Could orthodox conceptions of Human evolution--which rest upon the theory of Behavioral Modernism--be marred by cultural and epistemological biases. For example, are industrialized human populations actually more evolved than First Humans (circa 100 ka) and/or currently existing hunter-gather populations? Or might the perceived differences result from divergent values and systems of knowing?

  • What does this mean? "does the concept (not to say, reality) of egalitarian democracy and an advanced technological prowess suffice to render Wilber's assertion that the earth is currently populated by human beings at a number of different evolutionary stages axiomatic? Even when those egalitarian ideals remain significantly unrealized, while the advanced technologies drive the planet toward immanent ecocide?" – nir Jan 2 '15 at 10:06
  • @nir, sorry, my first attempt. But if the question's not clear or concise perhaps other will assist. – Little Eva Jan 2 '15 at 10:13
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    To do that they need to understand what you mean in the first place; so in essence you are are saying that the question is clear; Nevertheless I fail to interpret it; it always seemed curious to me that there are two kinds of philosophers and scientists in the world; those who can make the most complicated things seem simple (Einstein, Feynman, Hume, Socrates, Descartes, etc...) and those who can make the most simple things totally unintelligible. which kind do you want to belong to? – nir Jan 2 '15 at 10:55
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    I, too, suggest that you unwrap this a bit. It's not clear to me what your question is. – iphigenie Jan 2 '15 at 14:39
  • Welcome to Philosophy!! Is there any chance I might be able to persuade you to spell out a little more clearly what exactly you would like someone here to explain to you? It can also help improve the chances of getting a great answer if you share a little more here about what you might be reading that's made this an interesting or important problem to you in your study of philosophy – Joseph Weissman Jan 2 '15 at 17:45

Although I respect Ken Wilbur and other transpersonalists, they seem to see evolution as a single track, whereas it is clearly something more complex. It presents to us at least a tree of evolutions, and perhaps a network where traits emerge and fold back together into more complex systems than could evolve in a simple, goal-seeking manner.

We have certainly evolved adaptations that allow us to populate a broader range of the planet. So while you may or may not want to consider local adaptations as evolution of the whole species, we do see the process of evolution at work selecting humans for different environments. It is not clear this somehow advances the species as a whole, because they seem to take the form of selective trade-offs. But they allowed us to migrate to areas we could not previously occupy.

In the north, for instance, light skin allowed us to move north of the tropics and still have enough Vitamin D (while letting us get more skin cancer). And we evolved the various blood types to resist diseases more often caused by the cold (while creating certain difficulties in childbearing). To the far north, we think we evolved fat accumulation for warmth, and when those same people moved through the far north to the middle of the Americas, we see the same mechanism adapt for long-term survival in regions with extreme seasonal variation (while making for a lot of diabetes currently). So, this presents at least a 'tree' of adaptations that increases our flexibility.

Also, there is a good reason not to consider technology as 'evolution', since it can be lost and regained far more easily than atavism can allow physical traits to be lost and regained. Merging these two concepts seems unwise, since they pursue different goals, an currently, to my mind, seem to be trending in opposite directions. We are trying very hard to suspend physical evolution, and to make humans' ability to reproduce more equal, and we see the middle classes worldwide in particular producing fewer copies of their genes in the interest of promulgating more emphasis upon their 'memes'.

As they do so they mix those memes in new and interesting ways that change the memes themselves far faster than simply recombining would seem to. I think our framing from most of advanced science, for instance, combines tropes from religions that arose far, far apart (in particle theories alone: spontaneous generation, irreducible indeterminacy, 'vibrations' as forms of matter, 'light' as the basic substance, the horror of emptiness), and generates new concepts entirely from among those combinations, that could not be foreseen in the originals or gotten by simple combination (like quantization of energy as well as matter). I would claim this means our psychical 'evolution' is more of a network where tropes split and merge and present a less atomic model than 'memes as mental genes' allows for.

This non-linearity complicates the notion of 'levels' or 'degrees' of evolution beyond a very basic, broad scale. And I think it is best done away with to begin with, since, wherever I have seen it as a trope, it is generally racist or classist in origin.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful response, jobermark. You've given me much to consider. I've since edited my original post in an effort to make it more accessible, so if you want to have another go at it, there it is. I'm hoping the rewrite is good enough to make the question active again. – Little Eva Jan 3 '15 at 4:30
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    One very odd take on the 'plateau' that started your consideration is Terrence McKenna's, which I elaborated here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/18484/9166 . So I find it quite possible that this apparent 'evolutionary leap' is really a technology we came upon entirely by accident. – user9166 Jan 3 '15 at 19:35
  • +1@Jobermark - @ the link, very provocative stuff. McKenna is wide open; I keep him close. It's not called "TRIP"tamine for nothing, Dude. Been there, done that. – Little Eva Jan 3 '15 at 22:05
  • Right, and I am not going to discuss the ontological status of "See-Urchins" or "Machine Elves" or the "Mama Ayahuasca" with elbows for hips. But both the existence of something as subtle as ayahuasca without more technology and the gap before developing symbolization need explaining. His explanation is convenient, and he has followers. – user9166 Jan 4 '15 at 4:14

As much as I love Ken Wilber's "No Boundary" and his general project, I take his views as more of an attempt to unify and modernize the "perennial philosophy", rather than anything having to do with the realm usually covered by science. As such, these two areas should not be compared.

Our techno/social level has improved from better information transmission and preservation (language, writing, global communication, etc...) and not biology. This has allowed us to better build on what went on before and hence move forward. I think all people are biologically capable of the same intelligence, but since advancement is a social phenomena, we should look at it from the cultural level. Some cultures may encourage or discourage this transmission and thus their progress may be affected accordingly. How did these different cultures arise if not due to differences in biology? Environment! At this point, I'd recommend Jared Diamond's book Guns Germs and Steel. If nothing else, it can help build an appreciation of the interdependence between "progress" and the environment.

Having said that, if one holds that evolution is any process in which replication success is driven by change and a selection pressure, then one could look at successful societies or ideas from an evolutionary perspective. What ideas or social structures spread? Which ones die out? Why? You needn't look further than the state of the world and many indigenous cultures to see this in action.

In this sense, yes, we've evolved and will continue to do so. However, it's important not to make the mistake of assuming evolution means we're getting better, or heading towards some pre-defined state. If we turn into a "degenerate culture", that is as much evolution as if we turn into an "enlightened" one.

Also, if you turn this idea on its head and look at concepts as the central players (rather than people or social groups), you'll get The Meme.

  • Thanks for giving that a shot. I've since edited my question to clarify. No, there seems to be no evidence of structural changes. The issue seems to rest on whether or not one accepts a distinction between First Humans and Moderns based upon behavioral variation. But I wonder if the explanation known as Behavioral Modernism isn't simply the result of differing cultural values (ontological) and a gradually increasing accumulation of knowledge concerning the natural world which is heightened within some but not all human groups? – Little Eva Jan 3 '15 at 4:22
  • @LittleEva Thanks for re-wording. I'll flesh out the answer. – R. Barzell Jan 5 '15 at 13:39
  • yes, I own Diamond's "Guns, Germs an Steel," as well as, "Collapse." Both are excellent. Meanwhile, I appealed to Meta in an effort to release my OP and to elicit some new input. Please check that out. meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/1762/… – Little Eva Jan 6 '15 at 22:10

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