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Modern humans (Homo sapiens) -- Fully human now, we narrowly escape extinction to follow our destiny

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A Godless Philosophy - Contents

Preface  (What's this all about?)

The Story of Evolution

14,000,000,000 y.a. -- The Big Bang
Evolution begins

4,600,000,000 y.a. -- Our Sun and Earth
Stars evolve, producing the complex elements of organic life

2,500,000,000 y.a. -- First life forms on Earth
A bacteria reproduces itself, and the race is on

220,000,000 y.a. -- First mammals
A tiny shrew survives among the dinosaurs

30,000,000 y.a. -- The great apes of Africa
Chimps achieve sociability, planned combat, and use of natural objects as tools

5,000,000 y.a. -- Earliest human ancestors
It looks like a chimp but walks upright

3,000,000 y.a. -- Earliest toolmakers
Still chimp-like, this larger-brained ape makes the first stone tools

1,800,000 y.a. -- Later pre-humans
More human-looking without fur, this naked ape conquers fire and reaches Eurasia   

300,000 y.a. -- Neanderthals
Evolved in Europe's Ice Age, they hunt and kill 7-ton mammoths

50,000 y.a. -- Modern humans (Homo sapiens)
Fully human now, we narrowly escape extinction to follow our destiny

45,000 y.a. -- Spread of modern humans throughout Eurasia
Out of Africa, we encounter the pre-humans and fight our way north

30,000 y.a. -- Extinction of the last pre-humans
Neanderthals, the tough guys, hold out the longest

15,000 y.a. -- First settlements, city-states and empires
It takes us 35,000 years to create the first small city

600 y.a. -- Racial differences and European conquests
Guns, germs and steel

Now -- Human evolution in modern times
Where are we, and what lies ahead?

Theory or Science?  Sources and References

Evolution's Implications  (Summary)

Miscellaneous Musings

By 50,000 years ago, the last major step in human evolution had fallen into place. It happened in Africa, where our ancestors had already developed a fully modern human anatomy and brain size (1350 cc.).

Without any increase in brain size, something had changed in the way our brain's neurons connected. Instead of ape-like grunts, calls and hoots, humans had achieved language: an ever-expanding vocabulary, with grammar and syntax. Their language was fully articulate and may have included the click sounds still used by their Khoisan-speaking descendants in Africa today and lost in other languages.

Scientists differ over whether this happened over thousands of years or was the more sudden result of a mutation. In any case, it was the most profound step in human evolution.

For a social species, nothing could make a greater difference than the ability to transmit complex thoughts from one individual to another. Language released the potential of our large brains, enabling precise descriptions, specific agreements, oral history, debates about issues, the communication of concepts and subtleties like irony and sarcasm. Our powerful cognitive capabilities could now be verbalized and expanded.

At that point, we possessed essentially all of the mental capability of modern-day humans. This did not mean we suddenly started designing spacecraft; we had thousands of years of learning to do, and the written word was far in the future. But we danced and sang; we started wearing ornaments, playing bird-bone flutes, and painting pictures in caves. We also took early steps toward institutionalizing marriage, discouraging sex between close kin, and establishing sanctions against rape and murder.

Concepts of fairness and reciprocity, originally inherited in primitive form from our chimpanzee ancestors, could now be clearly understood and articulated (and, of course, argued over). Language thus enabled the development of rudimentary trade networks with neighboring tribes -- those with whom we were not fighting at any given moment.

With our new capability to grasp abstract concepts came a less welcome realization: we were now "life aware of itself," as Erich Fromm has described it: each of us "aware of ourselves as a separate entity, aware of our own short life span, of the fact that without our will we are born and against our will we die, and that we will die before those whom we love, or they before us."

This awakening of mortality angst gave rise to shamans and witch doctors. Their promises of immortality gave them a new kind of power and rank in previously egalitarian hunter-gatherer tribes. They were our first priests, the first specialists in human society. We know almost nothing about the belief systems of early proto-religions, but archeological evidence shows we started burying our dead with religious symbols soon after we achieved language.

Despite our new capabilities, we came perilously close to extinction. At 50,000 years ago, another long drought had depopulated Africa. Recent genetic discoveries confirm that modern humans constituted a dangerously small population of roughly 5,000 in East Africa.

What happened next was stunning. Nicholas Wade, author of "Before the Dawn," states it in one simple sentence: "From this village-size population, the world was peopled."

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Copyright © 2011 Marshall C. Whitfield