) a draft of a chapter to appear in Computational Models in Social Psychology, “forthcoming in 2017 from Psychology Press” https://t.co/tbYrvKcmGG .

I started writing this as the CES conference was in progress.  I have been blocked from the CES twitter account for writing Let’s Take the Cult out of Cultural Evolution http://wp.me/p3Q2WH-1F , possibly deservedly so; the temptation of the title led me on, and clearly a large majority of the Jena attendees were in no way participating in anything cultic.  But thankfully I was not blocked from the twitter feed of the conference itself, which proved to be illuminating, and often in a good way.  I quote:

“cultural evo doesn’t have its Watson & Crick yet” OR Maybe we do but they’re still looking for their Rosalind Franklin   ?? #CESConf17 Limor Raviv? @Limor_Raviv Sep 13

MH: Every artefact entails a sequence of prior events. Chunking & chaining these facilitates cultural modification, accumulation #CESconf17

MH: what cultural performances can we extract from a bone needle? Artefacts not just material: are embodied, enacted, developed #CESConf17

If those who went to the conference, and particularly the young post-docs who might look forward to a career in Cultural Evolution, took back to their workplaces the significance of those three tweets, then Cultural Evolution might develop a space in which to freely evolve, rather than the Faraday cage of unanchored statistical procedures which constricts it at the moment.

Hang on a minute.  I am not at all against statistical procedures, or formal models, or the place of mathematics in science.  Back to Smaldino.  He says generally of the formal model: “The precise specification of parts and relationships is what defines a scientific question and separates it from wishy-washy pseudotheory that is unfalsifiable and distracting“ (Popper 1963; Gigerenzer 1998; Smaldino in press-a).

To be honest I had expected the Jena conference to produce little precise specification of parts and rather a lot of wishy-washy pseudo-theory that was unfalsifiable and distracting.  And there was some of the latter, the old-guard of the American Evolution Institute being wheeled out to chant the dogma of group selection and the theology of “prosociality”.

The results of this dogma are clear.  In the past couple of decades the academic study of cultural evolution has produced no single model of any use or value (I exclude linguistics here.  Culture and language are interactive, but they are not the same thing).  I have no idea whether Paul Smaldino shares my view, and I’m sure he’s be too diplomatic to say, but for me at least Models Are Stupid, and We Need More of Them contains an implicit criticism of the majority of papers on the evolution of hominin culture written in  the last twelve years; an arbitrary date, but that of the publication of Not by Genes Alone (Boyd, 2005).

Towards the end of the chapter, Smaldino gives an instance of a useful model:

Charles Darwin, to give an extreme example, laid almost all the foundations of modern evolutionary biology without writing down a single equation. That said, evolutionary biology would surely have stagnated without the help of formal modelling. Consider that Darwinism was presumed to be in opposition with Mendelian genetics until modellers such as R. A. Fisher and Sewall Wright showed that the two theories were actually compatible.

Smaldino observes that in much scientific progress there is a process.  The process starts with a verbal model.  On the Origin of Species is just such a model.  It is compiled in natural language, of words, and relates to what can be perceived by the senses of most human beings.  It relates to plants and animals, things that we look at and touch; and the way they change over time.  And within that verbal model, where the meaning is distributed around a huge collection of things, the beaks of finches and the tumbling behaviour of certain pigeons and the fossilised skeletons of creatures which did exist but have not existed for millions of years, there is the potential for another kind of definable structure which is both simpler, in that the number of terms is both generalised and reduced, and more complex, in that the practice of understanding it itself takes specific time and effort.  This model, pared of all natural detail, presented only in symbols, is the formal model which, in the Darwin case, R. A. Fisher and Sewall Wright distilled from Darwin’s words.  The relationship between Michael Faraday’s verbal and visual model of the electro-magnetic field and James Clerk Maxwell’s mathematical model was of the same concordance.

Not all grand theories are built on verbal models.  Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was derived from a second order, formal model, the slight discrepancy between the mathematics of Newton and James Clerk Maxwell.  From Einstein onwards verbal models all but disappear from cosmological physics, leaving only maths.

