Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 1 of 16)

0001 Lesley Newson and Peter J. Richerson research human evolution at the University of California, Davis.  Richerson is an early proponent of culture-gene co-evolution, back in the 1980s.  Since 2000, Newson tries to apply evolutionary theory to current rapid historical changes.

Perhaps, the first five chapters should be read with Richerson’s voice and the last three with Newson’s.  Also, various interludes, colored with a gray background, should be read with Newson’s voice.  These interludes contain acts of imagination.

0002 Acts of imagination?

In a book on human evolution?

What a surprise.

0003 To me, stylistic innovation is welcome.  Imagination is called for.  Razie Mah opens the curtains on the hypothesis of the first singularity with a work of imagination, titled, An Archaeology of the Fall.

0004 What about substance, in addition to style?

The full title of Newson and Richerson’s book is The Story of Us: A New Look at Human Evolution (Oxford University Press, New York).  The new look is stylistic, not substantive.  Indeed, much of this examination will entail a comparison of this text to a work of substantive innovation: Razie Mah’s The Human Niche, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

The Human Niche builds on four commentaries, also available for purchase.

Here is a list.

Comments on Clive Gamble, John Gowlett and Robin Dunbar’s Book (2014) Thinking Big

Comments on Derek Bickerton’s Book (2014) More than Nature Needs

Comments on Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky’s Book (2016) Why Only Us?

Comments on Steven Mithen’s Book (1996) The Prehistory of Mind

0005 These commentaries, along with the masterwork, The Human Niche, and A Primer on Natural Signs compose the series, A Course on The Human Niche.

0006 What does this imply?

At the time of their writing, these authors are not aware of the substantive hypothesis contained in The Human Niche.

In reference 2 of chapter one of Newson and Richerson’s book, the authors list a dozen books, none of which are listed above.  This implies that Newson and Richerson, like so many of us, live and study in a cognitive bubble.

Their book is not a substantive new look at human evolution.  Rather, it is a new look in terms of style, compared to the books on their list in reference 2 of chapter one. 


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 2 of 16)

0007 Newson and Richerson start their inquiry by asking, “What is it to be human?”

Does a scientific understanding of how our species evolved shed light on the question?

Scientists hope so.  Recently, torrents of new information about human evolution has been coming from geneticists and natural historians, including researchers interested in understanding the adaptive natures of women and children.  What were they up to during the past two million years?

Well, among other things, they were harnessing males to help them survive.  Surely, the family is evolutionarily ancient.  Plus, it complements mother-infant bonding.

0008 The new information does not further the notion of a gene-defined or an environment-based human nature.  For example, neither genes nor environment do good jobs in predicting how children will turn out.  One child may be resilient.  One child may be delicate.  Nevertheless, there are some consistencies.  Children connect to mom and dad.  Children connect to (and compete with) their siblings.  In short, children belong in a family.

0009 What may seem strange to say, at this moment, is that the family (among other things) is a purely relational structure that can be diagrammed using the category-based nested form.  Examples are found in A Primer on The Familyand The First and Second Primers on the Organization Tier, by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0010 Imagine that.

Our genus adapts to the opportunities and dangers offered by purely relational structures.

As soon as one imagines the possibility, one recalls a story.  Stories are tools for thinking about what might have happened in our evolutionary history.  Archaeological evidence does not tell a story.  Rather, evidence renders certain stories as plausible and others as implausible.  So, the anthropologist’s task is to fashion a plausible story.  In this book, the gray-colored interludes attempt to present plausible tales.

0011 How can one fashion a plausible story with archeological evidence at hand?

Evidence serves as real, tangible actualities2 that inquirers can place into the normal context of archaeology3 and over the potential of ‘something relevant’1

What is relevant?

Well, a plausible story about us fits the bill.

If I follow the method in Razie Mah’s A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form, I arrive at the following.

Figure 01

0012 Well, what about genetics?

Aren’t torrents of information about human evolution coming from genetics as well as natural history?

