I have sent off Jim's Book List to my local Waterstones and will embark on an attempt to bring myself a little closer to the 'mountain' of your knowledge.
Before my little garden of homegrown thoughts is heavily ploughed, manured and re-seeded by you horny handed evolutionary cultivators I thought to show you what is about to disappear!
In our early course notes I included a little digest of observations about Man. It will make you laugh and I would rather that happened now than in Cape Cod!
The Pet Owner: Who he is -Where he came from
Stone Age Man and Dog - some thoughts on the Mesolithic Era and the Nature of The Problem
We cannot discuss the behaviour of animals without including some discussion of our own behaviour which is both the cause of much of the problem and a major impediment to the cure.
So what are we?
The Berry picker - By and large we are an over-qualified berry picker.
Lord Clark's eulogy of Man's history, the series "Civilisation" is currently re-running on television. To my mind the history of Mankind is a rolling disaster in three parts.
Catastrophes - The first catastrophe was the domestication of cereals (the discovery of corn). Then came the invention of Gods and all the miserable social manipulation that followed. Finally speed reading was invented, which has led to the belief that anyone can quickly understand any subject. The result of this is government by those who have less than complete understanding of the objects of their legislation.
Golden Age - To understand what we are we must think for a moment about our natural environment. The optimum circumstances of geography and climate that nourished our species and in which we evolved. By mentally recreating that "Golden Age" we can understand why we are as we are and why we fear the things we fear.
When Man lived on the fruits of the natural landscape, in numbers which could not drastically alter it, he was like the natural dog or cat, in balance with his food supply. Mesolithic man was the endpoint of a food gathering evolution with a little intelligent hunting and cohabiting with friendly edible animals.
The forests of Temperate Europe and the undegraded woodlands of the Mediterranean provided a rich variety of very nutritious food plants. Gums, saps, barks, shoots, stems, buds, flowers, fruit, nuts, roots, tubers, rhizomes, corms, bulbs, mosses, seaweeds, water-plants and fungi sat waiting to be gathered. In summer and autumn a child of four could gather sufficient to feed itself and others. In the winter months the natural storage organs of plants, roots, seeds and nuts could be stored without special treatment. In a Temperate forest four gatherers could pick the plant equivalent of the edible carcass weight of a red deer in four hours.
In the Mediterranean park-lands a worker could reap enough wild grass seed to produce one kilogramme of clean grain with twice the protein value of modern cereal. A family could gather more grain in three weeks than it could consume in a year.
Modern measurements tell us that a square kilometre of the Mediterranean woodlands of Italy can yield 400 tonnes of Stone Pine nuts in a average year. With a protein value of 33.9% and fat at 48.2% this is the equivalent of 600 tonnes of lean round steak.
In the cooler parts of the Mediterranean zone the woods can yield 1 tonne of hazel nuts and 3 tonnes of chestnuts per hectare. The Temperate oak/hazel forests are no less productive, yielding 700-1,000 litres of edible acorns for each mature oak tree, half a tonne of hazel nuts per hectare, 20-50 tonnes of edible bracken root per square kilometre. To this was added fruit, cress, salad, spinach. To this diet must be added the flesh of the first animal to be domesticated - the dog. From the islands of Polynesia through the Far East across the geographical zone populated by the Mongoloid races via the land bridge to North and South America, the dog was or is an item of diet, culturally, historically and in many instances, contemporaneously. The size and distribution of population would have been controlled by the food supply. Competitors for food were competitors for life itself.
Appropriate Fears - Anxiety about Food and Sex. An extra- terrestrial being studying Man would notice that our main preoccupations were food and sex (amply confirmed by a glance at any magazine ). It would also noticed that we are extremely racist and obsessively concerned about paternity of children (the selfish gene). A study of "primitive" societies reveals echoes of the evolution of Man and manlike species.
Brazilian Tribes - A group of Brazilian tribes, the Arara, Parakana, Arawete and Mayoruna are potentially hostile although they have solved the food problem by specialising in dietary forms which avoid competition. Their staple carbohydrates tended to be a choice of sweet or bitter manioc, sweet potato, or corn. Meat would come from monkey, tortoise or tapir but each tribe tending to use one rather than another tribe's preference. This is specialisation. The need for the researcher (who studied these tribes) to take her own food into the forests in order to prevent the tribes from hiding their own food tells much.
Racism - As does the fact that the various tribal names mean "real" or "true" people and outsiders regarded as not quite human. A perusal of many tribal languages across the world reveals the concept of "ourselves" as the true people and strangers as something less, to be despised or feared. The wellspring of prejudice is the clan not the colour.
Man's greatest enemy will always have been himself (once he had exterminated all the other hominid varieties among which he emerged). Modern appraisals of the chimpanzee (our closest primate relative) depict a territorial omnivore, capable of cannibalism, stalking and murder of strangers or its own species. There is a curious tendency among anthropologists to depict homo in his various forms up to homo sapiens as not capable of these actions.
That Is My Nut Tree! - As soon as he became intelligent his mind would be applied to finding food and keeping it to himself. The burly, hairy, bawling male would shepherd his family group of female gatherers and breeders through the landscape of the "Golden Age".
