Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Song and Dance of the "Extreme Social Hominid": Homo Sapiens' Way- part 2

The Song

Humankind is not the only living organism possessing a strong social quality. The animal kingdom is replete with species rich with social interactions, kin ships, and relationships. Among the common tools utilized is sound in the form of song. In fact, song and rhythm resembling music forms part and parcel of many types of animal communication from Cicadas to Meer Kats.

Interestingly, the enormous repertoire of biological songs including the beautiful staccato warnings and alarms, as well as the entrancing whistles and moans of intraspecies communication all work within a relatively narrow range of combinations and apparent meaning. The rhythm and deportment of discussion within the animal kingdom is fairly straightforward, and with some exceptions, one-dimensional.

Any hominid noise resembling song and dance probably predated language and likely had basic repetitive patterns relating to primitive communication and general survival. What is so interesting with modern man is our ability to combine notes in different ways; to go beyond simple copy or basic meaning. This seems to be a critical precursor to actual human language and song. Therefore, what makes a song so uniquely human is the way it is put together. Humankind discovered a way to burst through the more common threads and formulas of animal communication.

Humankind's cooperative efforts through time may have been one of the root triggers that allowed for the development of an ability to uniquely thread ideas represented in symbols or notes together as language and song in infinite combinations, allowing for multi-dimensional dialogue.

This amazing capacity could have seeds some time in the last 6 million years during a period of severe global climate change, which may have spurred the creation of new primate lineages, one of whom are our distant ancestors.

Intriguing studies in genetics and paleonuerology are discovering tantalizing clues in the form of transforming genes and shifting biochemical function that shed light on the origin of brain structure and function. This amazing information suggests that even though hominids had big brains 600,000 years ago, and though modern man lived up to 200,000 years ago, it was only in the last 50,000 years or so that evidence of art, language, and culture appears in the fossil record. Fascinatingly, this latter development is also associated with the emergence of new genes which reflect a structural neurological change and may have influenced human memory, symbolic thinking, and advanced language.

All this incoming information is beginning to suggest that hominid evolution consisted of several fits and starts separated by periods of little or no change as it was molded by the force of natural selection. Therefore basic elements of language and cognition reach back before the dawn of Homo sapiens. That said, it appears that the Homo sapiens lineage took song and language to infinite and exquisite combinations ( I wonder what the "Geico caveman" would say).

In addition, genetic studies discovered a recently emerged gene, involved with brain size, which appeared only around 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, just as the first human cities appeared. This is a powerful indication that Homo sapiens, even today continues to evolve and change.

As a greater understanding of the making of humankind's song is gathered from these and other studies, we find that our conceptualization of consciousness and intelligence continually changes and expands. The flexibility, plasticity, and sometimes minor cognitive adjustments leading to major cultural shifts of the hominid mind calls to the "extreme social hominid" to be humble as it considers its place in this universe.

Next post: Part 3: The dance

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