~ Homo Sapiens ~
Unpacking the Puzzle of Human Evolution
A few million years ago we Homo sapiens began a remarkable evolution. Instead of shuffling around on four paws, we stood up on our hind paws and began to innovate. We learned to use our front paws to manipulate the physical world. By standing, we extended our gaze so we could see the far distance.
The Upright Thinkers, Leonard Mlodinow’s smart and witty book, discusses the several stages of our evolution. Standing upright allowed us to explore the world – not only with our vision but with our minds. We grew a more complex brain over the centuries, allowing us to discover a continuing range of possibilities. As we stood upright, we rose above other animals intellectually. We were becoming…Homo sapiens erectus.
Along the way, we discovered a new technology — fire — which allowed us to cook the meat of animals we killed for food. Richard Wrangham’s book – Catching Fire – suggests that cooking our food made our digestion more efficient — which accelerated the growth of our brain…which allowed us to jump ahead of animals who were not able to build a fire.
With our new, fancy moniker — Homo sapiens erectus — we evolved in many locations around the world. Our expansion was not apparent until we invented the Internet in the latter 1900s. Skeletal fragments discovered by anthropologists remind us of some locations where our ‘forefathers’ evolved.
As time passed, Homo sapiens cropped up all over the world. Many of our “tribes” would evolve top become cultures, cities, and nation-states. Cultures are often unique, one from another, as when nations try to work together to their mutual benefit. A current example is Great Britain and the European Union (at this writing, January 2019).
Our cultures have created schools for educating children so they might become better contributors to their culture’s future and can ‘graduate’ to the world’s linked array of marketing and financial systems. Businesses can market their goods and services, acquire wealth, hire employees, and care for their families. These systems are a complex blend of business and government, enabling many folks to enjoy the benefits of culture.
Our steadily expanding access to ever-newer information is fed by broadening knowledge, scientific and otherwise, flowing to us through many large troughs of data, media channels, electronic and otherwise. This trove of information — some of it intentionally false (fake news indeed!) — has pressed us toward ever deeper comprehension of abstractions: for example, the idea of a distant place (somewhere other than here), and the act of imagining yourself in that place. Thus we routinely call on metaphors, two or more seemingly unrelated subjects. Our forefathers, scrambling from tree to ground and back up the tree, had no use for metaphors, lacking — we assume — the language to express such concepts.
Time’s Up, Pencils Down!
Welcome, Homo sapiens erectus. We’ve come a very long way across the centuries. How are we doing? Well, on strength of humanity’s astonishing evolution over many centuries, our report card reveals…a grade of phoning-it-in; Gentleman-C.
In our defense…we’ve visited the MOON and landed on Mars recently! We’ve created a wondrous invention – the Internet — which wraps our many species all around the world; we’re making scientific, medical and other knowledge-based breakthroughs; we’ve gained deep comprehension of earth’s biosphere. But we are often inhumane to one another. War, civil strife, domestic violence… abuse of women, children, minorities… defenseless people. And our “entertainment” often reflects our titillation with viewing human brutality. What is WRONG with us?
Ardis Makes Sense Of It All
We Homo sapiens are genetically-differentiated. We individuals are so different, one from another. Even identical twins diverge in surprising ways soon after their birth. Repeat after me: We are genetically-differentiated. (This is a ‘thing’. Google it.) We don’t perceive each other as a fellow member of the same species. We’re not in the same club. Everyone look at your neighbors. Compare them with your image in the mirror. Inspect the bodies, heads, faces, ears, noses, body types, heights, and so forth. Notice the difference between you and all the OTHERS. So different!! I am a one-of-a-kind species called Bill. You are…your own unique species.
Edward O. Wilson’s book — The Social Conquest of Earth — advises us that successful, cooperative species – bees, ants, others — are more social. More than Homo sapiens, they get along with each other and are therefore better equipped for long-term species survival. This flaw in humanity is a weapon focussed precisely on our future. Look down that barrel. Think of the human-created disasters we’ve suffered in the past several years. Decades. A brutal history.
Our religions cannot save us. There are more than 4,000 religions in the world. Religious leaders have proven incapable of unifying commonalities of human beings. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ever hopeful, insisted that the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice. Wistful preaching by Dr. King. Because there is no moral arc except as we create it. When we evolved to become homo sapiens erectus, we raised the possibility that we could grow into an improved version of ourselves. We are still . . . waiting.
A successful future for Homo sapiens will require deep engagement by women in every aspect of life. My friend Brynn — she and her husband have two kids, a girl and a boy — Brynn reminds me that females are the fiercest protectors of children. Support your local women! They have the power to heal our world. Men: take a breath. Let the women do the heavy lifting….for a change.
You may discover that women have been doing the heavy lifting …all along. We just didn’t understand. Real change must begin with women. They are, after all, the birth givers.
My friend Gene composed a sweet verbal lullaby to jazz and the musicians who make it sing. It goes like this . . .
THE ROCHESTER CONNECTION
Writer: Gene Clifford
About ten years ago, Joyce and I enjoyed a short—”this winter’s too long”—vacation in New Orleans. We had been there before but had such a good time we wanted to return and enjoy more of the wonderful things that city has to offer. We did just that, including a visit to Café du Monde—a New Orleans café renowned for its chicory coffee and beignets.
We were sitting at one of the tables outside, enjoying the warmth of the sun—which had not yet made an appearance in Rochester that spring—when a street musician came up to our table and asked if we had any requests. I immediately responded, “How about “’Round Midnight”, a Thelonious Monk composition which has always been a favorite of mine. He responded very enthusiastically and immediately began playing it on his saxophone. His talent was obvious and reminded us of the fact that the street musicians in New Orleans are not only plentiful but frequently very talented, as well.
After finishing “’Round Midnight”, he came back to our table to schmooze a bit and—I’m sure he hoped—to receive a tip for his trouble. He asked us where we were from and, of course, we replied “Rochester, N.Y.”. When we did so, a big smile came to his face and he said “ROCHESTER! Rochester is why I do what I do!” He went on to explain that, when he was a teenager growing up in New Orleans, every night as he lay in bed he would tune his radio to “clear channel 1180-WHAM”. He would then proceed to listen to a jazz DJ named Bill Ardis, who had a jazz program called “Ardis Against the Night”—a show that I listened to but, I confess, not as faithfully as our street-musician friend. The program turned him on to music—specifically to jazz–and he decided THAT was what he wanted to do with his life. So, that is what he IS doing with his life—playing jazz in the place where he grew up, which just happens to be a hotbed of jazz and the birthplace of jazz. And why does he do that? Because of a DJ in Rochester, N.Y., a city which NOW has one of the best jazz festivals in the world but which in Bill Ardis’ time was better known as the home of the Eastman School of Music and classically-oriented music.
So, the next time you’re wondering whether your life has really had any meaning and whether you’ve had an effect on anyone, just remember this story and be assured that there certainly is someone out there—who you may never have met or communicated with—who’s a different person than he or she would have been without your influence. And if you’re still not convinced, take a trip down to New Orleans and look for a street musician playing saxophone at the Cafe du Monde.