There is evidence that, in a period of sharply declining temperatures, a collapse in the ape population occurred at the time hominins split off from apes. My view is that in the context of birthrates falling toward extinction, hierarchical dominance competition became a dangerous waste of reproductive resources. In response, the target of natural selection shifted from the fitness of individuals to the fecundity of relationships between individuals—from the sterility of dominance competition to the productivity of teamwork. Teamwork was coordinated by the innovation of a continuous and simultaneous communication system called language. Effective group behaviors in response to recurring situations were naturally selected to be collectively accessible by language. When those situations were again encountered, the collective response was linguistically recalled leading back to those same team behaviors.
Individuals were in constant linguistic contact with overlapping groups, so responses to the environment were continuously refined and spread by means of learning (culture); however, the dynamic emotional interactions enabling their close coordination were evolved genetically. The term “group” in group selection is misleading because it implies an identifiable kinship group, whereas the actual selection takes place from the ground-up in disparate permutations of single relationships between individuals whether within or across interacting groups, and so it properly should be called relational selection. It is as if these genes within individuals code for musical instruments that are selected based on how well they harmonize in the music of a language that synchronizes teamwork. In humans, the life force shifted from individuals into the relationship between individuals.
Life is defined as the capacity to replicate and evolve. It is important to thoroughly understand the concept of a phenotype because it lies at the heart of what is new here. Your genotype is all your genes, which contain the coded “recipes” to synthesize the phenotype that is you, the person who is sitting there reading this. We usually think of genes coding for physical characteristics like eye color and height, but Darwin’s insight in his last treatise, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), was that our emotions and motivations are also part of our inherited phenotype. Of course, the physical DNA of relational genes would reside within individuals. However, the evolved intentions of authority—justice—would be the phenotype of relational genes.
Under the protective shield of justice, groups of mated pair-bonds could evolve the productive benefits of coordinating and dividing the labor of child care and food gathering. At the end of the day, those groupings of relationships that “believed” in the rules of this organic social structure would be naturally selected. The procreative benefits to individuals within a given group under this obedience–authority system would exceed any benefits of pursuing their own dominance. The will to dominate in the ape mind transformed into the authority of justice in the early human (old) mind by migrating from individuals to dwelling within the thin ether of relationships between individuals; no one could see it, but all could feel it. This invisible but biologically based will possesses intentions, i.e.: a spirit . . . the human spirit.
The most difficult aspect of group-selected intelligence to grasp is that, although any effectively coordinated task is functionally hierarchical, it is the group itself that is in charge and making the decisions. For example, in the process of moving furniture through a door, the individuals involved share the use of a single dominance mentality, passing it around among themselves. It is as if the dominance of the task itself temporarily speaks through each individual at different times. It is clear from the tone of each person’s voice expressing this kind of dominance (called authority) that its source is not that specific individual with any demand that the other two submit to him personally. Rather, the movers are more like instruments all moved by the authority springing from the task itself. Another analogy is a basketball team bringing the ball up the court; they are all checking out the defensive moves, as well as each other’s, and collectively deciding what play they will run, which can then be changed on a dime. Figuring out which play to run was what our ancestral species’ lives were all about.
According to the well-known law of parsimony, nature always chooses the simplest path. A single, simple explanation for a diverse set of data is always more likely to be correct than are complicated explanations. Alfred Wegner used the idea of continental drift (later called plate tectonics) as a parsimonious explanation for a wealth of diverse geological data. Similarly, the simplicity of the theory of natural selection is a parsimonious explanation for the complexity and diversity of species. The proposal here is that the collective motivation for justice rendered us into humans by enabling us not merely to cooperate but to intimately engage each other in the productive coordination of teamwork; that the capacity to coordinate the behavior of a group (and multiples of groups) into an organically functioning unit has been our decisive adaptive advantage across all environments.
In the next posting: how well does this new narrative of human evolution unify the facts of paleoanthropology?