It has been a while since my last post. In that time, I’ve read about new findings concerning Neanderthals and other members of the Homo family, such as the Denisovans. Though my interest in human origins remains undiminished, I fear that I’ve lost my grip on the subject matter because every new scrap of information coming in requires a calibration with assumptions that I’ve already made. There’s lots of new information to consider and more is on the way.
Before I forget why I made this website in the first place, I’m going to come clean and tell you what I personally think about the established fact that we modern humans are hybrid animals, bred from separate species during periods when our parent species’ natural ranges, or habitats, overlapped. First, be clear that I am not a scientist and I am not claiming any kind of authority at all. I’m also not claiming any special insights or divine revelation, nor do I condone any asinine attempt to use the fact of Neanderthal admixture as the basis for some kind of racial superiority claims.
Having said all of that, I’m now free to make three claims which are perhaps a little dangerous:
1) Neanderthal brain architecture was built for long-term memory, optical processing, and deep recall. He had expert ability, but he lacked the fore-brain and its impact on skill in wordplay and communication. Look at the gifts of autistic savants such as Kim Peek, the real life “Rain Man”, whose recall ability was legendary. (Sadly, Peek has passed away.) The case has already been made here that autism and schizophrenia are correlated with our Neanderthal heritage. Did Neanderthal possess additional genes which counter-acted the genes which cause Autism in us, or did the gene simply not express disease in Neanderthal because his brain architecture was different? My hunch is the latter, and I believe that what we see in the cognitive differences between “neurotypicals” and those who are neurologically atypical, at least in terms of Autism and schizophrenia, is a taste of the difference in cognitive styles between ourselves and Neanderthals. And perhaps other species as well, like the Denisovans. I think that Neanderthals were living in such harsh environments that an eidetic memory and deep recall abilities might mean the difference between survival and death, and that they survived for so very long because their unique adaptations included this ability to store the lay of the land – and perhaps the sky – in their long-term memory and then to recall it with great fidelity. Again, I turn your attention to Autistic savants who can draw entire cities from memory or those who, like Kim Peek, can recall musical scores and train schedules from decades past. I don’t think these expressions of talent are random or somehow accidental forms of genius. I think they are prototypical forms of genius, which leads us to…
2) In recent times, several of the more recent contributors to the enrichment of the Western mind, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Amadeus Mozart, have been diagnosed as likely being on the Autism spectrum of disorders. In the animal world, the hybrid offspring of parents belonging to separate species can manifest mental, emotional, and behavioral instability, leading to less than stellar reproductive success. If we are to take the information presented here seriously, then we must acknowledge that it is possible – even likely – that some of the most disabling mental disorders in our species is the result of cross-species hybridization. And then we have to account for our tremendous success IN SPITE OF IT. We must account for the reproductive advantage afforded to our ancestors who carried the same volatile gene sets. If Isaac Newton and Mozart don’t begin to explain the nature of the advantage, then go back even further to the ancient Greeks. Go back to the likes of Aristotle and Plato and ask yourself why they were so driven to make conceptual models of the invisible world through taxonomies and geometry. I think the answer lies in the composite mind which seeks to understand itself and the other, and in the frustration of imperfect understanding lies the motive for the pursuit of perfection. The horsepower of the mind involved in the pursuit matters, and the architectural difference of the hybrid brain allowed for variations which sometimes produces genius. In addition to this, intelligence is highly heritable, thus explaining perhaps the success of the Neanderthal genetic remnant in modern humans.
3) I think the book of Genesis that we grew up with in most Christian homes bears little resemblance to the actual text from which it is supposedly derived, but in fact tells of attempts by the Elohim (a non-human species) to domesticate or breed humans and to separate them into city-states according to their likeness, or resemblance to themselves. The humans who looked more like the Elohim were considered holier than those who looked less like the Elohim. This, according to Michael Heiser, is what the text is actually describing. Dr. Heiser goes on to claim that the Elohim are aliens, but I think the Elohim were the socially-stabilized Early Modern European humans of the Upper Paleolithic who had somehow managed to convert the liability of mixed species heritage into better tool-making and other material industries. Early Modern European Humans were the successful offspring of Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis. The robust skeletons, the elongated heads, their surprising and unprecedented height, and the coincident emergence of a new kind of human culture whose evidence is often found where they are found all make perfect sense in this light. The city-states of ancient Mesopotamia were a social experiment; an engineered environment wherein biracial cousins of varying admixture practiced agriculture and media production until their jealousies overtook them and they embraced one another in actual combat over intellectual property rights.
There is one implicit claim being made here which supports the three others already listed above, and that is that the variability in modern human minds and perhaps in body morphology is due in great part to our mixed-species heritage, and that the very thing we call genius is the product of the struggle between competing inborn cognitive strategies for dominance. Without the cognitive mismatch, there is no internal impetus for compensation. In other words, it isn’t Homo Sapiens or Homo Neanderthalensis whom we have to thank for both genius and madness, but rather the fact of bi-species pairing itself and the plasticity of brain development.