Medium avatar
4

Neoteny, Pedomorphism, "Domesticated" Humans?

by (19479)
Updated about 20 hours ago
Created October 07, 2011 at 2:16 AM

After watching a BBC documentary about wild silver foxes that were bred for "tameness" and subsequently started exhibiting the entire suite of changes associated with domesticated dogs (raised tails, various hair types/colors, submissiveness, etc.) I began thinking about whether or not this process happened in humans.

Evolutionary biology, anthropology, etc. all seem to agree that the great "advances" of human society were the result of greater cooperation. Language, pair bonds, religion, the written word, all allowed us to "work together", but what if this simply means that we have "tamed" ourselves?

As in the case of the silver fox, many uniquely "human" traits may be the result of selecting for tameness.

For example, when comparing infant apes to infant humans, they both show striking similarity. What we then see in the adult ape (a Capuchin monkey in the picture) is a maturation into an adult form that is truncated in human beings.

alt text

If this is indeed the case (and it seems very likely) many other developments such as the use of other animals skins/pelts, weapons, etc. could be compensatory for our own loss of innate weaponry (i.e. canine teeth).

Paleontologist and writer Stephen Jay Gould has said that the "evolutionary story" of humans is based on "retaining to adulthood the originally juvenile features of our ancestors."

What are your thoughts?

(If you are interested, I delved a little deeper into this idea in a blog post titled "The Domestication of Man")

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · September 07, 2013 at 1:28 AM

Good question though. We are probably the first species to domesticate itself.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · October 08, 2011 at 2:56 AM

@FED -- read 10k year explosion -- the authors talk about the taming of humans.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 6:16 PM

The fact that we domesticated ourselves, and the implications that arise from this is what I wanted to bring out. Does this explain EVERYTHING? No way! But, it does offer an elegant and observable way for us to understand a part of the overall picture of our evolution from wild to "civilized".

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 6:13 PM

We can literally see this (neoteny) unfold in just three generations of silver foxes. Raise foxes in a hot sandbox and see what happens. I'm not disputing that thermodynamics is involved, it very much is, yet I see this as similar to the problem with calorimetry. We can burn a gram of fat, protein, or carb and say "it releases ___ calories of heat" however, a calorie in you is not a calorie in me. Physical laws don't always play out as expected in human beings and our understanding is never complete.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Some of us might become "feral" (see every post-apocalyptic/zombie movie ever made), but you are correct, most of us would probably die if we were sent out into the wild.

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
2936 · October 07, 2011 at 4:11 PM

BTW, I tried to start a thread a like this about the midday hunter theory, but Melissa took it out with a meat cleaver and suspended me! How did you get away with it? I'll try again, with body armor this time.

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
2936 · October 07, 2011 at 3:59 PM

"could" exist? So you're saying it's a chicken-and-egg dilemma, and therefore spontaneous neotany wins? Sorry, I judge theories by their elegance, and this is the most elegant there is. Thermodynamics - the true secret name of God.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · October 07, 2011 at 2:37 PM

Try going out drinking on a Friday night in most British towns or cities and humans no longer appear particularly "tame" or "domesticated". :)

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 12:05 PM

The author of "Born to Run" goes into some of those explanations for human evolution (persistence hunting, heat exchange, etc.) yet all of this could exist as adaptive responses to the fact that we were already becoming less hairy, more inquisitive/curious, more cooperative, etc. Neoteny may have led us out of the jungle and the savannah further shaped us.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:57 AM

The very things that support intragroup cooperation (religion, nationalism, etc.) support intergroup aggression.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Sexual selection absolutely factors into it. Think about how strongly we select for "hairlessness". A woman with hairy armpits, hairy upper lip, thick eyebrows, etc. would be ostracized in our culture. Hirsute men are also being selected against too, however. The artistic works of antiquity as well as modern advertising/marketing has further shaped our sexual preferences and guided us towards a more neotenic form. I do mention how "tameness" does not necessarily imply "conflict free".

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:50 AM

In the book "Before the Dawn", the author discussed how gracilization has progressed farther in Asiatic peoples but Europeans, a large number of whom derive from Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, still occasionally exhibit stronger brow ridges and large body size. The "Worlds Stronges Man" competition comes to mind with all the huge Norwegian, Swedish, and German guys!

Total Views
3.1K

Recent Activity
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

Last Activity
66D AGO

Followers
0

Get Free Paleo Recipes Instantly

5 Answers

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad
2
56616 · October 07, 2011 at 2:43 AM

I definitely see this happening. When I look at skulls from Europeans even as recent as the 1600s they are much more robust and threatening. A lot of British men back then had these impressive, but kind of scary, thick brow ridges like an Neanderthal.

It seems to be acting differently in different groups of humans. Some humans are evolving towards long childhoods and late childbearing, whereas there is strong evidence that other poorer groups of people are menstruating and bearing children at younger and younger ages.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:50 AM

In the book "Before the Dawn", the author discussed how gracilization has progressed farther in Asiatic peoples but Europeans, a large number of whom derive from Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, still occasionally exhibit stronger brow ridges and large body size. The "Worlds Stronges Man" competition comes to mind with all the huge Norwegian, Swedish, and German guys!

66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2
1
11111 · October 07, 2011 at 2:29 PM

Generally speaking we are basically tamed & domesticated versions of our ancient selves, we are Zoo Humans. The majority of us live in a cage, follow the same routine usually dictated or influenced by our zoo keepers (managers, banks, morning traffic, etc), we consume 'food' that has been prepared for us, every aspect of our lives is dictated to us one way or another. The strongest chains that bind us are the invisible ones. We are given an illusion of 'choice' by our captors.

