20 August 2007

Parallel evolutions

As it is with most things in life, there are turning points in the evolution of the human species. For instance, the point at which humans became different from chimpanzees (in spite of acquiring 98.5% of their genes), and/or the point at which the modern man became different from the Neanderthal.

Of course, this evolution has taken 50,000 years or so. Maybe longer. As long as six million years, if we are to believe what evolutionary biologists and anthropologists say. During this period, the human brain has been ‘rewired’ millions and billions of times. Who knows at which instances the turning points occurred?

The moral of the story is that, this rewiring of the brain has made us do things completely differently from the way other animals do things. And has, eventually, made us what we are today: a life-form which is capable of finding cures to diseases, travelling in outer space, telecommunicating, and figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Our survival and our evolution have both depended on our ability to invent, to create things, using our brain. According to Prof Steven Pinker of Harvard University, our success has been a result of three things which have co-evolved (see my previous post): our intelligence about our world (i.e. cause and effect as apparent in nature), our social intelligence (i.e. coordinating our behaviour with others to bring in collective benefits), and our language (i.e. communicating, sharing and exchanging information).

In simple terms, this means human evolution has been due to a ‘cognitive’ evolution – an evolution in the powers of the human brain.

This has resulted in the creation of various methods, tools, and technologies… all of which has helped us survive and evolve further. These ‘products’ of the human brain have also made a tremendous contribution to human evolution – perhaps as important a contribution (some scientists believe a greater contribution) as has been made by our genes.

For 50,000 years or more, humans have passed on their accumulated learning – their discoveries, inventions, tools, methods, languages and customs – generation after generation, not through genes but through language, actions, behaviour and other forms of communication. Thereby, carrying on a ‘cultural’ evolution parallel to the cognitive one… making us what we are today.

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