The Great Awakening

How clever animals became people

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Abstract

Humans have existed in anatomically modern form for rather more than 150,000 years. But one of the hallmarks of human behavior, conscious creativity (such as regarding Art), didn’t leave any evidence of its existence until 50,000-70,000 ago. The question of “why” appears to be answerable in terms of known facts about human brain development in the earliest years.

For well over 150,000 years, humans were anatomically modern, but they left behind little evidence that they were more than clever animals. While the subject of “why” has been debated, the answer is really just a simple consequence of one key fact. Modern research has revealed that when a very young human does not experience enough mental stimulation, the brain fails to physically develop its full potential. The resulting “feral childcannot be taught to use language creatively.

Meanwhile, the example of “Koko the gorilla“proves that even a nonhuman may, if sufficiently stimulated when young, experience physical brain-development such that it acquires mental abilities such as using language creatively (also see the case of “Alex the parrot“).

It should be obvious that, per Evolutionary Theory, the first hominids were raised by pre-hominids that were, basically, “feral”. Those first hominids would not have received a lot of mental stimulation in their earliest years, and so they would have grown up “feral”, also. However, they were still more clever than the average animal, and gradually began inventing things, like crude stone tools, and how to tame fire. Somewhere along the way they began inventing words to describe things, if not actual language. They also were able to pass knowledge of those inventions on to their offspring….

It takes a great deal of mental stimulation to trigger that extra brain development in young minds. At the dawn of humanity, therefore, every human was still no more than a “feral” human. However, being the most clever hominids yet, the pace of invention picked up a bit (including even more words, but still not yet actual language), and, finally, about 50,000-70,000 years ago, very young humans learning stuff encountered enough mental stimulation.

Another way of looking at the mental stimulation “thing” is to consider various other ways in which humans are known to be able to physically adapt to various environments. For example, at high altitudes, lung capacity and the body’s red-blood-cell count increases. In colder climates the percentage of body fat (an insulator) goes up somewhat. The body also tends to be somewhat hairier than in warm climates. Skin pigmentation tends to darken in regions with greater sunlight. Each situation involves a kind of “stress”, and the body copes through physical adaptation. (Note that children who spend too much time holding reading materials too close can become near-sighted; their eyes physically adapt to most easily focus on what they most often see.) Logically, therefore, when a great deal of mental stimulation occurs in the earliest years, it also counts as a kind of “stress” –which leads to the brain growing extra processing power in order to cope. But in this case the side-effects are wonderful, in terms of human capabilities….

Very probably the first non-feral human was a genius –he or she would not have needed quite so much mental stimulation as an average young mind, for that extra brain development to be triggered. We might call that event “The Great Awakening” of “conscious creativity”. For every individual it marks the difference between stumbling upon an invention, and deliberately seeking to invent something, even if it is nothing fancier than, say, putting descriptive words together in a way that others don’t expect (Alex the parrot called “cake” “yummy bread”; he was never taught that phrase, but he knew what the separate words meant, and he needed a way to describe a new thing).

Geniuses don’t go through life without unique problems. That first non-feral human was alone in away that no other human had ever experienced before. And, considering how groups of humans have been known to behave sometimes, when suffering from “mob psychology”, it is unfortunately all-too-possible that the first non-feral human was ostracized, and eventually killed, for being too different.

On the other hand, being a genius made it easier for the relevant tribe to acquire a few new inventions, prior to the death of that genius. Those inventions in turn would feed back into the education of very young minds, giving them a little more mental stimulation than before the genius came along. A mind that wasn’t quite the same level of genius could have been the next human of that tribe to experience the Great Awakening. Note that because geniuses of all levels are fairly rare, and tribes are usually small, it could have been centuries before that next Awakened human became able to contribute a few more inventions into the educational pool….

By about 50,000 years ago, humans of many tribes were routinely experiencing enough mental stimulation during their earliest years for Great Awakenings to have become a common phenomenon. The foundations of all Art were created as a result, and feral humans became extremely rare –so rare, in fact, that the average human today assumes that becoming non-feral is the “natural default” for human beings. FALSE. Without a great deal of mental stimulation in their earliest years, the True Natural Default for humankind is to be no more than clever animals.

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