In The Descent of Man, Darwin describes the
higher development of humankind
as an amalgamation of biological and cultural factors. The brains of pre-historic and early humans get bigger, and cultural achievements are increasing simultaneously and with mutual dependence. Brain growth is about biological and hereditary factors. Cultural achievements are not hereditary; they have to be learned anew, one generation after the next.
language acquisition requires individuals to be biologically equipped to do so.
The infant who lacks the biological means to articulate speech or the ability
to hear cannot acquire the ability to speak.
also says nothing about the biological mechanisms that would have placed the
higher monkeys on track to become human beings. He obviously trusts the
Hegelian, self-developing mind, which at some point came over the higher
monkeys like the Holy Spirit did to the Virgin Mary.
to introduce the term emergence at
Complex systems cannot be explained by the mere description of their parts. Even the most precise knowledge of the individual parts cannot lead to an understanding of the system. This phenomenon is referred to as emergence i.e. the appearance of new properties that do not result from the properties of the subsystems.
concept of emergence has played an important role in the question of whether
biological systems, e.g. cells, can be explained with the theoretical framework
of physics or chemistry. The answer: However important the understanding of
physical and chemical processes in the cell may be for the overall understanding,
the biological system alone cannot explain the cell.
are emergent biological properties in cells that can only be explained using
the theoretical framework of biology. The same applies to the spirit and
culture of people; human beings and their culture are a highly complex system
with characteristics that emerge from their biological parts.
Was the Victorian gentleman’s dilemma also Darwin’s? Is it also our
From my point of view, the answer to these questions must be a resounding yes. Victorian gentleman Charles Darwin understood that humans descended from ape ancestors. On the other hand, he was too much of a product of his time not to emphasise the deep gap between humans and animals.
If, like his ideological opponents, he did not wish to attribute the
spirit of humankind to a divine act of creation, he could still believe in the
self-actualisation of the mind in the Hegelian sense of the word.
In the Phenomenology of Mind,
G. F. W. Hegel presented the development of human culture as the
self-actualisation of the mind in history through the stages of consciousness,
self-confidence, reason, mind, religion and art to absolute knowledge.
In Darwin’s model of cross-pollination of the brain and mind, the
mind unfolded as soon as the physical conditions, especially the brain size of
pre-historic humans and early humans up to Homo sapiens, allowed it to do so.
However, Darwin overlooked that fact that according to his theory of evolution,
development is not purposeful or deterministic but rather open-ended.
All attempts thus far to explain the evolution of the human brain and mind have failed. They all have in common the fact that human characteristics such as work, language, culture and consciousness, which all stand at the end of human evolution, should also simultaneously be considered to be the cause of humanity emerging i.e. at the beginning of humans evolving.
all these human characteristics were not present before the emergence of humans
and therefore, they cannot be considered to be the actual cause of evolution
that led to the existence of humans.
No other mind-set could have been more contrary to the Victorian way of thinking than the mere idea that humans could have descended from monkeys. Even if evolution could be scientifically proven for all other organisms, humans, with all their unique human characteristics, must certainly have emerged from a special act of creation.
Much to Darwin’s chagrin, even A.R. Wallace refused to concede that natural selection is what made human evolution work.
(Mayr 2002, p.499)
human brain must have developed in a different way.
Of course, criticising a solution is easy and only makes sense if you have a better solution to offer. That was the reason why the previous attempts to find a solution for the Münchhausen model failed or were not found.
human mind or culture was not the decisive factor in the development of the
human brain, what was it? Since, according to the theory, there is no targeted
evolution, the trigger needs to be sought in the population of early hominids.
In terms of the solution, I will rely on the research done by primate
researchers. I refer to the hypotheses starting with number 9.
the brain and the mind were not created together, another problem arises: What
prompted the human brain to take on the additional task of becoming the seat of
the human mind, language, consciousness, culture, in addition to its original
The idea of the co-evolution of mind or culture and brain, or the common and mutually stimulating development of mind/culture and brain always reminds me of Baron K. F. H. von Münchhausen. In his A Wonderful Journey on Water and on Land, he tells the story of how he and his horse pull themselves out of the swamp into which they had gotten.
The narrative contradicts the elementary laws of physics (the Archimedean point is missing). However, this did not bother the narrator or his readers. Since Darwin, the idea of co-evolution has been that after the regrettable loss of the Christian creator-God, the human spirit takes over his role, grabs the spiritual head and pulls itself and the human brain out of the swamp of animal spiritlessness.
Or, to put it another way: The human mind and/or culture are said to have deterministically supervised the evolution of the monkey brain to the human brain. Since no other solution was available, Darwin himself and his successors overlooked the fact that with this solution they contradicted Darwin’s theory of evolution.
As an evolutionary innovation, the human brain cannot have emerged as the biological basis of the human mind. The human brain must have developed in a different manner and was used as a finished organ by a functional change that was only secondarily responsible for the activity of the human mind.
1. Does the human brain represent evolutionary innovation? As we had
seen, Darwin did not agree that there is a fundamental difference between an animal soul and a human soul:
But however great the difference between the souls of humans and the higher animals may be, it is only a gradual one and not a fundamental one. (p. 156)
Ernst Mayr agrees with Darwin:
If criteria such as consciousness or the possessing a spirit and intelligence are cited as uniquely human characteristics, this does not help us very much, since there are good examples that humans only differ quantitatively from the great apes and many other animals (even the dog!) with respect to such traits.
(Mayr 2002, p. 500)
Mayr then describes how a function shift works as follows:
During this kind of functional shift, a structure always goes through a phase in which it can simultaneously perform two functions, such as Daphnia’s antennas, which are both a sensory organ and a floating rudder. This functional duality is possible because the genotype is a highly complex system that always produces certain aspects of the phenotype that are not directly promoted by selection but are simply “by-products” of the genotype favoured by selection.