Okay, allow me to expand the picture.

Figure 02

Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 3 of 16)

0013 The normal context of evolution3 brings the actuality of genetics [and] archaeological evidence2 into relation with the potential of ‘a story about us (humans)’1.

What is going on with the “and” in brackets?

Actuality is the realm.  Secondness is the category.  Secondness contains two contiguous real elements.  These two elements are subject to the logics of contradiction and non-contradiction.  This is the logic that we typically think about when we hear the word, “logic”.  If an actuality is logical, the two real elements should agree, or at least, not disagree, and if they do disagree, we should be able to figure out the precise manner in which the disagreement occurs.

Here, the two real elements are genetics and archaeological evidence.  I place the contiguity in brackets.  Here, the contiguity is [and].  [And] is not exactly an evocative contiguity.  But, in earlier days, Richerson frames another term for [and].  The term is “co-evolves”.  Genes and culture coevolve.

0014 The result is two similar hylomorphic structures.  

Figure 03

0015 Both belong to the realm of actuality2 in the normal context of evolution3.  Both arise from the potential of ‘stories about us (humans)’1.

Figure 04

0016 In order to drive home where the evolution3 of our genus has brought us, the authors relate the story of Jemmy Button, a native of Tierra de Fuego in South America, who was captured (as a child) and brought to England, then grew up in England before returning to his native land (as an adult).  What a tale!  Jemmy grew accustomed to both cultures, implying that each one of us has a tremendous potential for cultural plasticity.

0017 It makes me wonder about the contiguity, [co-evolve].

Clearly, human DNA codes for brains of great plasticity, in addition to function, and this allows culture to inform our brains.  Jemmy Button could function as an Englishman and a native of Tierra de Fuego.  But, he has only one brain.

0018 This implies that I can expand on the previous category-based nested form in the following manner.

Instead of the normal context of evolution3, I can think in terms of the phenotype of brains (on a content level) that is situated by the adaptability of the same brains (on a situation level).  I imagine two normal contexts.  Body development3ais the normal context3 of the contenta level.  Sociality2b is the normal context3 for the situationb level.  So, sociality3avirtually situates body development3a.

For actuality, originally culture [co-evolves with] genes.  Now, [co-evolves] corresponds to a relation between the situation and content levels.  On the content level, genes become the dyad: DNA [codes for] brains2a.  On the situation level, culture becomes a dyad: culture [informs] brains2b.  Notably, in chapter one, Newson and Richerson describe culture as “shared information”.

For potential, originally the potential is ‘something relevant’1, which becomes ‘stories about us’1.  Now, ‘stories about us’1becomes a content-level ‘function or plasticity’1a and a situation-level ‘situating content’1b.  

0019 Here is a two-level interscope.  Interscopes are introduced in A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction, by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

Figure 05

0020 Now I can ask, “What exactly goes into the slot for potential1 on the situationb level?  What is ‘situating content’1b?”

Towards the end of chapter one, the authors are clear.  Their book intends to tell how our ancestors managed to harness culture2b.

I wonder, “Aren’t they putting the cart (of culture2b) in front of the horse (of ‘situating content’1b)?”


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 4 of 16)

0021 The authors’ focus on actuality2, rather than potential1, is typical for modern sciences.

There is an alternative to the two-level interscope for gene-culture co-evolution.  The alternative has the same situation-level nested form, but a different content level.

To start, genes2a are a content-level actuality2a, corresponding to DNA [codes for] brains2a.  Culture [informs] brains2b is a situation-level actuality2b that emerges from… um… the potential ‘situating content’1b.  But, does that situation-level potential1b virtually emerge from (and situate) the potential of brain function or plasticity1a?  Or, does it1b virtually situate another potential, such as the potential of ‘whatever is happening at the time’1a?

0023 Is there a hidden ingredient to gene-culture co-evolution?

That hidden ingredient is expressed on the content level of the following two-level interscope.

