And a short story
about Some lonely Water Chimps.
Ever since Darwin biologists have been searching for the missing link in the chain of human evolution while Creationists, on the other hand, have delighted in every failure and also attempted to utilise those failures as a fulcrum with which to try and convince others that their view of the world is right and that God really did make each and every living creature individually. However, many a thinking person may be inclined to feel that holding to the idea of creationism is little more than an insult to God. For, to suggest that he slowly and laboriously made each form of life individually implies that perhaps he is not as omnipotent as the Bible suggests. But, if Creationists were to say that, at a snap of God's fingers, the whole panorama of the universe and its multitude of magnificent life forms unfolded, not only would it give greater credibility to the idea of God as an omnipotent creator, it would also help bridge the gap between science and religion. No scientist knows what came before the big bang, so no scientist could ever seriously challenge the idea that God just snapped his fingers and started the whole ball rolling. And, by default, Creationists could never decry scientists for seeking to obtain a greater understanding of God by trying to understand his works.
Nevertheless, in the search for our origins, what happened to the missing link?
Is there a missing link?
As no science minded individual wants to spend time searching for answers to questions that don't exist, this is perhaps a more pertinent question.
If one adheres to the idea that the process of development from chimpanzee to human took place in an aquatic or semi-aquatic environment, then it's very possible that although we have found the remains of some early versions of homo sapiens, the probability of finding the missing link we are searching for is extremely remote. If they exist, the fossils that show the complete process of evolutionary change are very likely to all be in one, as yet unknown location.
The line of reasoning goes something like this. Through force of circumstances a group of chimps found themselves forced to live on the shores of a lagoon and, because of an insurmountable barrier, they were unable to leave and return to the jungle. Perhaps they were all on a tree during a storm when a bolt of bright, electric blue lightening struck the base of the tree and sent both it and its terrified passengers tumbling down a steep ravine. Most of the shaken chimps would have survived the fall, but because the tall, stony cliff face was very smooth, there was no vegetation and therefore no hand holds which would have allowed them to climb back to the top. However, though life for this lonely, isolated group tended to be difficult and there was a frequent scarcity of food, they didn't starve.
To shorten this story from a twenty million year epic to about a ten million year one, perhaps it is permissible to suggest that in the area there was some substance (uranium deposits perhaps) which caused small but frequent genetic mutations in the offspring of the group. Consequently, after a few generations of barely surviving on what they could find on the ground, one young mutant chimp unexpectedly took a strong liking to seaweed and ate voraciously . His health giving food enabled him to grow stronger and fitter than other males who just stuck to the regular, spartan diet which fell from the top of the cliff and consequently, when there was a race to copulate with a female on heat, he frequently won and it wasn't long before the new gene for liking seaweed had spread throughout the whole group.
Time passed and the general health of the group improved. However, although there were often sickly or deformed young which didn't survive for long, there were also other young whose teeth may have been slightly flatter and who were able to chew their food more thoroughly and make it more digestible and these then became the strongest and most sexually productive in the group. Nevertheless, there was never really enough to go round and there were frequent periods of shortage. But then one day a young chimp waded out into deep water and went farther than any other had ever dared go. He found a sand bank with seaweed on the bottom and this willingness to wade out and find food made him stronger and more sexually active than others and, by default, the gene for wading slowly began to spread through the group.
As the gene spread, all chimps began wading away from the shore in search of nourishment. But swimming is more effective than wading and when one young chimp tried it, the gene or meme for swimming spread through the group and in times of shortage, when individuals were racing to reach even the smallest scrap of available food, it was those with a slightly straighter spinal structure who were able to swim fastest and therefore, they were the ones who got to eat most and, over time, also replicate most. Also, when the group was being chased by a predator such as a sleek, quick moving shark, it was the straighter bodied individuals who were most able to make it safety back to shore and escape the horrors of being eaten alive.
