The John Templeton Foundation was established by the late investment tycoon to “encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians.” Reported in the April 22nd issue of Science: the Foundation is now offering “an $8.7 million grant to researchers for experimental and theoretical work intended to put a revisionist view of evolution, the so-called extended evolutionary synthesis, on a sounder footing. . . .They will study the possibility that
1. organisms can influence their own evolution
2. inheritance can take place through routes other than the genetic material.”
The most robust area coinciding with idea #2 is epigenetics, which is the study of acquired chemical modifications of DNA which then can theoretically stabilize and be passed on to subsequent generations. I have long been intrigued by idea #1 and believe that. . .
the blog’s conception of how hominins have influenced their own evolution could fit under the umbrella of an extended evolutionary synthesis.
The blog deals in the evolution of our emotions and motivations, and maintains that the decisive evolutionary shift in human evolution occurred 6 million years ago: the dominance and submission interaction in ape individuals reconfigured into obedience to the authority of hominin groups. Henceforth in the future, the evolution of each hominin individual was profoundly influenced by the collective motivations of their groups (think of a superego) which were naturally selected to productively coordinate their behavior.
The blog conceives that this metamorphosis happened rapidly in response to a population collapse in apes from harsh climates in which the sterility individual competition was driving them to extinction—so much so that this new collective authority evolved to directly and decisively suppress (superego) the disruptive nonproductive dominance impulses of individuals (id).
In the understanding of the genetics of this process, one has to be constantly reminded that
natural selection had shifted from the individual not to kinship groups but actually to the relationships between individuals.
The components of “relational genes” promoting the obedience–authority dynamic do reside within the brains of individuals, but are selected on the basis of how efficiently they interact with correlated genes in other individuals. The most apt metaphor for the qualities selected in the obedience–authority interaction is music and harmony—the capacity for two individuals to sustain a state of emotional intimacy such that small mutual adjustments can be made to stay in sync. In each generation, relational component-genes within different individuals hook up with each other into new networks of associations each permutation of which is again submitted to the “passive” selection of how productive of offspring they turn out to be. It is as if these genes produce musical instruments which need to be re-attuned to one another in each generation.
So this hominin social environment that has so profoundly influenced our evolution is comprised only of collective motivations and actually is the not the direct result of the component genes themselves but of the evolved relationships between them.