But cultural evolution has not yet reached the Darwin stage, and sorely needs a verbal model, one that does not have a special, solipsistic, merely circularly validating vocabulary, but something that could be intelligibly, and with a straight face, reported in the serious newspapers of the world.  Or rather cultural evolution had entered the Darwin stage more than a century ago, but was suddenly closed off from scientific discourse by the section heading Replicators are not necessary for cumulative evolution in Not by Genes Alone (Boyd and Richerson 2005).  Exactly why this happened itself demands a cultural evolutionary explanation for which this is not the place.  The Restless Clock (Riskin, 2016) gives an excellent historical framework from which such an explanation might be derived.

Franklin, Watson and Crick gave us the double helix, something as verbal and visual as Faraday’s lines.  So we, or at least some of us, are looking for a verbal model for human cultural evolution, or one perceivable by the senses.

I repeat:

 MH: what cultural performances can we extract from a bone needle? Artefacts not just material: are embodied, enacted, developed #CESConf17

And thus Dr Miriam Haidle guides us out of the Faraday cage of free-floating statistics towards the inception of a verbal model.

I say inception, but of course it’s been about for a long time.

The dates 1791-1882 cover the lives of Faraday, Darwin and Maxwell, and we can add a fourth of the same epoch, Augustus Lane-Fox, a.k.a. Pitt Rivers, 1827-1900.  Pitt Rivers produced a model of the evolution of human material culture which can be succinctly represented thus:

This suggests at least two things; first that a lot of hominin culture exists, has extension, outside hominin brains; and second, that this culture which exists outside brains evolves in a Darwinian process.

The first suggestion is non-controversial.  Human material culture alone exists outside human brains to the extent of the present thirty trillion tons of the technosphere.

The second suggestion seemed obvious to Pitt Rivers, who lived in the same intellectual milieu as Darwin.  He saw, or imagined, a phylogenetic pathway through these projectile points.

I’m not suggesting he was absolutely right.  The illustrated data is clearly untrustworthy, assembled in a certain order merely to prove a point.  But that is not a reason to discard his intuition, that in some way material culture, which I think it is more demanding of careful analysis to call the extended human phenotype, evolved according to Darwin’s model.

Certainly it is safe to assert that leaving this extended phenotype out of our considerations of human culture is rather the same as arbitrarily excluding Faraday’s model from Maxwell’s equations, or Darwin’s model from Mendel’s genetics.

There is an additional reason to include the hominin extended phenotype in any model of cultural evolution, and it is this.  The Evolution Institute https://evolution-institute.org/ and John Templeton Foundation https://www.templeton.org/ school of Cultural Evolution portrays humanity as a-historical.  It bases its notions on a snapshot of the way it perceives humans as being today.  This snapshot is composed of non-modellable conglomerates of “behaviour” abstracted from its material matrix (how would you make a cup of coffee without a cup, without coffee, without heat?); beliefs, traits, prosociality, norms, biases; all floating free of any historical anchorage, devoid of millions of years of pre-literate hominin material history.

The intention behind this obfuscation, subconscious or not, is clear; to remove human beings from nature, and put them back as the sole beneficiaries of the Cartesian rational soul.  Fair enough, if you’re that way inclined and have the money.  But that was a historical phase, and it’s time to leave it behind us.

Once Homo sapiens is restored to history and history to Homo sapiens we can ditch all the grandiloquent metaphysical guff with its magical mathematical metaphors and get back to studying hominin evolution, including that of the ever-proliferating extended phenotype.  If we are to assert that that did not evolve alongside and through the hominin organism, then we have to come up with some pretty good, and at the moment absent, model of how thirty trillion tons of the stuff came into existence.

That’s the challenge.

Why extended cultural evolution is a mirage

 

This is a picture of cultural evolution.

stone-tablet-thing-1_1024

Figure 1.  http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-just-solved-a-maths-problem-on-this-3-700-year-old-clay-tablet?utm_content=buffereaab4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

This is not a picture of cultural evolution

 

Richerson phoney graph

Figure 2.   BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2016), Page 1 of 68 doi:10.1017/S0140525X1400106X, e30

 

…although this is also a picture of cultural evolution.

 

rate change tool variety UCSB

Figure 3.  http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/faculty/stsmith/classes/anth3/courseware/LithicTech/10_Summation.html

The difference between Figures 1. and 3. on the one hand, and Figure 2. on the other, is that 1. and 2. are pictures of things, of a clay tablet with hieroglyphics on it, or of types of tool.

