Posts Tagged ‘research’

1. What is "Humanosophy"?

This is the first post of this brand-new blog. What does “Humanosophy” mean? Humanosophy stands for a basic insight in what it means to be human: an insight based on knowledge from realms of science such as archaeology and paleo-anthropology, biology, anthropology and psychology. What is new about humanosophy? Not these research-based insights by themselves, but  rather the fact that humanosophy integrates the knowledge from these various disciplines into one multi-disciplinary, common, shared story of mankind.

So this blog will introduce you to this common identity and background that is shared by us all, as human beings on this little planet. Once our earliest ancestors were apes, now we are humans. The story of how we became what and how we are today is the core business of a humanosopher: reconstructing the shared story of our human development and identity.

[You:] Isn’t that the core business of philosophy? Or (and) of humanism?

That should it be indeed. But have you read already the philosophical or humanistic shared story of our human development and identity? The answer is no. And that’s a pity. Because as long as this story is not available, the backward patriarchal Adam-and-Eve story is still in charge. To the detriment of millions of women who lead an unhappy and undignified life; or of millions of secular people who feel no ground under their thinking.
Because I spend all my life in reconstructing how we became human and determining human nature, doing the work of a philosopher and humanist, I name myself ‘humanosopher’, hoping you’ll become humanosopher too.

[You:] But there are already tens of science-based books of human origins!

O yes. But they put on record the successive fossils of australopithic and human kinds, the successive technologies of stone and other tools, the growing contents of skulls and so on. But you can nowhere read what made our ancestors so special that they displayed behaviour that no other kind of apes ever did, like taming the fire and believe in gods. No of those books can replace the pessimistic and suppressing monotheistic creation story.

[You:] Aah! you want to write a modern bible!

No, I want to plea for a science-based project of the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of the Human Rights (1948) is based on the humanness of men. I plea for a science-based project to filling in this humanness, with participation of all governmental universities of all countries. A never ending project: as long as science progresses. But in later posts I will work out this idea. In the next post I want to give you an oversight of the authors who are important for my thinking.

As for your mentioning of the idea for a modern bible: in the following posts I’ll sketch a science-based human mental story: how we became linguistic apes (the picture above omens it already) and how our early ancestors experienced their world in a creation story of it. It is an innate need in us: we need a ‘creation story’ of our world to feel grounded in it and to feel human togetherness. Humanosophy is a humanistic/philosophical endeavor to work on this, with help of as much scientific material as possible.

2. Essential authors for the humanosopher

First and foremost: today most academic authors, writing about humans, are important or at least interesting. The following short list is only to give you an idea of my thinking.

I name them from memory.

  • Frans de Waal, with his books Chimpansee politiek (1982), Good Natured (1996) and Bonobo (1997).
  • Marvin Harris Our Kind (1989).
  • Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steal(1997).
  • Roger Fouts Next of Kin (1997).
  • Johanson & Shreeve Lucy’s Child (1989).
  • Chagnon Yanomamö. The Fierce People (1983).
  • Steven Mithen The Prehistory of the Mind (1996), After the Ice (2003).
  • Steven Stanley Children of the Ice Age (1996).
  • Michael Corballis The Lopsided Ape (1991).
  • Ad Borsboom De clan van de Wilde Honing (1996).

Aah! Much-much more books. But this is only to give you an idea. And it was not all from memory: for each book I stood up and reached to the shelf above my head, put it before my nose to write the title and year right.

I read four newspapers each day, cut important articles or items and the clippings come in tabloid size scrap-books of 250 pages (I am now at volume number 37). I can recover the articles in a card system. The same applies to what I find on internet and what I print out (very much). When the pile of prints is about two centimetres high, I glue the pages to an hardcover book, number the pages and start to read. Each article is noted down on the front, so is easy to recover. My little house is full of bookshelves; I’m busy with download no. 323.

A humanosopher is reading from breakfast till he switches off his bedside lamp (with the only break for the daily walk and the trip to the supermarket).

10. About the dating of the first use of fire.

How dare I assume that this taming of fire occurred some 2 million years ago? Most paleos don’t go farther back than the 790,000 years old Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in Israel, where charred wood and seeds were recovered[1]. Most paleos only accept evidence of fire use when there are hearth stones used; but even today San people don’t use hearth stones when the cook a tuber en route. They dig up a tuber, gather some dry material and branches, sit down, make fire with turning around the point of a digging stick between the hand palms onto a dry piece of wood. When the tinder glows, they blow it in flame et voila!: fire. Some brave paleos accept the evidence from Swartkrans and Chesowanja dating 1.5 million years ago, but that is the limit.

