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Great Quotes About the Evolution of Man

26 May
credit: San Diego Museum of Man

Lucy: Her Story of Survival

I’m writing a novel about paleo-historic man. As such, I’ve spent an inordinately long period of time researching early man. Here are some of the best quotes I’ve run across on the

evolution of our species:

  • Future changes of any note will be in our minds, and what we do with them. –Phillip Tobias
  • “But I’m not dancing alone,” he said. “I am dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.” Then, with the utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life. The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo — Colin Turnbull
  • Impossible is relative –Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin. –Charles Darwin
  • When primeval man first used flint stones for any purpose, he would have accidentally splintered them, and would then have used the sharp fragments. From this step it would be a small one to break the flints on purpose and not a very wide step to fashion them rudely. –Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
  • Fossils are like truth. They are not where you look for them, but where you find them. –GHR Von Koenigswald
  • I learnt from Flo how to be mother. Flo was patient, tolerant. She was supportive. She was always there. She was playful. She enjoyed having her babies, as good mothers do. –Jane Goodall, referring to a mother chimp she’d studied for years.
  • Chimps are unbelievably like us – in biological, non-verbal ways. They can be loving and compassionate and yet they have a dark side… 98 per cent of our DNA is the same. The difference is that we have developed language – we can teach about things that aren’t there, plan for the future, discuss, share ideas… –Jane Goodall
  • (Man’s) greatness does not consist in being different from the animals that share the earth with him, but in being…conscious of things of which his environment has no inkling. –GHR Von Koenigswald
  • A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. – Greek Proverb
  • Words require little energy to produce; they are ‘cheap tokens’ and can be used with little or no risk or cost to deceive, just as easily as to inform. Body language is much more reliable for most animal purposes. — Derek Bickerton
  • Read the rest of this entry »
 

Tool Use and Man

18 Jan

I had to post this. It’s not that the impact of tool use on the brain surprises me, it’s the extent:

Tool use alters brain’s map of body

Posted by Elie Dolgin

Researchers claim to have the first direct evidence of a century-old idea that using tools changes the way the human brain perceives the size and configuration of our body parts, according to a study published in the June 23 issue of Current Biology.

Holding the tool at an elongated
arm’s length

Image: Lucilla Cardinali

“To be accurate in doing an action with a tool, you need to make the tool become a part of your body,” the study’s first author Lucilla Cardinali of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bron and Claude Bernard University in Lyon told The Scientist. “Your brain needs to take into account that the action is performed with something added to your body part.”

In 1911, British neurologists Henry Head and Gordon Holmes introduced the theory that body image is mutable. Our brains are constantly processing visual and tactile feedback about the position of our bodies to work out where our limbs are at any given moment, they argued. The brain sifts through all this information to create a unified representation of body position and shape called the “body schema.” Although the concept has been widely accepted in the hundred years since it was first proposed, and many researchers have demonstrated adjustments to how we sense our body’s position in space after using a tool, no one had ever shown empirically that the body’s self-framing itself can be directly manipulated.

“This is the first time it has been shown in humans that the use of tools can change the pattern of movement because the body schema has changed,” said Angelo Maravita, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Milan-Bicocca in Italy who was not involved in the study.

Cardinali, a graduate student with INSERM’s Alessandro Farnè, gave people a mechanical grabber that extended their reach and found that people with the arm-elongating tool took longer to grasp and point to an object after the gizmo was taken away compared to before they held the tool. They then showed that this delayed reaction time is a normal response of people with naturally longer arms, thus indicating that tool users judge their arms to be longer than they truly are. The researchers also asked blindfolded participants to touch specific landmarks on their arm — the elbow, wrist and middle fingertip — and showed that people perceived these spots as further along the limb after having played with the gadget arm. “It’s really suggestive of the fact that your arm is coded as longer,” said Maravita.

All these subtle and dynamic mental move-arounds occur at a subconscious level to help us function with our workaday widgets, the authors say. “[Tool users] don’t think, ‘Oh my god, my arm is longer,'” said Cardinali. “They act as if the arm was longer.” In fact, Cardinali added, the long arm of the mind is something we experience every day — for example, when you grasp a toothbrush. “You don’t need to look at yourself in the mirror,” she said. “You are able to do this without bumping into your teeth or hurting yourself, and you don’t need to pay attention because the toothbrush is incorporated” into the body’s perception of the arm.