Looking at the three images as images, one might initially think that Figure 2. and Figure 3. have more in common with each other than either has with Figure 1., because 2. and 3. are graphs and 1. is a photograph.  And that is true.  But it is in the case of what each represents that the deeper difference lies.

The photo first; it’s obviously of a thing, a thing in the world, a clay tablet, with what has been the signal for existence since the first millennium BCE; extension.  Extension means a thing has qualities that we can perceive with our senses (and how else can we perceive anything?); a thing with extension can be seen, often heard, touched, counted, photographed, weighed or in some way measured.  It also has a specified identity.  It can be a clay tablet or a stone tool or a tunneling  electron microscope or a Higgs particle or a gravity wave.  The last two are perhaps the most difficult things to weigh or measure in the universe, and it can only be done indirectly because neither is directly perceivable to our senses.  But it is only by seeing or weighing or measuring things, even if only indirectly, that we can know that they exist.

So that’s extension, and it is only with things that have extension that science can work.  The extension of a thing is an actual physical fact, the room it takes up in the dimensions of spacetime.  Nothing that does not have extension can exist.

Figure 3. represents things with extension.  Clearly it doesn’t represent everything individually, in this case every stone tool that has ever been made.  It represents what we mean when we say “stone tool”, a type of thing which is different from everything that is not a stone tool, a hammer made of metal for instance or an elephant.  You know without pausing that this…

P1000764

 

…is a stone tool, and not a metal hammer or an elephant.  And Figure 3. represents not just the type, stone tool, but the types within the type: stone axe, blade, chisel, stone projectile point, and more.  So 3. is a graph of a complex category of things with extension in spacetime and how that category increased in content over time.

Now look at Figure 2.. It certainly is a representation of categories, though you could not call them types: religious, political, ethnic, nations/provinces.  The first thing that should make us suspicious is that these labels are not even in the same grammatical category.  The first three are adjectives, the fourth consists of two nouns, the first predicated on ethnicity and polity, the second on lines on a map.  If this had been presented to me by an undergraduate I’d have suggested to them that a graph has to plot like with like, and then sent them away to think about a very basic lesson in organisation of emiprical data.  You cannot have a graph for example of [incidence of knife crime in a community] plotted against [virtuous]. That is plainly absurd.  So to present a graph of four variables, three of which are described by adjectives and one by a noun, is already beyond the possibilities of a two dimensional representation.  But there are further catastrophic errors.  The first is that the terms, let’s take “religious”, are totally underspecified, they have no precise referent.  The term could refer to a religious person, festival, rite, ceremony, statue or other things that have extension, some of them like rites and festivals very complex extension, and they are hard to weigh or measure but you can certainly see or hear them.  However, with the word religious we are only presented with the ghosts of an uncountable number of measurable entities, all lumped under one label in a graph; a label which is something that has no extension, religious; an adjective.  An adjective can only gain extension by being coupled with a noun, as in [religious painting].  This underspecified term “religious” as a function or variable has absolutely no place in mathematics, statistics or science.  Exactly the same applies to the categories “politcal” and “ethnic”.

Thus figure 3. represents a “res non entia”, a thing which does not exist.  It is a deception, a fraud, a pretense of clear thought where clear thought is emphatically absent.  Whether the producers of such mirages are sincere, and deluded, or as some have suggested have merely cynically carved out a niche for themselves in academia, in which they can pay the mortgage and put food on the table for the family (admirable in themselves) we can never know and it doesn’t matter.  But such perversion of a field of enquiry, that of cultural evolution, does matter.  It occupies  and then poisons the field where a proper scientific theory of the evolution of human beings might emerge, and that is a crime against truth.

It, what I shall for the moment call Cultural Evolution (Ext. Synth.), has another grave disadvantage.  In science, smoke and mirrors can produce nothing of interest.  The Findings and Conclusions of Cult. Evo. (Ext. Synth.) are , in every case that I have come across, circular.  They start with an underspecified proposition, do some fancy statistics, and conclude with the same underspecified proposition.

I repeat what Daniel Kahneman says in Thinking Fast And Slow; “People can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers”.

In science, you perceive (with the senses) in the world (as did Faraday) and then a mathematician explores the maths that is concordant with your perceptions (as did Maxwell).  Cult.  Evo. (Ext. Synth.) must  come to its senses.