How Humans Evolved the Capacity to Change the Entire Planet with Leslie Aiello

I just stumbled on a very interesting video, in regards to trying to increase one’s appreciation for the human experiment here on Earth, and how that’s impacting Earth’s story and future.

It would be fun to have a thinkers video club where a serious learned video is viewed and then discussed.

I think this one offers something different from the same old jazz we keep rehashing around here. It’s an interesting short tour of human development, and domination upon in this world. There’s nothing startling, just a good full spectrum concise summary of the factors that go into who we are individually and collective as a society of uncountable layers and sub-societies, tribes.

{write4U I know you’re totally enraptured by the very tiniest components, me I’m into the collective, all those emergent wonders along the way and today. The stuff that those components and cells put together. That’s what enraptures me, the whole and the potential. Like watching these two boys at their different stages, different evolving humans, as opposed to things. Perhaps that’s why I can’t make myself at peaces with human failings as easily as most seem to, we could have done better, instead we’ve turned out masters of the universe, yet little better than intelligent (not smart) barn animals, such a waste.}

CARTA: How Humans Evolved the Capacity to Change the Entire Planet with Leslie Aiello

University of California Television (UCTV)
March 22, 2022

The human capacity to change the planet is not something new, but is rooted in our deep evolutionary past. One of the hallmarks of humans is our large brain size, which began to expand about 2 million years ago. This expansion did not come without consequences, and two are particularly important.

The first is the additional energy requirements needed to fuel this larger brain size together with the concomitant life history factors such as shorter interbirth intervals, more dependent offspring and longer periods of growth and development, and longer lifespans.

The second is the solution to these energy requirements that involve cooperative breeding and the development of the high risk/high return hunting and gathering foraging strategies.

From this foundation we trace the increasing capacity of humans to extract more energy from the environment through the development of a reliance on fire, the agricultural revolution leading to the industrial revolution and modern times. [Show ID: 37770]

Oh and it premiered today, so wanted to give it a little bit of a boost. :wink:

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The human capacity to change the planet is not something new, but is rooted in our deep evolutionary past. One of the hallmarks of humans is our large brain size, which began to expand about 2 million years ago. This expansion did not come without consequences, and two are particularly important.

The first is the additional energy requirements needed to fuel this larger brain size together with the concomitant life history factors such as shorter interbirth intervals, more dependent offspring and longer periods of growth and development, and longer lifespans.

Excellent find!

And I believe it confirms the hypothesis that chromosome fusion and the beneficial mutation of two chromosomes in a common ancestor, into a single larger chromosome that was causal to increased brain growth and complexity of “homo sapiens”.

The remarkable fact is that only humans have 23 pr chromosomes, whereas all other great apes have 24 pr chromosomes and experienced a much slower evolution of the brain, because their brain was sufficiently complex to keep a stable population, whereas human intelligence evolved at a much faster rate and allowed for the successful migration around the world.

  • What humans cannot change or control is the Laws of Biology as described by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, The Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” and his 1871 book "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relationship to Sex."
  • Rather, human beings, just like all other animals, are always under the complete control of these Laws of Biology.
  • The fact that humans can gain a knowledge of the Laws of Biology does not give humans on iota of freedom from the control of these Laws. They are just like the Laws of Physics, as Darwin explained.
  • But today, on both the Left and the Right, among both Secularists and Religionists, there is widespread misunderstanding or rejection of the complete body of the discoveries of Darwin.
  • So, as a consequence of this misunderstanding and science denialism, there is widespread belief in the abiity of humans to build and sustain a civilization of peace and justice. Darwin knew better, and said so, but hardly anyone was or is listening.
  • Karl Marx and Henry David Thoreau read (or at least claimed to have read) Darwin’s 1859 book and both gushed with enthusiasm, but only because each of them badly misunderstood the book.
  • Today even Darwin’s biggest supporters never actually read Darwin (in general, this has been my observation).

Oh wait a minute. You start with a huge misunderstanding. Darwin wasn’t a prophet, nor perfect,

and I think it would be difficult to argue that Darwin discovered the “Laws of Biology.