If we were suddenly transported to the wild and forced to survive or die, most of us would die. Epigenetics is becoming a major factor in our evolution.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Some of us might become "feral" (see every post-apocalyptic/zombie movie ever made), but you are correct, most of us would probably die if we were sent out into the wild.

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
0
2936 · October 08, 2011 at 2:12 AM

I once spent a lot of time thinking about this question, the domestication part (the neotany thing is just another form of mutation in evolution's toolkit, so it doesnt interest me). I even thought thought up a nice name for it. I called human beings "self-cultivating cultivars".

But then, one day, watching a nature show on PBS, I saw how strongly the evolved behaviors of horses was guided by the social interactions between the mares (the stallions are less social and not as sophisticated). I forget the details now, but it became glaringly obvious that horses are also self-cultivating cultivars, despite brains the size of walnuts. Not just behaviorally, but also physically, via behaviors. So, this doesn't fascinate me anymore either.

What IS uniquely human is simply our upright posture, which allows us to maintain hunting stamina in the midday sun, a time during which horizontal four-legged animals are so exposed to solar radiation, they have to take a siesta. When you realize what that means, our earliest upright ancestors having the world to themselves every day at midday, you can derive all the rest of our evolution from that. Neotany or no. Self-cultivation or no. Those are just small matters.

Edit:

I'll repeat that URL - http://tinyurl.com/3jqbmuo

20eefe24d8ccf096096f05b5bce1ea40
0
988 · October 07, 2011 at 5:56 AM

Retaining juvenile traits into adulthood is called Neoteny, and we've got alot of that going on, it seems to be mostly about sexual selection. We like girls with a 'cute' little nose, and eyes that are big compaired with the eye to head ratio of adults, and a whole list of other features that are present in infants. Thats why everyone thinks puppys are cute, big eyes, little snouts, that look where they tilt their little heads over sideways, mammals are programed to resopond to those visual cues in a protective manner. The "I'll take care of you little guy, poor thing cant even keep its head on striaght" response. But humans, mostly girls, will do that same head to the side, big eyes look when flirting or begging dad for the car keys, and it works on dad better than on mom because he is programmed to respond to cues like that and mom knows what game is being played and is harder to fool. Since humans have the longest juvenile stage of any animal in the world, it makes sense that we may have a double dose of neotenic features in adults. And I dont mean to pick on the girls, but those are the first examples that jump to mind when i think of juvenile features held to adulthood. But as for selecting for tameness, I'm not so sure thats really what we do. Some of the first, and from a repoductive standpoint, most successful 'working together' attmepts were made be men killing and raping people. I'm thinking Genhis Khan on this one, 1 in 20 men in Asia are his desendants. He was a first class jackass but natural selection rewarded his efforts with more kids than anyone else has probably ever had. We see the same 'working together' in gangs of male chimps when they hunt and kill and eat their chimp neighbors. Its not a very nice thing to do, but they get a good meal of protein and fat and those things in large doses over time are probably what enabled us to grow such giant brains. It doesn't always pay to be a nice 'tame' guy. And usually the age at which women give birth is direclty related to the avilability of birth control, folk in really poor countries get on the nest earlier because the have little or no access to birthcontrol. More education and birthcontrol have always led to fewer children per year and the first child being born a bit later in the womans life. As far as I know.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:57 AM

The very things that support intragroup cooperation (religion, nationalism, etc.) support intergroup aggression.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Sexual selection absolutely factors into it. Think about how strongly we select for "hairlessness". A woman with hairy armpits, hairy upper lip, thick eyebrows, etc. would be ostracized in our culture. Hirsute men are also being selected against too, however. The artistic works of antiquity as well as modern advertising/marketing has further shaped our sexual preferences and guided us towards a more neotenic form. I do mention how "tameness" does not necessarily imply "conflict free".

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
0
2936 · October 07, 2011 at 2:34 AM

Just go here and read the real story:

http://tinyurl.com/3jqbmuo

Thermodynamics rule, Dude!

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 12:05 PM

The author of "Born to Run" goes into some of those explanations for human evolution (persistence hunting, heat exchange, etc.) yet all of this could exist as adaptive responses to the fact that we were already becoming less hairy, more inquisitive/curious, more cooperative, etc. Neoteny may have led us out of the jungle and the savannah further shaped us.

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
2936 · October 07, 2011 at 3:59 PM

"could" exist? So you're saying it's a chicken-and-egg dilemma, and therefore spontaneous neotany wins? Sorry, I judge theories by their elegance, and this is the most elegant there is. Thermodynamics - the true secret name of God.

Medium avatar
19479 · October 07, 2011 at 6:13 PM

We can literally see this (neoteny) unfold in just three generations of silver foxes. Raise foxes in a hot sandbox and see what happens. I'm not disputing that thermodynamics is involved, it very much is, yet I see this as similar to the problem with calorimetry. We can burn a gram of fat, protein, or carb and say "it releases ___ calories of heat" however, a calorie in you is not a calorie in me. Physical laws don't always play out as expected in human beings and our understanding is never complete.

93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa
2936 · October 07, 2011 at 4:11 PM

BTW, I tried to start a thread a like this about the midday hunter theory, but Melissa took it out with a meat cleaver and suspended me! How did you get away with it? I'll try again, with body armor this time.

Answer Question

Login to Your PaleoHacks Account

Get Free Paleo Recipes