Figure 06

0024 Now, this hidden ingredient must be very important for the “sauce” of the story that Newson and Richerson tells.

It is as if culture informs brains2b allows the creature to fill in the blanks on the content level.

0025 But, I suppose before our lineage has big brains, then that content level is not culture oriented.  Something much more… um… primal tells the story.

If I go back to a common ancestor between the chimpanzees and our lineage, say seven million years ago, then that obvious actuality2a involves a behavior common to all mammals.

Chapter two begins with an interlude, a story about mother-infant “culture”.  When the infant drinks its mother’s milk2a, the mother-infant interaction stimulates hormonal responses2b.

0026 Here is the hidden ingredient two-level interscope for mother-infant interactions.

Figure 07

0027 If the situation-level normal context is sociality3b, then the potential of situating content1b could be called, by psychologists, the possibility of ‘an mother-infant bond’1b.

Figure 08

0028 Mother-infant bonding1b situates the physical act of the infant suckling2a, which is innate for mammals.  So, the content level for the hidden ingredient dovetails into the content level for gene-culture co-evolution.

Figure 09

0029 The normal context of suckling3a can be viewed as a facet of body development3a.

The infant’s behavior2a must be genetic2a, since an infant is too young to culturally figure out anything.

The innate physical act1a has a function1a, so plasticity offers no advantage.

0030 What does this imply?

The secret message of the hidden ingredient of the “gene” side of gene-culture co-evolution is that our brains have the potential to construct the hidden ingredient.  A content level2a obviously must be going on when content is situated1b in the normal context of sociality3b.  So, the potential of function or plasticity1a corresponds to the (innately gifted) ability of the individual to isolate the potential of ‘whatever is happening at the time’1a, as well as the normal context3a and the actuality2a of the hidden ingredient.

0031 How complicated is that?

There is a huge advantage to Newson and Richerson’s theoretical sleight of hand.  The situation-level actuality2b arising from mother-infant bonding1b has the same hylomorphic structure (of two contiguous real elements) as culture [informs] brains2b.  Indeed, one may say that these two dyads are the polar ends of a continuum of behaviors that rely on pure function (for stimulation) at one end and pure plasticity (for information) on the other.

Figure 10

0032 Finally, the authors complete their picture by claiming that the emotional attachment1b increases reproductive success1c.

The problem?

The potential for ‘reproductive success’1c is necessary, but not sufficient, to explain the actuality of an adaptation2c.  A niche1 is required to honestly account for any particular adaptation2 in the normal context of natural selection3.  However, the authors are not aware that humans have a niche or that the human niche may have anything to do with the hidden ingredient composing a content-level nested form that does not appear in their theoretical framework.

0033 Here is a picture of the authors’ big picture, applied to the last common ancestor of the chimpanzee and human.

Figure 11

Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 5 of 16)

0034 To review.

The situation level of the following diagram addresses “adaptation”.  The content level concerns “phenotype.  This two-level interscope touches base with the authors’ biological expertise.

Figure 12

The above interscope veils a more intuitive content level, where the normal context is what is happening3a, the actuality is some sort of activity2a and the potential is that ‘something’ is happening1a.

Figure 13

Finally, depending on the content level, there are two situation-level actualities2b available.

Figure 14

The first concerns signals.  The second entails signs.

0035 Is there another way to diagram evolution?

One answer is that adaptation2 and phenotype2 are actualities in two nested forms.  Together, they constitute an intersection, defined as an actuality2 composed of two actualities.

For roads, an intersection is where two roads meet.   It is a single actuality constituted by two actualities.  On top of that, it is full of contradictions, hence the necessity of traffic regulations.

The intersection of adaptation2 and phenotype2 is no different.   Each arises from a distinct potential.  That potential situates a content-level actuality.

