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 16 of 16)

0135 Chapter eight brings the reader to modern times.

What has the first singularity wrought?

Need a visual?

Newson presents a photograph (Figure 8.1) of a steampunk skull cyborg sculpture.

Here is an example of how speech-alone talk operates.

Unlike hand-speech talk, speech-alone talk permits explicit abstraction.  In this sculpture, a resin-based human skull is explicitly extruded… oh, I meant to say… abstracted and converted into the foundation of what appears to be an audio-headphone machine.  Body (skull) and mind (machine) fuse into a monstrosity.

0136 What are the authors not saying?

They do not say that this work of art initiates implicit abstraction.  An innate relational structure for sensible constructiontells the viewer that social construction is needed.   I know this from my visceral reaction to the photograph.

(See Razie Mah’s Comments on Religious Experience (1985) by Wayne Proudfoot, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.)

0137 Here is a picture of the failing sensible construction.

Figure 41

0138 This disturbing work of art characterizes modernity.  Newson and Richerson tell a story in two interludes.  Culture, originally defined as “shared information”, is now disorienting.  The consequences?  Throughout the world, fertility declines.  Only local cultures, consciously avoiding modern urban cities, now have numerous children.

Surely, today, there are enough people.

The problem is that children are becoming more and more rare.

0139 Is this a problem of sign-processing?  Does today’s “information” trade “something that adorns us” for children?  Is there a foundational difficulty with speech-alone talk?  What happens when words no longer picture or point to their referents, as they once did in hand-speech (and hand) talk?  What happens when we construct artifacts in order to validate our spoken words?  What happens when the artifacts fail to deliver?

These types of questions are raised in Razie Mah’s masterwork, An Archaeology of the Fall, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0140 All the words that we use today in public discourse seem to have two meanings: a traditional one and a new-fangled technical one.

Need an example?

Consider the new-fangled, yet technical terms, “phenotype” and “adaptation”, in the following figure.  

Figure 42

Compare that to the simpler scientific use of the terms in points 34 through 38.

Figure 43

0142 The new-fangled terms cross categorical levels within a complete three-level interscope.  The aesthetics of such conjunctions make this book very attractive.

The old-fashioned scientific terms cannot be reconciled.  Adaptations associate to the discipline of natural history.  Phenotypes associate to the discipline of genetics.  Each biological discipline would seem to be independent except for one awkward fact.  Both sciences deal with a single entity, which one may call an individual, a species or a genus.

0143 In the epilogue, the authors proclaim (more or less), “Let us abandon the idea of ‘human nature’.”


“Human nature” is just a spoken term.  The traditional meaning loads the term with political messages and connotes the presence of immutability.  The new-fangled meaning looks at the term in the same way that a traditionalist gazes upon a steampunk cyborg sculpture. Surely, there is something wrong with this term.

Here is how the category-based nested form, which may be an innate cognitive principle for humans, understands how to define the term, “human nature.

Figure 44

0144 Perhaps, abandoning the idea of “human nature” will free us from the notion that our gut feelings, our hearts, and our minds can help us mate and raise a family.

But, abandoning “human nature” would leave us open to cultural influences.

0145 Cultural influences?

Psychological researchers investigate how social interactions [stimulate] hormonal responses and how culture [informs] brains.  Do these actualities sound vaguely familiar?  The corporate sponsors of these psychological researchers want to learn how to make their products more addicting and more real that they otherwise would be.

Ah yes, cultural influences need brains to inform.

0146 Consider the three-level interscope that guides the authors.  The beauty of their intuition is that a completed three-level interscope is inherently intellectually satisfying.  Satisfaction gives a feeling of completeness and accomplishment.  The reader says, “Yes, here is a story about us.  Here is a new look at human evolution.”  The reader cannot put spoken words to the feeling that the book provides.  Here is the arc of human evolution and history, in content, in situation and in perspective.

0147 These comments add value to Newson and Richerson’s book by introducing an option that the authors do not know.  Humans adapt to sign-processing.  Yes, human evolution manifests culture-gene co-evolution.  But, the human niche is the potential of triadic relations, such as signs, mediations, judgments and category-based nested forms.

Surely, this book is somewhat addicting.  Surely, this production seems more real than it otherwise would be.  Why?  The authors offer a new look at human evolution.  So what if the new look is in terms of style, rather than substance.  The authors offer something that other books on human evolution do not.

They offer acts of imagination.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 1 of 5)

0001 Chris Sinha, writing from Hunan University, publishes another article on human evolution.  The journal is Interaction Studies (volume 19(2), 2018, pages 239-255).  The complete title is “Praxis, Symbol and Language: Developmental, Ecological and Linguistic Issues”.