At this time both the hand and the chimps' sense of sensitivity and awareness would have begun to undergo almost unnoticeable but progressive changes. Most of the food was found underwater and therefore had to be picked up and brought to the mouth above the water. There was no question of just tugging a branch and bringing the food to the mouth so the chimp with the better grip, over a period of time, generally fared better and so the gene for a thumb which tended to oppose the fingers rather than lie alongside the hand permeated through the group. Also, as seeing through water is more difficult than seeing though air, those who were more able to identify what was in their hand without seeing it did better than those who couldn't. For example, those who grabbed something under the water and then raised it so that they could see what they had got didn't do as well as those who could sense that all they had grasped was a stone and then let it go so they could feel around for something else. So over the period of an hour the chimp with the greatest sense of awareness could grasp and let go of more things than the chimp which had to lift everything from the water and look at it before deciding whether or not it was edible.
This increasing level of awareness enabled females to be more selective about who fathered their children. The water environment often helped her to conceal the fact she was ovulating and her awareness enabled her to see that mating with a male who wasn't necessarily the strongest and most aggressive was beneficial for the reproduction of her genes. So, when she chose, she allowed the nicer or more intelligent ones to seduce her and her children were then more intelligent and when the number of pleasant and intelligent children increased, they reached a point where they were both willing and able to put up a co-ordinated resistance to those who depended on brute strength and brutality. Consequently, the role of dominant position in the group which continually grew larger began to fall on the shoulders of those who were both strong and intelligent.
Then of course, there was an outrageous chimp with a well placed thumb who had fairly quick reflexes and also a habit of catching a live fish and then using his teeth to strip the flesh from its bones. Even though a long time ago it had been common to eat the flesh of young babies belonging to baboons it was, perhaps, not the done thing as far as the rest of the group was concerned. But other youngsters may have taken up the practise and, when the next food shortage occurred, they were the healthiest chimps in the group and therefore, it wasn't many generations before all the group had quicker reflexes and were catching and eating fish. (Alternatively, as the young grew into adults, their young would have followed their parents' lead and so the eating of fish may have just become an acquired habit.)
During this (long) period the foot is also likely to have undergone noticeable changes. As a great deal of time was spent swimming the more streamlined foot or the one that was more like a flipper than a chimp's one gave the owner an advantage over those with what was considered a normal foot. But as a considerable period of time was also spent either on sandbanks or a sandy beach the balance had to be drawn between a foot that was good for swimming and one which was also good for supporting the now upright body on sandy ground.
Bodily hair would also have disappeared because although a reduction in bodily hair would only have given the a minute edge in speed, over millions of years and tens of millions of dangerous situations, this edge would have had a telling effect and so, almost unnoticeably, early humans lost most of the hair on their body. As they no longer needed body hair for youngsters to cling on to this hair served no purpose. Except of course hair on the head which was essential to the survival of little ones who could cling to it while floating in the close vicinity of their mother. Baldness may not have mattered so much in males and may, in some situations, even have been advantageous. But the woman who became bald would have had difficulty caring for her young or those of her children and so in time, a gene for natural baldness in woman almost completely disappeared.
But then suddenly real changes started to occur in the group and it left its animal status behind for ever. It started with just one young chimp who unexpectedly became aware of the fact that there was a strong inner, yet indefinable something inside him. Although he looked the same as all the other members in the group, this strong inner something or feeling made him aware of the fact that he wasn't like them at all. Look and act like them though he may, his inner feelings forced him to realize that he wasn't the same as they were and that he was, in some way, different.
To try and understand this inner differentness he may have swum off to an isolated island to contemplate the matter. There was to him an outside reality which included his environment and the other members of the group and also inner feelings which didn't always have a bearing on what was happening in the outside world. In this individual, higher brain functions had begun to evolve and the link between thought processes and feelings which came in response to something that had happened in the outside world had been weakened to a point where he could think about the fact that he had inner feelings. He became aware of himself as an individual and was therefore able, albeit in a primitive way, to use the power of reason to try and find ways of fulfilling at least some of his inner (and outer) desires. He could, momentarily at least, be dispassionate about his outside reality and when he finally returned to the group, his powers of reason enabled him to easily outwit all the other males so that he could eat and copulate to his heart's content.