0036 Here is the natural history side of Neodarwinism.

Figure 15

The normal context of natural selection3b brings the actuality of adaptation2b into relation with a niche1b.  The niche1b is the potential1b of an actuality independent of the adapting species2a

Notably, Newson and Richerson are not aware that the actuality independent of the adapting Homo genus2a is … um… found in Razie Mah’s masterwork, The Human Niche.  To some degree, this ignorance explains the hidden ingredient,discussed earlier.

Here is the genetics side of Neodarwinism.

Figure 16

The normal context of body development3b brings the actuality of the phenotype2b into relation with its genotype1b.  The genotype1b is the potential1b of each individual specimen’s DNA2a.

0037 Now the actualities of adaptation2 and phenotype2 constitute a single actuality, which may be labeled “individual”, “species” or “genus”.  Here, the term, “species”, is used.

Figure 17

0038 This relational structure is developed in Razie Mah’s e-books, Speculations on Thomism and Evolution and Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome, along with other works in the series, A Course on Evolution and Thomism.


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 6 of 16)

0039 Intersections are inherently mysterious.

0040 Newson and Richerson are scientists, so their big picture tries to get around the mystery of two actualities constituting a single actuality.  One of the tricks is the hidden ingredient.  Another trick is to replace the content-level hylomorphe, DNA [codes for] body2a, with a single word, “gene2a.

Figure 18

0041 Two novel definitions allow me to further describe their approach.

A “phenotype” is the situation-level potential1b virtually situating the content-level potential1a.

An “adaptation” is the perspective-level actuality2c virtually contextualizing the situation-level actuality2b.  The situation-level actuality2b ranges from social interaction [stimulates] hormone response2b to culture [informs] brain2b.

0042 Now, the theoretical construct as a three-level interscope looks like the following.

Figure 19

0043 So, an “adaptation” is a perspective-level actuality2a (arising from the potential of reproductive success1ccontextualizing an instance, ranging from social interaction [stimulates] hormonal response2b to culture [informs] brain2b.  Here, the “adaptation” includes the ways2c that mother-infant interaction [stimulates] hormones2b increases reproductive success1c.

Here, a “phenotype” is emotional attachment1b virtually emerging from (and situating) an innate2a function1a.

0044 Consequently, the terms, “adaptation” and “phenotype” are no longer independent actualities, as noted in the previous blog.  Instead, they are labels for two category-crossing pairs, one for actuality and one for potential.

Figure 20

For “adaptation”, sociality3b, reproductive success1c and natural selection3c are bound.  The perspective-level actuality2carises from reproductive success1c, a necessary, but not sufficient cause.  The situation-level actuality2b is a hylomorphe, ranging from social interactions [stimulate] hormones to culture [informs] brains.

For “phenotype”, body development3a, genes2a, function versus plasticity1a and ‘something’ social1b are bound.  ‘Something’ social1b can support social interactions2b or culture2b.  The brain and body3a will innately display either functionality or plasticity or some combination of the two1a.

0046 Here is the picture for mother-infant bonding, which displays function as the content-level potential.

Figure 21

0047 Chapter two discusses the last common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees.

Newson and Richerson discuss some ways that social interactions may grade into (what scientists might call) culture.

0048 The first concerns vocalizations.  Yes, vocalizations may be social interactions.  Or, they may be the product of social interactions.  A great ape may want to engage in some interactions and avoid other interactions.  These intentions are physically on display when an ape takes the initiative to do something.  Something may include vocalizations, but action is everything.  Actions are signs of intention.

Newson and Richerson mention vocalizations because (somehow) these creatures have to end up speaking, like we do today.  They cannot imagine an alternate pathway, such as the one described in Razie Mah’s e-masterworks, The Human Niche and An Archaeology of the Fall, along with commentaries grouped in the series, Buttressing the Human Niche and Reverberations of the Fall.

0049 The second is group living.  In group living, social interactions abound.

0050 The third consists in compromises that accompany group living: hierarchy and alliances

0051 The fourth is grooming, which sustains alliances and fits well into the hormone-release concept of social interaction.