The title of Razie Mah’s commentary is Comments on Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language”. The commentary is found at the smashwords website under the series: Buttressing the Human Niche.  Other vendors also sell the e-commentary.

0002 This blog complements the commentary.

0003 Sinha’s article covers from the start of the Homo genus, around two million years ago, to the speciation of Homo sapiens, around two-hundred thousand years ago. That is a lot of territory.

Several issues intertwine.  One is individual development (devo).  Another is a transition in natural selection (evo) from ecology-driven adaptations (eco) to adaptations driven by social interactions (socio).

0004 Sinha loves terminology.  He searches for a EcoEvoDevoSocio framework.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 2 of 5)

0005 What about Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework?

0006 The outer terms, “eco” and “socio”, signify a broad arc of human evolution.

Adaptation by a line of apes starts with ecological adaptations.  For example, bipedalism is evolutionarily ancient.

However, the fact that bipedalism frees the hands for communicative gestures creates new opportunities.  A truly human niche appears.  One hominin can intentionally gesture to another.  The other hominin can interpret that gesture.

0007 The frontpiece of the title captures Sinha’s EcoSocio vision.  The praxis (or habits) of intentional manual-brachial gestures for communication proceeds from signaling to functional representation.

Functional representation metaphorically runs around the symbol, defined as a sign-relation whose sign-object depends on conventions, habits, laws and so forth.  The more that intentional manual-brachial gestures act as words, the more symbolic they become.

In this way, hominins become symbol-ready and capable of engaging in language.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 3 of 5)

0008 Allow me to further elaborate Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework.

In the prior blog, the Eco-Socio bookends touch base with the title frontpiece of praxis, symbol and language.

0009 This implies that the EvoDevo inner coupling expresses the title endpiece of developmental, ecological and linguistic issues.

0010 Evo associates to phylogeny.  Phylogenesis consists of adaptations into a niche.  The human niche changes from one where ecology is the primary source of signification to one where symbol-ready hominins are the primary sources of signification.  

Devo associates to ontogeny.  Ontogenesis consists of alterations in DNA, genes, genotypes and phenotypes that permit the drastic shift in the primary source of signification.

0011 Sinha cleverly encapsulates the inner drama of phylogenic and ontogenic changes over evolutionary time(EvoDevo) within the outward motion from an ecology-centered Umwelt to a socially-centered Lebenswelt (Eco-Socio).


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 4 of 5)

0012 Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework associates to all the terms in the title of Chris Sinha’s Essay.

0013 Eco-Socio are bookends describing the long arc of time from the emergence of the Homo genus to the appearance of Homo sapiens.  At the start, signification primarily comes from the ecology.  At the end, significations primarily come from social interactions.

0014 EvoDevo are the twin tomes of phylogenesis and ontogenesis, bringing me to the truth-bearing fiction within Sinha’s narrative.

What is this fiction?

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

0015 Biologists have debunked this slogan, as fact.  But, it lives on as fiction.


It must be true, even though it is factually incorrect.

0016 How else can one draw a thread through these two terms: language and the human brain?

Language goes with phylogenesis.  As discussed in the masterwork, The Human Niche, plus its attendant commentaries, the biological capacity for language evolves in the milieu of hand talk.  Hand talk develops phylogenetically, from signaling, to functional representation, to symbolic communication, then to fully linguistic.  The adaptation of language occurs within the evolution of hand talk.

The human brain goes with ontogenesis.  The capacity to read ecological significations expands to reading intentional manual-brachial gestures.  Intentional gestures retain their semiotic qualities as icons and indexes as they become more conventional, habitual, lawful and so on.  They become more and more like symbols. The neural substrate in the hominin brain finds a way to process symbols.

0017 Ecological significations are icons and indexes.

Intentional manual-brachial gestures are perceived as icons and indexes, even though they increasingly operate as symbols.

0018 So, instead of the slogan, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, we can adopt the saying, “ontogeny intersects phylogeny”.

A traffic intersection belongs to both roads. So does the intersection of ontogeny and phylogeny.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 5 of 5)

0019 Chris Sinha’s essay is a contribution to a huge, obviously well-funded, academic project, led by Prof. Michael A. Arbib, of the University of California at San Diego.  An outline is presented in the same issue of Interaction Studies(19:1-2 (2018) 370-389).  The title is “The Comparative Neuroprimatology 2018 (CNP-2018) Road Map for Research on How the Brain Got Language“.

0020 The project’s slogan is a little humorous.

It’s like How the Birds Got Flight.

Does anatomy tell the tale?

To me, comparing the neural structure of the great apes, including models of our hominin ancestors, tells the ontogenesis side of the story.

