The evolution of emotion

In an earlier version of Apes, Ants, and Ancestors, I wrote the following mystical account of the evolution of emotion prior to the appearance of hominids. I had just finished a chapter on the glaring prominence of dominance and submission in  prison life.

“Let us fly out from the nested bondage within that prison through barred windows and bound up to our perch atop of the tree of life where, with these postulations swimming in our mind, strain to glimpse back down to fathom the shadows of the first slow movements of their social awakening within the depths of time.  We shall enter into a spirit realm of myth to conjure up the drifting transformations of emotion which finally set the stage before we raise the curtain the on final acts of our creation starting six million years ago.

In the beginning, there was fight and flight, approach and avoidance, eat or be eaten.  Then along came sex.  Is sex a law of life?  Could there be advanced life elsewhere in the universe without sex?  Each and every species developed two forms, a ‘dimorphism,’ one of which specialized in producing offspring, leaving the other to focus entirely on gene transmission.  Is it more male to be the canary in the environmental mine, and more female to hang back, sustain her genes and choose the males who make it through? Or is sex’s main point just continually to be mixing—everything constantly reconstituted, all the genes continually thrown up like wheat and the chaff blown out?

Desire drawing together emotions in evolution

At the center of this miraculous metamorphosis was the appearance of the emotion of desire.  Hitherto in the past, selection was solely between the individual and the environment.  Now the lust created between the cleaved individual conspired to predict that interaction.  We must assume that the emotion of desire crept in by inches, the slow rendering asunder into complementary parts which increasingly sought to reunite. 

Let us pause for a moment and wonder at such a creative natural force.   Perhaps that is the nub of it—one small visit from that which creates within the larger universe.  In place of one solitary thing endlessly dividing, there arose two kinds longing for renewal through reunion with one another.  Thus with the arrival of sex, significant proportions of biology was removed from direct contact with the environment; now partly stepping back into an internal ecology, it was the development of indications and the ability to select them that would maximize survival.    Amongst the strategies of strength, stealth and camouflage, there also arose another world of dance and plumes declaring, ‘Here I am. Look at me!’

Desire has caused the implosion of emotion

Henceforth, the newly hatched emotion of desire, in the gradual grace of eons, would insinuate itself around and through the ancient reflexes of fight and flight, gently but inexorably, pulling them apart but, then, relentlessly pushing them together.  Yes, inexorably; we shall linger for a moment on the disputed inexorability of this process.  I proclaim the heresy that, once the emotion of desire was cast forth to mix amongst the impulse to fight or flee, there was but one sequence of preordained configurations into which they could continue to unfold. 

The bones of primate species found littered in the blind alleys of extinction has corrupted the conception of our creation as having been the result of the happenstance of chance. However, if we both narrow and back up our focus on the long sweep of the assembling of life’s inner spirit, of which emotions are its constituent pieces, the singularity of its direction becomes apparent. By means of the constant mixing of three elemental emotions—fight, flight, and desire—natural selection inevitably melded them into a succession of universal structures, one built upon the next. 

The female having been designated the bearer of her issue, the development of a special protective and nurturing bond between the two, was progressively selected for the purpose of enhancing the survival of her own maternal genes within her very young.”  

In the following post, we shall contemplate, speculate, perhaps mythologize, on the construction of the protective bond between mother and offspring from reshaping the emotional clay of the available materials.

Tags: ,