Figure 22

0052 Here, genes2a grant an established hormone-triggering system a degree of plasticity1a.  Hormones2b are relaxing and promote emotional alliances1b.

0053 The fifth is culture, which consists in non-genetic inheritance, typically passed from mother to offspring.  Here, culture includes how to interact while grooming, as well as how to look for and acquire food.  The habits satisfy needs.  At the same time, habits [of satisfying] needs2b reflect the essence of the hylomorphe, culture [informs] brains2b.  

The “adaptation” concerns paying attention to what others are doing2c when others are engaged in habitual activities [that satisfy] needs (such as finding food)2b.  The “phenotype” relies on the potential of neural plasticity1a in order to support the potential of attributing intention1b.

Figure 23

Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 7 of 16)

0054 Chapter three discusses apes that walk upright.  The authors present a snapshot from three millions years ago.

In the previous blog, three examples provided case studies of the way that the situation-level actuality2b (characterizing the “adaptation”) coordinates with the content-level potential1a (characterizing the “phenotype”).  Mother-infant interactions [stimulate] hormones2b coordinates with the potential of innate functions1a.  Primate grooming2b is mixed1a.  Habits for foraging, signaling and so on2b favors plasticity1a.

0055 Newson and Richerson do not express the logic of their argument as explicitly as portrayed in this examination. Perhaps, they may demand a few adjustments to my exercise.  That is fair.

At the same time, one can take my assessments much further.

The authors’ approach opens up to a dichotomy that is expressed very early in the philosophy in the West, and much earlier in the unfolding of our current Lebenswelt.

Two situation-level actualities may be explicitly abstracted using the labels, “body” and “mind”.

Figure 24

0056 This dichotomy is built over generations into our genus through implicit abstraction,

The body responds to signals.

The mind responds to signs.

Figure 25

0057 How does this complementarity come to be?

Three million years ago, so-called “southern apes” walk between widely separated areas of rich resources in an environment of mixed forest and savannah.  Australopithecines walk upright.  The foot becomes enslaved for walking.  The hand is freed for other tasks.  

The authors offer a drawing of a pot-bellied ape with relatively long arms and short legs. As the tropical forests retreated due to the cooler climate of the Pleistocene, these little troopers start to walk from place to place.

0058 They face a host of challenges.

0059 They must avoid or confront predators.  Ah, put a stick in the little fellow’s hand!  Or maybe a rock.  The other hand will carry an infant or some food.  Well, maybe the males carry the clubs and the females carry the infants.

An ancient social habit, where one large male rules over a harem of females, begins to break down, because no single male can carry a stick and a baby at the same time.  More males are needed to carry the sticks.  And the rocks.  And whatever else the females do not want to carry.

Is this starting to sound vaguely familiar?

0060 Newson and Richerson focuses on one team, mothers helping others in organizing infant care.  The authors pay lip service for some other teams, such as males foraging and occasionally fighting off enemies (hyenas and baboons) on the periphery of the camp.

0061 It is here, in the recognition of the importance of the team, where Razie Mah’s masterwork, The Human Niche, begins to shine.  Teams constitute cultures outside of the mother-infant dyad.  It is as if the mother-infant dyad is generalized, so that belonging to a team, cooperating, taking risks, sharing situational awareness, suffering losses and gaining benefits becomes… well… familiar.  Culture [informs] brains2b builds off the foundations of social interactions [stimulate] hormonal responses2b.  Minds2b and bodies2b co-evolve.

0062 Plus, the build-out extends signaling into sign-processing.  Signaling is the stuff of dyadic stimulus-response.  Sign-processing is the stuff of triadic relations, where a sign-vehicle stands for a sign-object in regards to a sign-interpretant.

In the first chapter, the authors state that culture is information and information is shared.  To me, they do not go on to develop that statement where signaling (which is the information of cause and effect) extends into sign-processing (where information may be regarded as sign-vehicles that can key into sign-objects due to innate (genes) or learned (cultural) sign-interpretants).