Darwin collected observations and evidence enough to suggest a plausible mechanism by which Evolution could unfold. You could say, (if you really wanted to, though it wouldn’t be totally accurate either) Darwin established the foundation for the scientific study of Evolution.

Science is fact based. Darwin was working with meager evidence. Since then, every generation has collected more evidence to add to the collective understand that is now light years beyond anything Darwin could have conceived at the time.

Beyond that I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I mean this and that makes sense, but I don’t get the message you’re trying to convey, except perhaps that few have actually read Darwin’s books. (Guilty as charged, though I’ve read his Voyage of the Beagle.)

Also am confused by what you mean with your Laws of Biology.

The Laws of Biology that Charles Darwin discovered are listed and discussed by him, briefly, in the last paragraph of his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, The Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”,

The Laws of Biology are discussed at length in the larger book. Whole chapters are dedicated to each Law of Biology.

Here is that last paragraph of Darwin’s book, as it appears in the first edition:

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

We all know that there are Laws of Physics, such as the speed of light and the force of gravity.

But we never hear the phrase “Laws of Biology” in our high school and college science classes. Why is that, I wonder?

My working theory is that it out of deference to the generally left-learning political philosophy of science educators.

Science educators are very eager for every American to know, understand, and accept that human beings came into being by a completely natural process, without any need for supernatural intervention by an intelligent being such as God. So, science educators are very eager for students to learn about Natural Selection acting on Random Mutations. They want students to doubt Biblical Creationism, and it works.

But science educators are very reluctant for students to know and think about what, in the passage above, Darwin referred to as “Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life.” That is a Law of Biology.

Remember that the second title that Darwin gave to his 1859 book is: "The Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” ,

Darwin is telling us that the life-or-death struggle/competition between biological beings is an essential, permanent part of the life of all biological beings, including human beings.

This part of Darwin’s theory means that there can never be an enduring civlization of peace and justice, since humans will always reproduce at a rate that leads to life-or-death shortages of resources necessary to survive. Thus, what in the above passage Darwin called the “war of nature” must always play out again and again in human history, until such time as “extinction” (also mentioned by Darwin in the above passage) comes to the human species.

Remember that Hitler and his fellow National Socialists justified their warmaking by stating that they needed “lebensraum” (living space). Leaders and other citizens of the USA used the same justification to justify the USA’s war against Mexico in order to obtain the Mexican state of California. Putin uses the same justification (at least to himself and his inner circle) to justify his current conquest of Ukraine.

All this is unpleasant and politically incorrect, especially for liberals, leftists, socialists, and progressives, who always promote the idea that with reason, science, and rationality, we can create a lasting civilization of peace and social justice.

And so, contrary to what many say, human beings are not really the masters of the planet earth. Rather, like all the other plants, animals, and microbes on the planet Earth, we are completely slaves–slaves to the Laws of Biology. Everything important is outside our control. War can never end. Economic and political domination and exploitation can never end.

It is our vanity (our natural, evolved tendency to conceive of ourselves as being above nature) that makes both Secular Humanists and Religious Conservatives think of humans as powerful and creative beings with immense free will to create whatever society we can imagine.

Albert Einstein grasped all this, leading him to write this in his “My Credo” of 1932:

“I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.”

I personally was shocked and appalled to learn all of this.

But it is right there in Darwin’s book, and in the writings of a number of serious thinkers since then.

This information is the basis of what some people call “the tragic sense of life.”

All this is massively politically incorrect. But it is scientifically correct.

Still, I wonder: Is it better to keep silent about this “bad news” delivered to the world by Charles Darwin? Maybe it is.

Maybe those of us who know should just suffer in silence and let those who don’t know have peace in not knowing. I’m not sure.

Some people might remember the Rust Cohle character in “True Detective” season 1. He kept explaining this “tragic sense of life” to his police detective partner, Marty, thereby annoying greatly that partner.

In Adam McKay’s movie on Netflix, “Don’t Look Up,” he depicted a scenario in which many Americans didn’t want to know the scientific truth about a certain important matter. Is that applicable to this Darwinian scientific knowledge? I guess it depends on whether or not there is anything to be done to make things better.