Michael Arbib, a University of Southern California neurobiologist and computer scientist who did not contribute to the research findings, said that the study “has an interesting result, but it doesn’t justify their claim.” He argued that the slowness experienced by tool users could arise because they had just completed an awkward task that involved not just a greater reach but also different angles of rotation of the arm muscles. After ditching the tool, “it’s a less confident motion,” Arbib said, “and the less confident you are the slower you go.”

Cardinali, however, said that the movement was fairly straightforward. Participants were pros at it right off the bat without any learning involved, she said. Maravita noted that the study subjects were quite precise and that only the key parameters linked to arm size changed after tool use. “I think it’s quite a robust result,” he said.

Arbib also said that the authors’ “bold claim” was unfounded because they might have mistaken cause for effect. For example, in the arm touching experiment, tool users could have pointed to a modified space rather than an altered body representation if they mentally positioned themselves relative to the extended tool and then worked backwards, instead of directly perceiving an elongated body part. These two interpretations are “functionally equivalent,” Arbib said, and so the authors’ findings might only confirm the previous results of the last hundred years. Cardinali disagreed. She argued against a mental frameshift in space because the arm pointing test was performed with bent arms — a posture that had never been encountered before. Thus, tool users could not be orienting themselves relative to any physical object in space, she said.

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Lucy: A Biography–Part XVI

24 Apr

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Lucy: A Biography–Part X

17 Mar

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Lucy: A Biography–Part IX

11 Mar
credit: San Diego museum of Man

Lucy: Her story of survival

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Lucy: A Biography–Part VIII

28 Feb

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic  saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today. 

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Here’s Part 8:

Chapter  3–Part 2

Changes

Nature could barely make the trio out in the darkness. The brindled shades of their hirsute bodies blended into the brambled scrub.

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Lucy: A Biography–Part VII

19 Feb

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic  saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today. 

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecus skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Here’s Part 7:

Read the rest of this entry »

 

Lucy: A Biography–Part IV

29 Jan

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

Here’s Part 4 (A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine):

Chapter One

Raza

Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.

—Margaret Mead

There the Creatures squatted, grunting noisily, no further from Raza than a well-thrown stone. Dirty clumps of hair hung to narrow shoulders. Their muscular chests tapered to pinched hips. Nut-brown skin bore only the barest layer of translucent fuzz. Their vaulted foreheads rounded high above thick rounded brows and broad muzzles—like his own, Raza thought, but flat as though Mammoth sat on them.

Raza drooped his eyes and hunkered deeper into the thick reeds across the pond from the Creatures’ camp. They were not what he expected. In fact, the only similarity to the ones he’d seen outside his home base was their movement.

homo habilis

Raza

They glided like Crocodile through water, with a grace belied by their over-long legs and truncated arms.

How could these winter-lean, hairless creatures be predators?

He hadn’t set out this morning to actually see them. He’d only wanted to track them. He’d waked early. He covered his body in mud and dung, barked a farewell to his Primary male Hku and set off to hunt. The day couldn’t have been more perfect. An unusual scattering of clouds shaded the parched ground with splotches of shade. Smoking Mountain slept, though Raza knew at any moment it might awaken with a ground-shaking growl, much like Eagle’s cry before her death dive or Cat’s throaty snarl. Today, though, the only indication of Smoking Mountain’s presence was a slight sulfur taste in the air.

His bare feet cut quickly through the talus field that bordered home base, across a dry patch of savanna, following the prints of Man-who-preys’. This Creature. They were bulbous at the bottom with splayed nubs on top, like his but straighter and narrower. Depth and size varied, but the scent was always sour like spoiled roots. Dust sprayed by his pounding feet tickled his nose and eyes and turned his dark feet a dinghy white.

When he caught the odor of pond reeds, he froze and let his senses explore what his eyes couldn’t. He ignored the ripening noxious cloud from his melting dung coat and focused on his surroundings. He heard water lapping against the pond’s shoreline and smelled the piquant scent of decayed vegetation crushed by hooves and paws and feet pounding to the water’s edge.

Nothing unusual, so he slid forward like Snake until he could see the watering hole. Its blue surface shimmered with heat like a watery flame. At one end, a herd of long-eared dik-dik and a lone hyaena-cat drank. Wave after wave of gentle ripples rolled from the pond’s edge as prey and predator alike lapped up the crystalline water. Cat’s cousin feasted on a bloated calf. A motley horde of flop-winged vultures squabbled nearby, hopping closer and closer to the cadaver, awaiting their turn. A mammoth family splashed directly in front of him, spraying their huge bodies with long noses. They trumpeted at something, flaring their ears and swaying their giant forefeet before trundling off to give Raza an unobstructed view across the pond.