0063 Why do the authors not develop the extension of signals into sign-processing?

Here is an example that follows the presentation in A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form and A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction, available as smashwords and other e-book venues.

The dyadic nature of the social interaction of the mother-infant dyad can be depicted as content and situation levels of a two-level interscope.  Two-level interscopes are characteristic of sensible construction.  Note that the actualities2 imply, but do not demand, awareness of the respective normal contexts3 and potentials1.

Figure 26

0064 The triadic nature of social interaction within a team can be depicted using the same sensible construction.  But now, the interactions consist of individuals gesturing to one another and responding to the moment with the intent of attaining a goal.  Two-level interscopes are characteristic of sensible construction.  Note that the actualities2 imply, and to some extent, demand, awareness of the respective normal contexts3 and potentials1.

But, what does the word, “awareness”, really mean?

Figure 27

0065 Team activities entail sign-processing.  Acheulean stone tools serve as archaeological evidence of a team activity that lasts for generations.  These tools remain the same for hundreds of thousands of years, but the associated sign-processing abilities continually improve.  Why?  Improved sign-processing increases reproductive success.

0066 Even though the authors emphasize the importance of culture, Newson and Richerson miss the concept that the human niche includes the potential of signs.  Sign-relations are actualities independent of the adapting species.

The following two-level interscope appears in general form in point 0035.

The following two-level interscope applies to evolution that begins around three million years ago.

Figure 28

0067 In order to explain the evolution of talk, the authors mention how the voice could be employed for signaling.  They argue as if the only way to talk is by using the voice.  They ignore recent linguistic studies on sign languages.  They do not notice that the hand is already under voluntary neural control and voluntary neural control is required to talk.

0068 The authors also note that, by three million years ago, the crania of the southern apes are already enlarging.  Larger brains assist sign processing.

0069 Other changes to include in this period include the loss of hair.  Perhaps, the loss is related to climatic conditions.

Finally, the authors go into detail about what biologists observe when animals are domesticated.  For example, the fox and the boar have been domesticated.  In the process, these creatures change appearance and temperament in a holistic manner.

What does domestication mean?

What does it mean to join team human?


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 8 of 16)

0070 Here is a key distinction that develops as early as three million years ago.

Figure 29

These situation-level actualities fit into a three-level interscope that (more or less) depicts the relational character of the author’s theoretical approach.

Figure 30

0071 For gene-culture co-evolution, genes2a associate with “phenotype” and culture2b associates to “adaptation”.  “Adaptation” and “phenotype” are big category-crossing words.

0072 The transition from (one branch of the) southern apes to the Homo genus occurs by 1.5Myr (million of years ago).  This time serves as the snapshot for chapter four, concerning early humans.

0073 Clearly, the authors are worried about how we gain voluntary control of our vocal apparatus in order to speak.  They do not imagine that the stage is set for the routinization of manual-brachial gestures during team activities.

Why is routinization so important?

As the gestures of hand talk become more distinct from one another, they start to form a system of differences.  According to Ferdinand de Saussure, language consists in two arbitrarily related systems of differences, parole (speech) and langue(processed sign-objects).  The relation is arbitrary for speech, but not for hand talk.  Hand talk pictures and points to its referents.

In short, language evolves in the milieu of hand talk, not speech talk.

0074 But, everyone speaks today.  So what gives?

Well, the answer to that comes much, much later.

0075 Instead of really confronting how language could have evolved, the authors assume that all languages are spoken.  So, they tell a story about the mouth.

In order to get linguistic speech, the mouth and throat must come under voluntary neural control.

The story is about a mother chewing food and spitting it into the mouth of her weaning child.  Certainly, that cultural behavior encourages adaptation towards voluntary neural control of the mouth and throat.  But, where does a need for a functional vocabulary come into play?