0021 What about the phylogenesis side of the story?

The story of how the brain got language cannot be restricted to DNA, genes, genotypes, phenotypes and body development.  Phylogenesis cannot be ignored.  In this regard, Chris Sinha’s essay is crucial.  

The intersection of ontogeny and phylogeny re-capitulates the intersection between body development and natural history appearing in Speculations on Thomism and Evolution.

Chris Sinha adds weight to the natural history side, covering environment, ecology, niche, adaptation and natural selection.

0022 To this end, I suggest that the seventeen authors on this magnificent quest consider Razie Mah’s Comments on Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language”.  The contribution may be unexpected.  Nevertheless, it is properly attired.


Looking at Jeff Hardin’s Essay (2019) “Biology and Theological Anthropology” (Part 1 of 15)

0001 Is the current scientific consensus on human origins at odds with core theological doctrines at the heart of the evangelical faith?

You bet it is.

0002 Well, is this a blessing in disguise?

It may well be.

How so?

0003 When science clashes with key theological doctrines, such as Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, Christians may need to strive for better theological essentials.

0004 Does the same apply to science?

Can I say, “When the theological doctrine of original sin pushes back against our current consensus on the evolutionary sciences, researchers may need to search for better scientific essentials.”?

0005 On December 11, 2019, Jeff Hardin, member of the Department of Integrative Biology at UW-Madison, publishes his essay, Biology and Theological Anthropology: Friend or Foe?, on the Biologos website.

In the introduction, he joins British neuroscientist, Donald McKay, in asking (more or less), “Does God give us Darwin, Mendel and Rawlinson in order to achieve a less improper interpretation of His Word?”

0006 At the same time, one cannot ignore a reflection.

Does God give us the Bible in order to achieve a less improper interpretation of human natural history, genetics and Near Eastern Literature?

0007 Jeff Hardin, unlike most writers on this confounding topic, does not hide the question in the mirror.

Weirdly, he invites it.


Looking at Jeff Hardin’s Essay (2019) “Biology and Theological Anthropology” (Part 2 of 15)

0008 In order to appreciate how science and metaphysics mirror one another, I turn to Comments on Jacques Maritain’s Book (1935) Natural Philosophy (available at the smashwords website under the Empirio-schematic series).

Science is successfully born at the start of the modern age, with the formulation of the Positivist’s judgment.

What is a judgment?

A judgment is a relation between ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’.  When the elements are assigned to Peirce’s categories, the judgment becomes actionable.  Actionable judgments unfold into category-based nested forms.

0009 Here is a diagram of the Positivist’s judgment.

0010 The positivist intellect, the relation, insists on a rule: No metaphysics.  Surely, this is one reason why scientific inquiry into human evolution grates against theological anthropology.  

What ought to be is an empirio-schematic judgment.

Disciplinary language (relation) brings observations and measurements (what is) into relation with mathematical and mechanical models (what ought to be).

0011 What is what is?

What is has the structure of Peirce’s secondness.  The category of secondness is the realm of actuality.  Secondness consists of two contiguous real elements.

Here, the two real elements, a noumenon and its phenomena, belong to firstness, the realm of potential.  The noumenonthe thing itself, has the potential of capturing the attention of the positivist intellect.  Its phenomena, observable and measurable facets of the thing, have the potential of activating an empirio-schematic judgment.

The contiguity is most curious.  I place the contiguity in brackets.  A noumenon [cannot be objectified as] its phenomena.


Looking at Jeff Hardin’s Essay (2019) “Biology and Theological Anthropology” (Part 3 of 15)

0012 Centuries ago, the scholastic hylomorphe, matter [substantiates] form, occupies the slot of what is for a rational intellect.  

The positivist rule dissolves this hylomorphe and precipitates another dyad, a noumenon [cannot be objectified as] its phenomena.

The noumenon is the thing itself.

Phenomena are observable and measurable facets of the noumenon.

The original hylomorphe gets shuffled into the noumenon.


The positivist intellect has a rule.

0013 Here is a picture.

0014 I ask, “What is it to be a human being?”

Obviously, the relevant answer points to the noumenon.

So, I should look to metaphysics.

0015 But, the positivist intellect says, “No metaphysics is allowed.”

Scientists are only interested in the observable and measurable facets of matter [substantiates] form, as well as of body [substantiates] soul.  They are not concerned about the noumenon.  Their observations may be mechanically modeled.  Their measurements may be mathematically construed.  Their models rely on the lingo of specialized disciplines.

Scientists engage in empirio-schematic judgments, the what ought to be of the Positivist’s judgment.

0016 Okay, if this makes sense, then the dyad, expressing what is for the Positivist judgment, provides a way to appreciate the mirroring of the question raised by Jeff Hardin.