At the face of the Creature. Man-who-preys. So much for his plan.

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Lucy: A Biography–Part III

26 Jan

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic  saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today. 

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

Here’s Part 3 (A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine):

Prologue

In the Beginning… 

…it is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us.

—Charles Darwin 

 Billions of years whooshed by in such a rush, it made Sun dizzy. Planetary systems formed and life evolved and still Sun couldn’t decide. This Machiavellian monstrosity who called herself ‘Nature’ cared nothing for Earth. She collided vast landmasses with such brutality that the ground buckled into crenulated piles of lofty mountains and deep valleys, or splintered into ragged continents that floated away on infinite oceans. Molten hotspots blew liquid rock through the fragile crust and splattered volcanic archipelagos like multi-layered onions. The erratic climate melted glaciers and rainforests with equal ease.

Sun sighed. Nature’s life forms were no better. They came and went, crushed by Earth’s ever-changing habitat. The survivors, like the desultory horsetail ferns or the annoying chirruping insects, were boring. The first had no flexibility and the second, no mental strength. Sun turned her attention to other planets in her system, until the day a muscular, slope-shouldered hominid named Orrorin appeared. Though his head was no larger than what Nature called a ‘chimpanzee’, a human soul radiated through his eyes. Who was he? He fingered his food as though wondering at its texture. Hostility intrigued rather than frightened him. Had Nature finally done something spectacular?

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Book Review: Lucy

30 Aug

Lucy: The Beginnings of HumankindLucy: The Beginnings of Humankind

by Donald Johanson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-stars of my story, I turned to the man who has become the guru of earliest man: Donald Johanson and his amazing find, Lucy.

In his book, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (Touchstone Simon & Schuster 1990) Johanson and his co-author, Maitland Edey tell the fascinating tale of how they found Lucy, the most complete skeleton ever uncovered of an Australopithecene, the genus that immediately preceded Homo. Prior to this find, he was pretty much an unknown, toiling with many other paleoanthropologists in search of man’s roots, maybe the now defunct ‘missing link’. Johanson got an idea, followed it despite adversity, disbelievers, money problems and set-backs. These, he chronicles in the book, sharing every step of his journey with an easy-going writing style, breaking down the complicated science to an amateur’s understanding and sharing his innermost thoughts on his discovery and how it changed then-current thinking on man’s evolution. I learned not only about Lucy, but how paleoanthropologists do their field work, what their days are like, how they fight to prepare for an expedition, and the politics they must solve both to get there and get back. Johanson also includes well-written descriptions on the background of human evolution, field work in East Africa, the paleo-historic geology of Olduvai Gorge (the famed location where Leakey uncovered so much of our primeval roots), the discussion among scientists that pinned down the human-ness of the genus Homo and what differentiated it from older genus like Australopithecines (Lucy’s genus), other animals Lucy likely lived with and survived despite of, how Lucy’s age was definitively dated, and more.

Johanson jumps right in with the Prologue, telling us how Lucy came to be discovered, and then takes us back to the story of how he got there and what happened after. Through Lucy’s story, we learn about man’s beginnings and who that earliest forebear was. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • She had lain silently in her adamantine grave for millennium after millennium until the rains at Hadar had brought her to light again
  • Bands of Homo erectus would wait in the valleys between the hills for the big game herds that migrated south for the winter. They drove the game into swamps by setting grass fires.
  • Big men have big brains, but they are no smarter than small men. Men are also larger than women and have consistently larger brains, but the two sexes are of equal intelligence
  • Desert people the world over shun wadis or defiles as campsites
  • The ash became wet and, almost like a newly laid cement sidewalk, began taking clear impressions of everything that walked across it
  • You don’t gradually go from being a quadruped to being a biped. What would the intermediate stage be–a triped? I’ve never seen one of these.
  • You might not think that erect walking has anything to do with sex, but it has, it has
  • If one is to jump and snatch, one had better be able to judge distances accurately.
  • The way to precise distance judgment is via binocular vision: focusing two eyes on an object to provide depth perception
  • The chimpanzee…is the most adaptable of the apes.
  • A hen is an egg’s way of getting another egg.

For some truly beautiful and realistic drawings of man’s predecessors, check out Jay Matternes. Here are a few samples:


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, an ISTE article reviewer, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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