For me as a humanosopher, there are three kinds of evidence of an earlier use. First: there is no other way our ancestor-australopiths could have evolved smaller teeth and more gracile chewing apparatus (mouth) than through more soft and digestible food. Second: no other way to become larger beings and with larger brainpans, than through some kind of radically improved food supply. As experimentally proven by Richard Wrangham[2], a raw (not cooked, not grilled, not roasted) chimpanzee diet would be simply inadequate to sustain larger-brained beings of human size. Three: palaeontologists such as Ralph Rowlett and Randy Bellomo studied the differences in the soil beneath a natural fire and a campfire. The soil under campfires reaches much higher temperatures and a campfire leaves behind a bowl-shaped layer of highly oxidized and magnetized soil. At Koobi Fora in the African Rift Valley, Jack Harris of Rutgers University in New Jersey found such evidence of campfires dating 1.6 million years ago. Fire control must have started a long time before that moment.

‘2 million years ago’ is of course not an exact date; it is just an educated guess.

Perhaps controlled fire existed even earlier than these 2 million years ago. The first ‘professional’ stone tools found at Kada Gona are 2.6 million years old. They attest to a new niche for protein: meat.

For the start of meat consumption, we have to look back to about 6 million years ago: to the hides that could be found all over the Miocene savannah. In the following millions of years the hooligans of the savannah, ever more audacious with their stones, learned to chase away feeding predators from their prey. That was the moment when the males began to contribute to the diet: carrion became an increasingly important part of nutrition.

About 2,5 million years ago, the earth climate became even more cool and dry: the onset of the Ice Ages. Woodland savannah began to turn into desert savannah. The carrion competition grew more fierce. The best sources of carrion, the pachyderms (elephants, rhinos, hippos) had skins that were too thick for lions and hyenas and vultures to penetrate. Those predators had to wait until, after two or three days, the skin cracked open by decomposition gasses. However, with their knife-sharp stone tools the ancestor-australopiths could start processing the dead animal immediately!

The evidence of the stone tools of Kada Gona (2,6 million years ago) is recently transcended by the publication of the Dikika Research Project: evidence of stone tool use and meat-eating dating back 3,4 million years![3] And who made and handled this early stone tools? In June 2010, the discovery of Kadanuumuu, a 3.6 million years old australopith, was published. Its skeleton was found in Afar, where also the famous Lucy-skeleton was found. But Kadanuumuu was nearly a half million years older, much taller and had a more humanlike shoulder blade. So in my view, these people were the butchers of the Dikika antelope from 3,4 million years ago.

The image on the right is a artist reconstruction of the Dikika Child fossil

Meat was a new protein niche for our hooligan ancestors. It incited them to improve their stone ‘knives’. For millions of years, the standard way to make a ‘knife’ or scraper had been to smash a stone against another stone or rock, and then pick out the best ‘knife’. In the new circumstances, this was no longer sufficient. I think knapping the ‘knife’ from a core stone with a hammer stone was too risky for long, bent ape fingers (they still needed those ape fingers for climbing quickly into trees for sleeping and safety). But in order to improve the stone ‘knives’ they needed some knapping technique; and in order to develop a knapping technique they would need shorter, “handier” fingers.

Evolution had to find a balance between the need for long, bent fingers for climbing and making nests in trees on one side, and the need for shorter, handier fingers for knapping better knives on the other. It was the use of the fire that altered this balance. Since the fire provided protection from predators, this made it possible to stay on the ground instead of climbing in a treetop to build nests. Because our australopith ancestors no longer needed to climb trees at night, they no longer needed long “ape” fingers. This allowed the development of shorter, handier fingers suitable for better knife production.

[1] in a recent PNAS article (March 2011) the paleos Roebroeks and Villa suggest that the real control of fire is not older than 400.000 years; we have to take in consideration that their research only concerns European archaeological sites, and that they emphasize that earlier use of fire was possible in an opportunistic way: using smoldering wood from a natural fire, keeping it smoldering in a gourd or something
[2] Cooking Up Bigger Brains (2008); Wrangham himself did a research experiment by trying to live on a chimpanzee diet of fruit and raw meat: he found it not feasible for humans!
3] in a PNAS-article 17 Oct.’10 Dominguez-Rodrigo et al. charged this claim and proposed the marks as inflicted by animals trampling on the bones. However, they didn’t look at the original specimens but based their arguments on photos of the bones. Moreover, their research lacked the rigor of multiple person blind testing. The arguments were easily fielded. The paper was rushed forward in a scientifically unjustified hurry.