The eminent philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, in his famous novel "Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr,” depicts a Catholic priest who knows that there is no afterlife, but who nevertheless devotes his life to affirming the reality of the Heavenly afterlife to the simple people of the small Spanish village where he works and lives, and he does this out of a sense of pity for the tragic, existential predicament in which everyone exists, and which uneducated peasant farmers and tradespeople are ill equipped to otherwise deal with. I wonder if that story has some application to the question as to whether anyone should speak about the Darwinian scientific reality of the inextinguishable “struggle for life” and “war of nature”?

Oh my! How tiresome all this is! Am I right?

Hamlet said:

"I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals. And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"

I like to remind people of this excellent lecture by Bonnie Bassler who made the point that the human biome consists of more bacterial cells than human cells and that without the assist of symbiotic bacteria there would be no humans alive today.

This wonderful lecture is a humbling reminder of our reliance on other symbionts.

Your posts are really long and repetitive. This will make it hard to engage with you. Here, you make a claim about knowing what’s going on inside the head of a wide swath of people. You can’t know this.

This is pretty much Malthus. This has been debated and discussed for a long time. If you have some new insight, that would be nice. But you’ve just smuggled in some “we will fight forever” thesis, with no new evidence or reason.

That’s life. I’m shocked that I woke up in a warm house with food in it. I find that amazing and unlike anything most humans have experienced or are experiencing. You switch to a discussion of free will in the middle of this long post. Another thing that has many debates, books, and theories. Maybe you should pick something specific, and talk about it.


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Glad I took the time for the Carta talk. Not sure I’m understanding how this is part of a larger series. It hits many highlights of years here at CFI Forum.

Self-domestication is called “The Gray Ceiling” here. Mike has his Gods = Knowledge hypothesis, which is a mish-mash of these theories. It’s too bad, because if you get it right, it really helps us understand ourselves.

I like the “Grandmother Hypothesis” too. Barbara Kingsolver spent a year off-grid with her family, with an organic garden and chickens and all. She noted that animals take care of their young until they are mature, but there is very little parallel to human grandparents. They probably played a role in selecting mates for their daughters, selecting for males who would spend more time protecting the child-bearers and nurturing the children.

And she mentions cooperation as an important factor in increasing brain size. Darwin mentions this often also, although it’s not as commonly mentioned in the “creationism” debates. I never took a college-level course in evolution, so I don’t know how well that’s covered. Our latest member with a theory seems to think it’s not taught at all.


Blessed are those who recognize what they have, before it’s gone.

Oh and let’s not forget those rapturous Hollywood Showers, at the twist of a knob.

I’ve taken you up on your advice and have started listening to * The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex"
and found a text version, The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, by Charles Darwin courtesy of The Project Gutenberg eBooks.

Right off the bat he says something sobering that I think you missed. I want to repeat it because Evolution wasn’t about Darwin. Darwin just happened to be amongst the first and best to enunciate some tentative conjectures on the subject, thus establishing a science that has come a long long ways since his days. Evolution itself is all about what happened, upon this planet, over deep time, unfolding one day at a time.

Conclusion to Darwin’s PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION of the Descent of Man.

… I have been struck with the likeness of many of the half-favourable criticisms on sexual selection, with those which appeared at first on natural selection; such as, that it would explain some few details, but certainly was not applicable to the extent to which I have employed it.

My conviction of the power of sexual selection remains unshaken; but it is probable, or almost certain, that several of my conclusions will hereafter be found erroneous; this can hardly fail to be the case in the first treatment of a subject.
When naturalists have become familiar with the idea of sexual selection, it will, as I believe, be much more largely accepted; and it has already been fully and favourably received by several capable judges.

September, 1874.

I was thinking of rebutting Mr. Eupra with something along those lines, but I didn’t feel like looking anything up. His logic is basically that of the creationist, that since Darwin made some errors and had some holes in his evidence, all of the theory of evolution is brought into question. Eupra instead is making this about humanism, but I’ve seen a kind of “end-around” on science be attempted before.

Sad really, since Darwin is a very accessible piece of science. He writes from a time before massive grants and layers of peer review and esoteric papers on specific genomes. He did science the way some of us imagine ourselves doing it, or the way we still could, in our own backyards, or by sailing around the world and just observing, seeing what we find.