However, it wasn't always enough for him to just eat, copulate, and sit in the warmth of the afternoon sun. His inner emotions often made him feel dissatisfied with life. Worst of all was that when he was with the group he had to blend in, do the things that they did and also talk about the things they wanted to talk about. This probably infuriated him. There had to be something more to a life that didn't go on forever and he often wandered away from the group to explore the horizons of his environment. He was very lonely because apart from a few of his offspring who had inherited the gene for self-awareness, all the others in the group were so self absorbed, they had no interest in the things he discovered. They were just so dull and ignorant and, as life was infinitely more satisfying when there were new places to visit and new things to see, his trips away became longer and more frequent. Sometimes he took a few of his more intelligent offspring with him because he had learnt a lot on his travels and wanted to make sure that his accumulated knowledge was passed on to them. He showed them where to find new sources of food, how to avoid sharks and other predators and perhaps also how to use a stick to dislodge some tasty forms of shellfish in much the same way chimpanzees now pass on the highly skilled art of termite fishing.
Not long after this, perhaps a few hundred thousand years or so, all the people in the group had a higher brain function which enabled them to be aware of the fact that they had inner feelings. Of these, the most successful multipliers were those who were able to appreciate that certain modes of co-operative behaviour resulted in more food and more offspring. Sex, for some as yet unexplained reason, had become a face to face affair and now that the women also had a conscious concept of their own individuality, it became a very personal matter for them and when possible, they avoided copulating with the more brutish males who failed to show at least some degree of sensitivity and gentleness. (Consequently, the gene for brutish behaviour in the lower, reptilian part of the brain began to give way to a gene for gentleness in the higher, more recently evolved part.) Human qualities had become noticeable and, as the smooth functioning of any group which contained a number of individuals (who each had a slightly different view of themselves and their relationship to the group as a whole) depended on behaviour and how they interacted with each other, the group began to develop a conscious code of what was right and wrong. A primitive form of language may have taken on greater form at this time. It appears that humans, dolphins and whales have some of the most complex systems of communication by sound and for the early humans this may have developed because, whereas in the jungle a great deal of communication was done through body language, when living in the water only the heads were visible and sound had to replace messages previously sent by body posture and signals from the hand or feet. Because of the aquatic environment, those with greater breath control (which neoteny, because of the smaller mouth would have helped) would have prospered for reasons other than just sound communication, but as this sound system developed and became more complex, the evolvement, retention and exchange of ideas became possible and, in time, stories that emphasised the benefits of doing right and penalties for doing wrong might also have begun to be passed on from generation to generation. (The birth of Freud's super ego?) *
Also at about this time, due to overcrowding or some other reason, the main group may have split up into several smaller groups and some of these may have travelled away from their aquatic environment and out on to the Savannah plains. However, those that left would also have left their mutation causing environment behind and remained relatively static while those who stayed continued to evolve or mutate in both physical physique and higher brain function. In consequence, they developed an even greater awareness of inner self and also a greater ability to evolve, retain and exchange abstract concepts or ideas.
Eventually, however, geologic or meteorological change made the semi-aquatic environment uninhabitable. The human being, apart from some very minor genetic changes was now fully formed. It could reason and think rationally (some of the time) and the fact that it could think made it think that it was superior to all other animals in the world. Unfortunately, the accumulated knowledge upon which to base their decisions was very limited and although these humans were aware of their ability to control some aspects of their life and environment, they were also aware of the fact that there were many aspects of their world which they could not control. Consequently, they reasoned that if they could control some aspects of their life, there had to be superior beings of some kind who could control the things they couldn't. (When black storm clouds boiled; when fingers of bright blue lightening reached out across the sky and destroyed everything they touched; when monstrous thunderclaps shook the heavens and howling winds flattened everything in their path, it was patently obvious to any sensible human being (who didn't know anything about meteorology) that whoever controlled these things was very, very upset. But why? It was obvious that there had to be a reason. But what could have possibly caused such a powerful being to become so angry? If the group suffered as a result of the storm, then it wasn't unreasonable for the people to assume that the group as a whole, or an individual within the group, had done something to cause that anger and, if this is what the people felt, what could be more reasonable than trying to appease the supreme being's anger by developing the habit of self-restraint and making a sacrifice of some sort?) Finally, when the Gods went so far as to make the human's home uninhabitable, it was natural to think that they (they humans) had done something very wrong. So, when as necessity demanded, they moved away from the place they had called home for millions of years, they took stories of a Garden of Eden with them. If they were flooded out, they may also have taken stories of a flood and then later separated them into two different tales.