0076 In the same story, the authors discuss Acheulean stone tools (mentioned earlier in point 0065) and imagine a whole team of hominins joining to appear as a single very large animal in order to approach and scavenge a carcass.  Now, that is teamwork!  Manual-brachial gestures are crucial for this type of job.  The more readily that each specific gesture is interpreted, the better off everyone is.

0077 Here is a two-level interscope that fits this portion of the story.

Figure 31

0078 The Acheulean stone tool3a is a sign-vehicle.  The sign-object is the dyad, stone tool [conveys] intention2b.  The Acheulean stone tool is like a big tooth, capable of slicing meat off carcasses and crushing the bones to get the fatty marrow.  In hand talk, I can picture or point to the stone tool, but I cannot picture or point to the sign-object, even though I know that stone tool [conveys] intention.  All the participants have the sign-object in mind, but no one can talk about that in hand talk.  Even more important, each participant holds a similar normal context3b, where the team activity of scavenging is significant3b, and potential1b, where working together must occur in order to accomplish the task1b.

Manual-brachial gestures2b are the way that hominins talk in team activities2c.  Once gestures are routinized, symbolic processing characteristic of grammar may evolve.

0079 Hand talk does not allow the participants to “name” the sign-object and sign-interpretant.  Hand talk images and indicates a sign-vehicle.  Everyone recognizes the sign-vehicle, then implicitly abstracts a sign-object (that cannot be pictured or pointed to).  That implicit abstraction is the sign-interpretant.

The Homo genus gets better and better at scavenging and hunting.

The Homo genus gets better and better at reading signs.


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 9 of 16)

0080 Between 1.5Myr and 200kyr (thousands of years ago), the Homo genus adapts to more and more proximate niches.  Imagine the signs offered by both nature and an increasingly wide repertoire of team activities.  Each constellation of signs pulls hominins towards adaptations involving both body and mind.  The body responds to signals.  The mind responds to signs.

Newson and Richerson discuss the Turkana boy, who undoubtedly displays promise before he gets trapped in circumstances that, over the following millennia, would allow his body to decay undisturbed and his bones to turn into stone.  Then, there is the fossilized skull of a male who had lost his teeth, found in the Caucasian Mountains and dating to 1.8Myr.

0081 What do these fossilized bones tell archaeologists?

Hominins are developing larger brains.

The Homo genus has a diet that is not the same as the australopithecines.  Perhaps, the new diet involves novel methods of food preparation, long before the domestication of fire.

Hominins domesticate fire long before the oldest hearths yet found, dating between 400 and 300kyr.  This period corresponds to around the time when the Neanderthal and the Denisovan lineages separates from (what is to become) the Sapiens.

0082 The domestication of fire, what an achievement.

The same style of Acheulean stone tool lasts for over a million years, then starts to change around the time when fire is domesticated.

0083 For thousands of years, fire has been considered elemental.

Mythologically, I could say that the Acheulean stone tools show that the hominins had tamed the element of earth.  The use of gourds to carry water tamed that element.  The use of manual-brachial gesture in hand talk domesticated the air. So, fire is the last element to be domesticated.

Oh! The Chinese civilization has one more element.  Metal!  That element belongs to our current Lebenswelt.   Earth, water, air and fire belong to the Lebenswelt that we evolved in.  Yet, our hand-talking ancestors could not label these elements as explicit abstractions, distinct from one another.  What is there to picture or point to?  Instead, these elements enter into implicit abstractions, as sign-vehicles that come into relation with sign-objects according to sign-interpretants held in body and in mind.

0084 After the domestication of fire, the pace of hominin innovation slowly increases.  The authors do not envision the possibility that the domestication of fire not only allows cooking (which increases the calories available from wild food), but permits talk to become… how to say it?.. a team activity, of sorts.  Yes, our ancestors shoot the breeze with hand talk around the fire after a meal.

Hand talk is no longer confined to task-oriented team activities.  A general vocabulary and grammar starts to evolve.

Our lineage loves to talk.  It is a wonderful as picking bugs off of one another.