36. Promoting the new Story for Mankind


We have to face three main questions. To summarize:

The first question is why we do need such a new Story. As we tried to point out above, our free market society needs such a new base for shaping human identity and morality, one that can replace the waning old religious creation stories.

The second main question is what, if indeed we do need such a new Story, should be its content. We think that content should focus on a new, coherent, multidisciplinary sciences-based vision of human history since our emergence from ape-hood: the history we tried to outline in the first part of this book. We need not repeat that here.

The third main question is of course: given (1) we see the need for such a Story, and (2) we manage to assemble a meaningful and inspiring content for our new common Story, then (3) how should we proceed to spread it around the world, without forcing it onto people as the old religious institutions tended to do? How can we make sure that gradually, maybe slowly but nevertheless surely, it is accepted and embraced by socially responsible leaders as our new shared source of inspiration, identity, morality and social responsibility?

In our vision, developing, reconstructing and corroborating the material for this content needs to be formally established and permanently coordinated as a joint effort by all the leading universities and research institutes worldwide. Ideally, such an effort ought to be organized under auspices of, and initiated by UNESCO.

In fact, the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Rights already hinted at the root of our new common Story, albeit in general terms. Its Preambule begins with: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the worldThe Dutch philosopher Bernard Delfgaauw (1993) interpreted this text as: every person’s humanity requires recognizing and protecting his inherent dignity. This dignity is an essential aspect of our human identity. In the scientific, religious and political context of 1948 it was not yet possible to work out more exactly what might be the basis for this human dignity and identity. But in the meantime, this may have become a little less difficult. Why?

Since then, the scientific situation has improved greatly: increased prosperity led to better funding which intensified valuable field research in disciplines such as archeology, paleoanthropology and ethology. Tremendous technical advances in research instruments and methods brought results within reach that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Thus, our factual knowledge about human history increased considerably and continues to increase rapidly.

As for the religious situation, there were major changes since 1948 as well: in their defensive struggle with rising consumer individualism and freely accessible TV and internet information, religious institutions have begun to lose (or loosen) their formerly suffocating grip on people’s minds. Thinking became more free in various parts of the world and will inevitably continue to do so because the multiplying daily-life consequences of spreading free market opportunities are, quite simply and obviously, irreversible. Veiled Muslim women are desiring (and buying) French designer bags today. Even the most radical American TV evangelists or the fiercest Iranian ayatollahs are all, in the long run, fighting a lost battle.

Only the political situation may be more problematic now than it was in 1948. Perhaps our assessment should be that just like individual consumers have become more independent and self-conscious, in some ways countries, cultures and political movements have become more independent and self-conscious as well – especially outside the Western part of the world. For example, since 1948 most colonies have become politically independent countries and thus more active in demonstrating their own identity. In 1990 Muslim countries such as Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia launched their own alternative Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, based on the Shariah. An openly secular UNESCO project could certainly expect heavy and well-organized political opposition from the Muslim world. Maybe such an official UNESCO project would, for the time being, be feasible in an ideal world only.

This does not mean we should give up on the idea. It does mean however, that the propagation of a new, non-religious, both scientifically founded and morally inspiring Story of Mankind should be planned carefully. This propagation should be effectuated by a series of small tactical steps, avoiding the counterproductive error of trying to do too much at once. The latter would only generate religious and conservative resistance that otherwise may be addressed more easily.

Of course we are not so naïve as to believe that religious-political resistance from various parts of the world will be avoidable – on the contrary, we expect such resistance to be very strong, fierce and emotional. Such strong reactions might actually be a good thing, as indignation and protests from conservative religious backgrounds may help to further public discussion and thus increase publicity and public awareness of the matter.

So let us try now to outline a hypothetical – indicative, nothing more – scenario in the tangible form of a possible ten-year time line. We hope, if you will allow us a little joke, that you will not confuse this proposal with something in the order of the infamous Ten Year Plans in Stalin’s Soviet Russia: of course we mean something entirely different here. And of course we are aware that even the best planning will always need to be changed because of the harsh and unforeseeable reality.