Although they had developed many higher brain functions, these humans had never lost their animal self-centredness. The fact that they could think made them think themselves superior to all other forms of physical life. When they came across the descendants of those who had left the Garden of Eden several thousand years before they did, they were probably quite happy to coexist with them when times were good. But when times were bad and the very survival of the species was threatened, they would have thought nothing of destroying such unsightly, half human mutants. They were more skilled in the use of tools and, as weapons are tools, they easily annihilated those who were different. Those who, although not the same as the self, still tried to demand a share of the limited food supply.
As time passed and different groups went in different directions, they evolved different ways of dealing with what they didn't understand, such as their intrinsic fear of death and also what belief would result in eternal life. Consequently, when a dispute between groups arose, it became perfectly acceptable for one human to kill another. An animal which kills another of the same species is really only hurting itself because both animals have the same genes and killing one another only makes the gene pool smaller. But, from a human's point of view, if a person from one group (say his name is Peter) has one way of dealing with his fears, then obviously his inner feelings about self, death, eternal life and the universe are different from a person in another group (say his name is George) and so it's perfectly all right for Peter to kill George. For, if George's ideas, beliefs and sense of inner-self (memes) are allowed to propagate, they may become a serious threat to Peter's ideas, beliefs and sense of inner-self. They may even prove that Peter has got it all wrong and therefore, because Peter has invested so much time and effort in his beliefs, it would actually become essential for him to kill George so that his memes prospered and George's didn't.
Although the genetic difference between humans today and the humans who left the Garden of Eden is probably very slight, the accumulated knowledge that is passed from adult to child is infinitely greater and far more sophisticated than anything pre-stone age man could ever have hoped for. Unfortunately, although our fund of accumulated knowledge has increased, our sense of self, our inner feelings and basic need to satisfy those inner feelings has never undergone a sufficient degree of evolutionary change and this is the challenge of the future.
From our early beginnings when human kind inhabited only a small corner of some lonely sea shore, we have multiplied and spread, like a cancer, to all corners of the globe. For the sake of pleasure or personal gain we have killed off and/or seriously threatened many other species of life. We have also found more and more ways to take more and more of what we want from Mother Earth and, despite the vast increase in our numbers, we have never ceased in our demands for even more. But in universal terms, this is quite a small, self-contained planet and the question it ask is:
How many people can it support?
At what point do our numbers become too great for the planet to nurture?
At what point will the polluting tendency of our selfish, throw away society cause a complete collapse in the structure of nature itself.
Most people know that we, as a species of animal, are slowly destroying our planet. But the desires of the inner self (the Freudian id?) are so strong, most of us presently prefer to shut our eyes to what's happening and get for ourselves as much of the life we want as we can. There are some who are ecologically aware and who care about the future of our planet, but are there enough of them? Will the small sacrifices of the few compensate for the excesses of the many?
Throughout the universe it's possible that there are a number of planets which have evolved a thinking, self-aware, intelligent form of life. Is planet Earth going to be the one which never quite made it? Is galactic history going to record that on earth the human being never achieved the status of full intelligent being because they never quite managed to overcome the selfish, self-centered side of their nature? Is that galactic history book going to say that at a crucial moment, the species as a whole failed to respond to their higher, more far-sighted mental functions, which they had in abundance, and therefore ended the story by inadvertently destroying both themselves and the planet upon which they evolved?
* The gene for what we call evil may have begun to permeate the group at this
time. In all members of the group the gene for short term self interest was
offset against the gene for fear (self-preservation) and the gene for
survival through group cohesion and this balance enabled a good self/group
cohesion. But at one point during the evolvement of tool using capability one
chimp with an overdeveloped sense of selfishness discovered that not only could
a stone be used to open a shell, it could also be used to bash another member
over the head and take all his possessions or remove him as a possible
competitor. But because in all the other members of the group, the genes for fear
and group cohesion was normally developed, they were too afraid to stand up to
this individual and so he prospered and, as a result, the gene for short-term
self-interest at the expense of others (evil) started to permeate quickly through
the group. For example, standing up to this individual may have resulted in more
deaths so the group, in the short term, did better if they just allowed this
single murderous individual to have his way.