0085 Before the first members of Homo sapiens appear, maybe around 200kyr, hominins talk with their hands.  The Neaderthals and the Denisovans probably practice fully linguistic hand talk.

Yes, before the appearance of humans, all hominins talk with their hands.  So, most stories are vaudevillian.  Hominins learn to laugh like never before.  Also, our ancestors begin to use their vocal tracts in precise ways, like a musical accompaniment to linguistic hand talk.  We learn to sing.  In community and mega-band and tribal gatherings, we synchronize ourselves through song.  In doing so, the vocal tract comes under voluntary neural control.  The larynx descends to accommodate a wider range of formant frequencies and then…

… with the evolution of Homo sapiens, speech is added to hand talk.

Hand-speech talks lasts for almost 200,000 years.


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 10 of 16)

0086 Chapter five starts with a snapshot of 100kyr (one hundred thousand years ago).  Anatomically modern humans have been around say, since 200kyr.

0087 The authors face a difficulty.

Surely, the fossilized skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans suggest that they are identical to us.  At the same time, the cultural continuity between say, 300 to 80kyr is remarkable.  So, anatomically modern humans enter into the world and survive for thousands and thousands of years with no rapid cultural innovations.

0088 What are they doing with their enormous brains?

Apparently out of options, the authors suggest that our energy-consuming brains are an advantage when the climate dramatically changes.  The climate of the Pleistocene is like a roller coaster.  So, the suggestion is plausible.

Or, perhaps, since most adaptations at this time are cultural, cultural adaptations demand enormous brains.  Other adaptations to proximate niches are in play as well.  For example, small differences in the ability to protect oneself from the sun (with melanin) or from the lack of sun (with no melanin to encourage vitamin D synthesis, which requires sunlight) turn into significant selectors in terms of reproductive success.  

0089 Thus I arrive at the third version of the author’s big picture.

Figure 32

0090 A “cultural adaptation” is a perspective-level behavior or trait2c that influences reproductive success1c virtually contextualizing the situation-level actuality of culture [informs] brains2b.  Our large brains are being put to use.

A “phenotype” is a situation-level potential1b, underlying both a cultural trait and its neural substrate2b, virtually emerging from (and situating) neural (or brain) plasticity1a.  

Brain plasticity1a favors certain potentials1b over others1b.  For example, humans tend to recall stories containing one notable unusual event.  If there are no unusual events, the story is readily forgotten (as one expects from sensible thinking).  If there are too many unusual events, the story is hard to remember (as one expects from overtaxation of sign-processing).

0091 In one of the interludes, the authors depict a person, using speech-alone talk, rather than hand-speech talk, labeling a situation, “evil”.   Surely, the same person could have expressed such an impression without using the spoken word, “evil”.

How about a grimace?

Hand-talk the offender’s name then grimace, with exaggeration.

How does one picture or point to a situation using hand-speech talk?

One cannot.  One can only image and indicate a sign-vehicle within the situation.  Then, the others must make the connection between that gestural-word and the nasty face.  The unhappy family member juxtaposes two signs, gestural-word and grimace.  What does that imply?

Everyone, to some extent, must guess.

0092 Is that not the nature of sign-processing?  Given a sign-vehicle, say a really sharp rock fashioned to the end of a long wooden shaft, one must guess the sign-object.  So, having a well routinized sign-interpretant makes good sense.  No one wants to end up on the wrong end of that stick.

0093 To me, the fact that the authors do not recognize that the human niche entails sign processing sets the stage for a lot of hand-waving as the story about human evolution comes closer and closer to our current Lebenswelt.

Figure 33

0094 The human niche includes the potential of sign-relations.

Signs are triadic relations.

So, what does that say about the human niche?

If the authors had only encountered the hypothesis proclaimed in Razie Mah’s e-book, The Human Niche (available at smashwords and other e-book venues), then they really could have worked their imaginations.

So many stories can be told.