Such by-products are then available for the acquisition of new functions. They are the ones that allow the front limbs (with a flying membrane) of a tetrapod to act as wings, or the lungs of a fish, as a swim bladder. In the phenotype of every organism there are numerous “neutral aspects” that are “admitted” by natural selection i.e. not eliminated but which have also not been specifically favoured by it.
These kinds of components of the phenotype are available for the transfer of new functions. Functional shifts are also known in macromolecules and behavioural patterns, for example, when plumage cleaning becomes part of advertising behaviour in certain ducks.
(Mayr 2002, p. 491)
Mayr continues on the intensification of the function of an existing
According to Darwin and Mayr, evolutionary innovations arise from the functional displacement of existing organs that can simultaneously perform two functions but not by selectively favouring a new organ that is not yet functional.
to Charles Darwin’s theory, evolutionary changes take place through very small
to the model of gradualism in geology, in which mountains that are several
kilometres high unfold a millimetre at a time and the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds
of kilometres wide today, only opens up a few centimetres each year as a result
of shifting plates, the evolution of living beings conceivably takes place in small
steps from one generation to the next.
changing size, colour and other characteristics that permit a smooth
transition, the idea of gradual change does not present any difficulties. But
how does it look when the fish suddenly becomes a land animal? When the legs
suddenly begin to move and the lungs suddenly begin to breathe, and the skin
does not dry out?
small predatory dinosaur becomes a bird – where does it suddenly have feathered
wings to rise into the air?
idea that Darwin himself presents in the Descent
that the growth of the human brain in evolution to its present size was stimulated by spiritual achievements of prehistoric and early humans, and that there is something like a co-evolution of the brain and culture, cannot be right, because these concepts are tied to a deterministic view of evolution.
one issue cannot be denied: Today’s theories of human evolution all follow the
wrong Darwinian concept. Not only Merlin Donald but also Michael Tomasello and
everyone else assign a decisive role to the mind, language, and culture of man
in the development of the human brain.
addition to language, the concepts of work, the production of stone tools and
cooperation in the prehistoric and early human social groups are regarded as
decisive factors on the way to becoming human beings.
beings differ physically from animals – not only in their upright gait but also
in their relatively large brains. For the evolutionary biologist, the reason for the formation of this organ, which consumes a lot of energy and is therefore, as explained below, a very complex and expensive organ, is a central question.
as I can see, the energy that human individuals have to expend for the brain as
an organ is irrelevant to Darwin. It transfers the principle of gradualism, the
gradual change from biological evolution to the evolution of man, the human
brain, culture, language, etc.
However, while biological evolution is open-ended i.e. not goal-orientated, as it theoretically must be, a functional goal comes into play in the evolution of the human brain, language, culture: If language i.e. human culture in its early forms, stimulated the brain to give evolution a direction towards a human brain, then it would be a goal-orientated, a definitive component of evolution.
order to appreciate Darwin’s reflections on the only gradual differences
between the mental abilities
of humans and animals, I must expound a bit more.
people of the Enlightenment recognised that the world was not always as it is
today, the first explanation was that the old world, the one that had been
discovered here and there in the form of the bones of extinct animals, had been
the first creation that had perished in the deluge narrated in the Bible.
gave rise to catastrophe theory, the
idea that there had been several acts of creation, and that the world had been
destroyed in between them by floods or enormous volcanic eruptions and
earthquakes. However, the geology of Darwin’s time had shown that many
processes in nature were not catastrophic but rather gradual and that they took
place in small and even tiny steps.
Scottish geologist James Hutton had
gained experience from known remains out of the Roman era with just how slowly
geological processes take place. He also had recognised that the geological
faults that could be observed on the coasts of his Scottish homeland had to
have taken an incredible amount of time to form. This gave rise to the theory
of gradualism which attributed the
changes in the world to a continuous, gradual sort of change.
Our brain has developed in co-evolution with culture (p.15)
In Donald’s work, it is not an issue of two independent creatures or of mutual selection pressure but rather a mutual benefit of culture and brain. If culture, like the brain, were a human organ, we could speak of a symbiosis. Regardless of the terms, it is clear what Donald means.
According to his hypothesis, the human brain has developed together with human culture; brain and culture are dependent on each other. Donald can rely thereby on Charles Darwin, who explained in the Descent of Man: :
A great step in the development of intellect must have taken place as soon as semi-artificial and semi-intuitive language were used; for the constant use of language will have had an effect on the brain and produced a hereditary effect; and this in turn will have benefited the perfection of language.
Previous explanations of the origin of the human mind and human culture all assume a co-evolution of mind and brain, whereby mind and brain have influenced the evolution of each other (examples for co-evolution: insects and flowers, lions and gazelles).
statements contradict the prohibition of targeted evolution (Hypothesis 2) and
should therefore be rejected. The human mind is an evolutionary innovation and
therefore cannot have arisen via co-evolution.
Steidle defines the concept of co-evolution
in his contribution to the non-fiction book Evolution
Co-evolution occurs when two or more species influence each other’s evolution. This happens because each species exerts selection pressure on other species and changes itself in response to the selection pressure of other species. The consequence of co-evolution is the co-adaptation of the species involved. (Johannes Steidle 2009: Coevolution, in: Schmid, Ulrich und Günter Bechly (ed.): Evolution. Der Fluss des Lebens, Stuttgart, p. 81-88, p. 81)
can only be described in such a way that the advantages of emerging or changing
are clear at every stage of development. Plumage, which – like the fur of mammals – serves to maintain body heat and only developed feathers became useful for active flying and gliding much later, is plausible in the sense of evolution because the selection advantage becomes visible at each and every stage of evolution as well as in every generation of living beings.