(Also, although there were almost certainly genes for bravery and self-sacrifice when it came to dealing with threats which came from outside the group, when the threat came from within, the resulting confusion may also have made it impossible for anyone to do anything about it.)
January 1992 (Updated '96)
In his excellent book ‘The Prehistory of Sex’ Timothy Taylor ridicules the idea of Oceanic Evolution or ‘The Aquatic Ape Theory’.
He has two main arguments against Oceanic Evolution. Firstly he proposes that that during the night, hypothermia would have quickly killed off any hairless ape if it didn’t have some form of protection such as clothing. Secondly he suggests that if humans had evolved in a water environment, the crocodiles would have feasted and quickly eaten up any early humans (hupanzees) who spent most of their time in water.
The hypothermia argument is easy to dispose of because it is all a question of the climate of the time. Some parts of the world are warm all day round and people who live in these areas have no need of extra warmth and shelter at night. (They like it but don’t need it.) So if, in the area humans evolved, the climate was warm enough at night not to need extra clothing, then a night time death from hypothermia would not have been a problem. Added to this is the fact that water retains its heat during the night and on colder nights there was nothing to stop hairless hupanzees (without clothing) from sleeping on the beach and making occasional trips to the water to warm themselves up.
The crocodile idea is interesting. But firstly, crocodiles don’t eat all the food in their area. They eat only when they are hungry and like to leave the rest for later. So, even if early humans were beset by crocodiles which preyed on them, the crocodiles would have been unlikely to eat them all up. Consequently, even in the face of frequent threats from crocodiles, human evolution could easily have continued in an aquatic environment.
But more importantly, I think a crocodile threat could have done a lot to speed up the rate of evolution. For example, when a crocodile was spotted the whole group would have run from the water onto the beach. When the crocodile then followed them out of the water, all would have retreated into the rocky surroundings where the crocodile could not follow. However, the crocodile, being patient by nature, may well have settled down on the beach to wait until the hungry hupanzees were forced to risk leaving their sanctuary in their need for food. Maybe even by sacrificing one or two of their number to the jaws of the crocodile so the rest could eat.
But it is possible that if they were hunted by crocodiles, once in the safety of the rocks, hupanzees would have discovered that the throwing of rocks and stones would either have driven the crocodiles away or else killed them. So the hurling of missiles might well have evolved not as a way of obtaining extra food but as a way of protecting life. A far more potent evolutionary force.
At this point the hupanzees, as a group, might also have experienced a massive evolutionary step forward. For example after the first few crocodiles had been killed or driven away, one bright spark would have seen the advantages of stockpiling rocks in a position which was safe from crocodile attack. This meant that he could retreat to an area of safety and still be able to drive the crocodile away with rocks. Other intelligent hupanzees would have seen what this individual was doing and ‘twigged’ the wisdom of stockpiling rocks or defensive weapons in strategically located places. They would then have begun to do the same themselves.
However, at the same time, the less intelligent hupanzees would not have been able to appreciate the reason for stockpiling rocks in strategically placed positions and would therefore not have bothered to stockpile this weaponry themselves. But as crocodile attacks might have been frequent and the crocodiles themselves might also sometimes have arrived in large numbers, there would have been a pressing need for a large number of rocks to be stockpiled. It was here that the more intelligent hupanzees might have begun to force the less intelligent ones to help in the stockpiling of rocks. Even if the less intelligent hupanzee didn’t understand why they were being forced to assist in the stockpiling of rocks, the more intelligent would have understood they were acting in the interests of the whole community and, if necessary, that force should sometimes be used if it meant achieving something which benefited the whole group.
Obviously there is little in the way of archaeological evidence regarding the early evolution of humans so we don’t really know what happened. But, if the above did happen then it would have been the first time the unintelligent were controlled and organised by the more intelligent. Organisational government within a species of animal would have been born.
Timothy Taylor’s ‘The Prehistory of Sex’ is an excellent book and should
be read by anyone interested in evolution, whatever their views.
---January 7, 2010---
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