Year one: This very booklet is intended as the first little step. We hope it may help convince some thinkers of the desirability and feasibility of a New Story project, inciting them to write some articles, reviews or reactions pleading for a more coordinated effort to further discuss it. This may draw a substantial number of other thinkers into a public discussion.

Year two: We hope this discussion might evolve into a kind of action group, informal at first – for example in the form of an internet forum – but gradually taking shape as a more organized group, with some kind of presidium and formal membership. The first concrete goal of this society could be to organize a congress or convention, where the society would decide on its own structure, name, goal and action plan.

Note: for the next years we assume that the actual course of events would follow from such a society’s democratically agreed decisions. But in order to concretize a potential scenario, we will just fill in those next years in a hypothetical way here.

Year three: *** At this point the authors of this booklet disagree about the character of the humanosophic project, being a plea for a new basic story for mankind. The disagreement is not ideological, it emanates from a different scientific attitude. Dr. Henk Van Setten is a scientist (historian) and Frans Couwenbergh is a portraitist, be it with academic background. We agree that the free market society and its democracy, as well as the people who lost their old basic story and the youngsters who grew up without such a common narrative, need a new basic story. We agree that this new story for mankind has to be scientifically based. We disagree in the character: is it a beliefs project in the first place or is it a scientific project?

In my view it is a beliefs project. The project has to bring a new belief: in the power of mankind, the human power of consulting each other, the power of democracy. The base of this belief is the story of how we have become humans from apes: the story we told in the foregoing chapters. From the very beginning the basic stories – creation stories – were mythic. They did their unifying work without any science. Still today, in many societies the monotheistic and other basic stories function without any science. In the Western societies, the monotheistic basic story loosens it’s unifying potential, not because its unscientific content but because monotheism is collectivistic: an oddness that is incompatible with the ruling free market economy that needs free consumers.

The new story for mankind will, in my view, derive its power on its completeness, it’s explaining , its answers on the Big Questions. Being as scientific based as possible is helpful, but not essential. Essential is it’s being there. Not as a Book, but as a never ending project. The new basic story is meant for the young people such as on the photo as well as for their addressees: both live without something: a basic story.

The project as I see it is: a broadly respected institution such as the UNESCO presents the project and appoints a small group of science writers to manage the project. The team emits a body narrative. The whole scientific world is invited to comment this body narrative. In three years the team has to process the comments as well as possible in the ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story. In the next three years the new comments have to be processed in the second ‘preliminary-definitive’ Grand Story, and so it will be a never ending project, growing along with the science.

For co-author Henk van Setten, my approach is too amateurish. For him it has to become a scientific undertaking in the first place. Not the work of science writers and philosophers but of scientists. It has to result in a 500 pages volume, perfectly underpinned and provided with footnotes. Only after this standard is accomplished, the new basic Story can start functioning as a kind of scientifically based and universally acceptable Bible.

For me, the scientific component is less important than the psychological component. Mankind never in his history needed scientific underpinning of the center of its linguistical world: the creation story of it. Even the patriarchic Adam-and-Eve-story functioned two millennia without any scientific underpinning. In a free market world, wherein sciences are available, a new common origin story has to be scientifically underpinned, but it is not its most important aspect. To accomplish the new story for mankind as a scientific project, aiming a standard work, could take a hopeless quantum of years because of the different insights and viewpoints. When it comes to a standard work in the end, it will only add a volume in one’s book case, such as the magnificent The human past, edited by Chris Scarre (Thames and Hudson, 2005, 781 pages) [1], € 42,50.
And the effect of all this scientific labor? In my view this approach misses the democratic impact and involvement, it misses the agitation, the commotion, the turmoil, that awakens the attention of the people worldwide. The pure scientific approach also misses the never-ending-character.

But I surmise that our dispute will equally occupy the intended convention. So let us await the conclusion of the majority.

Based on the social and academic weight of the action group and its individual representatives – we hope of course to enlist influential members from different scientific and cultural backgrounds – the convention might outline the general scope, components, goals and priorities of an international multidisciplinary research project aiming at filling the most acute gaps in our knowledge and compiling a broad “story of mankind” based on all kinds of scientific contributions. In other words, building a more or less complete overview of how humans came to exist: like what we tried to outline in the first chapters of this booklet, only much better detailed, better referenced, conforming to high academic standards.

[1] “the most authoritative introduction to social, cultural, and economic developments in human prehistory. Using a regional and chronological framework, this groundbreaking book highlights the enormous diversity of human experience and the ways in which archaeologists are able to learn about it.”

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.