Stealing Women - The Yanamamo Indian is praised by physiologists for eating only a tiny amount of salt daily (compared with the salt guzzling westerners), brownie points with the food fascists. But what about his habit of raiding for wives? Stealing women. Surely the only thing worth stealing. Particularly those with shapely , well muscled legs for wandering about gathering food, and firm full breasts for suckling the infants that replaced those brained or abandoned in the raid. (Another man's genes). Man joins the host of species (including 16 of primates) which kill offspring in the interests of selfish genetic propagation. The dark side of human evolution!
Small wonder that children have a powerful fear of strangers from 8 months onwards. Fear of animals occurs spontaneously in children, reaching a maximum between about 2 and 4 years. Fear of the dark begins around 2 years and increases to around 5 years. Although it is tempting to see innate fears, it is difficult to be sure that children do not acquire fears from their elders (or for that matter T.V.) since this is the most potent form of preparation of human young and mirrored in many other species. Of particular relevance to the behaviourist is the ability of the dog to be influenced by displays of fear by its human owner. My own natural fear of dogs in 1940-41 was greatly increased by my mother's belief that the government allowed trained dogs onto the streets to detect and attack any enemy paratroopers who might land on London. I vividly remember pedalling my tricycle frantically round the block to avoid a large black dog in the street between me and our doorway.
Later I was to sit in a cottage in Northamptonshire listening to tales of villagers drowning themselves due to the agonies of toothache and in preference to suffering the extra agonies of dentistry! Blood curdling accounts of the ferocity of pigs; of the disembowelling of 5 cart-horses by a single boar which escaped into their stable; the castration of a farmer by one huge bite of a sow which ran between his legs, and not least tales of women innocently walking their dogs being devoured by marauding sows, endowed me with phobia of pigs and dentists!
It is not difficult to picture the life and fears of early man. His natural affinity for lush woodland, flowering plants, laden fruit trees and bushes, sunlit glades, fish filled lakes and streams, plump waterfowl, clean strands of shoreline with clear pools and abundant shellfish, seems good now. Familiar territory appeals. Dark overgrown forests, strange places , featureless open vistas (especially with approaching strangers) do not appeal. Indeed strangers are scanned for facial expression, for staring eye contact, for tone and modulation of voice that we may divine their intentions.
Among emerging groups of early men either the dominant, strongest, least fearful males successfully competed for the right to choose their mates or women chose those with some combination of size, confidence, fitness, energy that signalled their competence in social survival.
We Ape our Forebears - Our primate origins are revealed in responses to fear. We scratch or smooth (groom) our hair when anxious. Our feet and palms sweat when we are afraid (the better to swing through trees without damaging the skin!).
Toughening Up - At puberty the combative association with society begins. Primitive societies developed rites and rituals concerned with this transition. The young males were subjected to initiations designed to immunise against stress and enhance the conduct of fear aggressive response to threat. Our lives are filled with vestiges of ancient behaviours ranging from the bowls of nuts set out as Christmas fare to the vestiges of Spartan educational methods in traditional schools.
Long Term Stress - Only one circumstance could cause serious (long term) stress to early Man. This would be shortage of food due to climatic aberration or overpopulation. In common with many other mammals the response to chronic stress is a catastrophic fall in fertility and immunity which provide the solution to the problem in the collapse of population. This can cause a problem for present day man and woman when continuous stress due to other causes trigger the craving for food which is the response to famine but not the answer to alternative (unprogrammed) stress. For early man the opportunity to feed up was the end of a period of stress, for modern man it is just leading to another problem!
The very distribution of body fat in humans gives clues to the adaptive nature of the ability to store fat for the winter. In many areas of the worked were the environment is harsh and food supplies scanty or hard won, fatness is prized. The successful male is portly and the paragon of female beauty has enormous buttocks and thighs.
The attraction of males to the curvaceous nether parts of women must be highly adaptive. It is the thigh and buttock fat which is drawn upon by the nursing mother. These 'reserves' are guarded by the metabolism as millions of women who attempt to diet them off can testify! The merest glance at the morphology of Pacific Islanders, Maori, Eskimos, Arab odalisques, and Amerindian squaws, confirms the theory.
Historical cannibalism lies in those areas where the food supply could be most critical such as islands. Here we find the greatest degree of desirable obesity.
Our main legacy is perhaps a love of long periods of leisure and a desire for things to stay the same as long as possible! This being perhaps the wellspring of religion and trade unionism.
Our tragedy now is that the landscape is changing fast. It was, however into the original landscape that the dog entered.
COAPE Course notes 1993. RW
Now my proposition for the week is that Man's main strategic anxiety is food and in particular winter food. Being designed for only one main anxiety he tends to respond to 'modern' sresses with a form of anxiety that is food related. His preference for mate shape is 'food for infant' related (femoro gluteal fat reserves for milk production).
The light hearted (but quite serious) question for the week is:- why do some men prefer the stimuli of mammary structures to femoro gluteal signals?
My own tentative inquiry amongst understanding friends is that the extravert, antisocial, binge drinking sensation seekers are predominantly mammary oriented and the anxious, sociable, worrying fatties (like me) are gluteally oriented.
Note: Rob will be part of the class for "Healing the Moral Animal: Lessons from Evolution" Contact him at email@example.com