Human Nature

Some Topics

Humans are Mammals

Humans are descendants of mammals who appeared about 250 million years ago when the major land masses were connected. Mammals evolved into a great variety of creatures who had warm bodies, gave birth to live babies and fed them milk. Mothers assumed a greater role in assuring the survival of babies and social organization became critical for many mammals to survive. Humans are primates who, according to genetic analysis, diverged from other placental mammals about 90 million years ago. The oldest known fossil primates are from the Eocene epoch 55 million years ago. Tavaré et al suggested that only 7% of all primate species that have ever existed are known from fossils. One of the mammalian-primate lineages, "hominids" are included in the superfamily of all apes, the Hominoidea. Some hominids became human in a series of transformations that led to our current form sometime in the last 200,000 years.

No-one knows if the transition between earlier hominids and humans occurred gradually or abruptly. The timing of this transformation will never be known with certainly. Some have proposed theories suggesting that consciousness, thinking, empathy and feelings originated suddenly and recently with modern humans but these claims are not credible. Close study of other living primates has revealed they manifest all the basic ingredients of the human mind.

Fossil evidence suggests that modern humans are descendants of black Africans who migrated from Africa into Asia and Europe. Ledgard described visiting the real Garden of Eden in Kenya: "An hour’s drive and a 600-metre drop in altitude from Nairobi is Olorgesailie, a Lower Palaeolithic archaeological site on the floor of the Rift Valley in Kenya. It is blisteringly hot. Nothing moves in the heat of the day except dust, gathering into twisters. It might be the closest we have to the Garden of Eden. From the campsite it is possible to make out the outline of the prehistoric lake which once flooded the plain in soapy water. Hominids lived here for 900,000 years. They made handaxes which they used to butcher the hippos, zebras and baboons they hunted and scavenged. The Kenyan anthropologist Louis Leakey uncovered a Homo erectus skull here in the 1940s; the brain cavity was disappointingly small. There must have been grunts, gestures with stones, blood, the sky blotted with vultures, ape children kept back in the darkness. The sense of space here is immense. So too is the sense of known time, hominid time, known at first in the way a beast knows time, in light and darkness, but conscious all the same. The night sky is black lacquered. There are shooting stars. Sometimes there is the sound of hyenas."

Humans are Primates

The tendency in paleoanthropology is to discover more and older fossil hominids with transitional characteristics. The timing and location of this transformation will never be known with certainly. Lucy was the first bipedal Australopithecus Afarensis skeleton found in the mid-1970s with an estimated age of 3.2 million years. An older, taller hominid skeleton was found in the Rift Valley, Ethiopia, 2005 just north of Hadar where Lucy was discovered. Nicknamed 'Big Man', the 3.58-million-year-old male skeleton suggested a running and walking biped nearly 2 metres tall. His scapula which anchors the shoulder muscles, is similar to that of a modern human suggesting a move from arboreal life. The oldest Ethiopian hominid, Ardipithecus ramidus (4.4 million years) had more ape-like arms and feet. In the interim periods other homonids (hominins) appear and disappear.

Rech et al summarized recent history: "Less than 200,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans (that is, humans with skeletons similar to those of present-day humans) appeared in Africa. At that time, as well as later when modern humans appeared in Eurasia, other ‘archaic’ hominins were already present in Eurasia. In Europe and western Asia, hominins defined as Neanderthals on the basis of their skeletal morphology lived from at least 230,000 years ago before disappearing from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. In eastern Asia, no consensus exists about which groups were present. Until at least 17,000 years ago, Homo floresiensis, a short-statured hominin that seems to represent an early divergence from the lineage leading to present-day humans was present on the island of Flores in Indonesia and possibly elsewhere. On the Eurasian mainland there existed at least two forms of archaic hominins in the Upper Pleistocene: a western Eurasian form with morphological features that are commonly used to define them as Neanderthals, and an eastern form to which the Denisova individuals belong."

  • Human Nature is a 21st century description of anthropology, neuroscience, philosophy, sociology and psychology - disciplines that need to be integrated as they are in this book. The topics are essential to understanding human nature, its origins and its problems. You could treat each topic as module of a larger system that develops emergent properties as the modules interact. Each reader discovers the features of human nature in himself or herself and then discovers similar features in others. After you understand more about the dynamics of close relationships, you can look at larger groups. You can continue by applying your insights into human dynamics to governments, countries and international affairs. Other Persona Digital books describe the same dynamics but emphasize different vantage points and concerns.

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    Human Nature
    The Good Person
    Pieces of the Puzzle
    The Sound of Music
    Surviving Human Nature
    Language & Thinking
    I and Thou
    Emotions & Feelings
    Neuroscience Notes
    Human Brain
    Children and Family
    Intelligence & Learning
    Religion 21st Century

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    Human Nature is the first volume in the Psychology & Philosophy series, developed by Persona Digital Books. We encourage readers to quote and paraphrase topics published online and expect proper citations to accompany all derivative writings. The author is Stephen Gislason and the publisher is Persona Digital Books. The most recent date of publication is 2016.