Human evolution theory utilizing concepts of neoteny & female sexual selection
An etiology of neuropsychological disorders such as autism and dyslexia, and the origin of left handedness.
I may have had some idea that behind the dragon was the goddess, that at the foundation of dragon mythology were the serpent myths of the goddess religions. I had absolutely no inkling where the passages that I was exploring would lead.
This is a story about a personal evolution. This is also a story, a theory, that illuminates hidden processes behind the evolution of our species; a story that includes a description of what it feels like to feel lead to an understanding of a synthesis of formerly unconnected theories that seeks to make clear who we are and where we came from - how we evolved. It is also a story about how the kind of god (goddess) we choose to believe in influences how we see the world and the kind of stories that we make.
In serpent mythology, the dragon/serpent has been found beneath the surface (in subterranean caves and below the sea), on land, and in the sky. And so correspondingly, in the telling of this story, I approach an exploration of our evolution on three levels, an emotional personal level (the body), intellectual abstract level (the mind), and a transpersonal level (the spirit). It is by having offered attention to all three levels that, I believe, a profoundly useful, unorthodox, new theory of human evolution has been created.
Around the time of our marriage four years ago my wife, Marcia, gave me Riane Eisler's book, The Chalice and the Blade, to read. She told me it was instrumental in her evolution as a thinking/feeling being, and that she wanted to share the experience with me. I read it over a period of several nights. A lot of the ideas presented in Ms. Eisler's book felt familiar to me. I had read the works of William Irwin Thompson and Joseph Campbell so I was not a stranger to her concepts. Her book made clearer to me the early foundations for the goddess culture in contemporary life, especially as manifested in the feminist movement and in the female grounded spiritual paths moving through our society.
During the same time period that I read this book some difficult issues were resolved over the custody of my son which had been an ongoing source of conflict and disquiet since the fall of 1989 when I separated from his mother. I felt a weight had been lifted from my spirit. I was filled with high tides of creative energy that did not abate. I was off and running in several directions.
One of those directions was the design, writing and illustration of a book on the natural history, biology, and social structures of dragons. I'd become snake charmed by the subject. My business was doing well enough that I could devote a sizable amount of time to my creative interests. I launched into research on dragons and research I did. I garnered over 400 dragon myths and stories from close to 100 sources. I indexed them on computer by a number of different variables so that I could create a facsimile foundation for the existence of the beast from a number of biological and social perspectives. The book was outlined, the illustrations were blocked out. With just a few more months for more research, I could begin to write. Yet, something strange started happening. About a year and a half into the research, totally immersed in the origin of dragon mythology, I discovered that the origin of dragon mythology was serpent mythology which had been central to the mythology of the prehistoric matriarchal goddess cultures that pre-dated patriarchal cultures. I re-read many of the works of Joseph Campbell and William Irwin Thompson. I started reading sources from Eisler's bibliography. My research began to veer.
During this time I was running a gift and greeting card sales firm. I spent no small amount of time in traffic driving from client to client. To reduce the tedium and to further my studies, I decided to explore books on tape. I scrounged for references to dragon mythology. I found myself listening to any tapes that had any suggestions of dragons in the body of its words. I listened to Gilgamesh, Beowolf, Homer's Illiad and Oddessy, and then worked my way through Milton, Virgil, Dante and up to Joyce's Ulysses. I was scarfing down the classics, enthralled, thumbing through Cliff's notes at traffic lights to get me through the hard parts. While noting dragon references, I realized that I could also hear echoes of the struggle between the patriarchal and matriarchal social structures battling through the epochs. Finally, I had listened to all of the classics with mythological foundations I could find. I still needed to do a lot of driving so I looked for something in the tape rental shop that would be engaging. I saw some books of essays by Stephen J. Gould, the evolutionary biologist/paleontologist. I listened. Over the next several months I listened to all of his works that were on tape. My research deepened and broadened. It continued to veer.
My search for serpent references brought me to a very magical period of time, around 35,000 BC which, as I explored it, felt like some crucial bridge connecting our biological and cultural foundations. While I continued to read dragon mythology and listen to Gould's evolutionary theories, I was now also drawn to matrifocal studies, specifically the works of Marija Gimbutas. Theories of biological evolution began to feel closely tied to theories of cultural evolution in ways I could not explain. I had the sense that I was standing on the precipice of insight. I could feel a connection between early prehistoric, prepatriarchal, matrifocal social structures and the transition to culture by early human beings from the pre-cultural state until the period of cultural take-off around 35,000 BC, when cave paintings and cultural artifacts began to appear. Insights were coming to me more and more frequently and they seemed to be leading somewhere. Clearly, I was not following my original research plan. I was feeling lead.
The convergence of insights, what felt like a cascade of connections, occurred in two stages. In the fall of 1997, I was looking through the indexes of anthropology books looking for dragon and serpent references. I found a book, Blood Relations, by Chris Knight that contained a number of such allusions, especially some related to the Australian rainbow serpent. So I bought the book. His book reoriented my center and pointed me in a subtly new direction. That new direction implied that the evolution of hominids before symbolic communication to humans capable of language, may have been guided by the females of the tribes. This book led me to the entrance of the cave, the serpent's home. I stepped inside.
It was a sunny autumn Saturday. My wife and I had been passing up and down the grocery store isles picking out the foods for Sunday brunch. I was reading a magazine article in the check out line referring to a study that implied that children could learn to sign coherently, earlier than they could learn to talk. I remembered a study I'd read fifteen years ago that newborns "dance", micro movements of the arms and legs, in direct response to auditory inputs from the environment, moving the same limb sections in response to specific correlating sounds. The words triggered a flood of insights and connections between insights. Suddenly every inhalation and exhalation was accompanied by new ideas rushing to join others jostling for a place within my body and my mind. A theory, a story, was forming that described the origin of culture, language, symbolic communication, art, brain size increases - - the idiosyncrasies of human evolution.
In a sense, all I knew was that I knew something, or felt something, was more like it. There were huge gaps in my knowledge of evolutionary biology, cultural theory and related fields. I had nothing like a proof for what was starting to come together but it was an evocative story, a theory. This first burst of insights, which I will explain shortly, was followed several months later by a full scale, several week, revelatory experience. But first I need to describe what else was happening in my life.
During this period of study, in addition to the intellectual insights, I was experiencing an emotional metamorphosis. Things were changing in my life. In late August 1997 just after the death of my 91 year old maternal grandmother, with whom I was very close, I went through a powerful emotional event involving my father. Shortly after my grandmother's death I had a disturbing incident with my Dad that resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime understanding concerning the nature of my relationship with him. I realized I had been "failing" to achieve specific goals in life as an act of cooperation with my father's self image of his own unassailable success. I had felt that to be a good son I had to be a son subservient to my father's concept of himself, and those things that he felt were important. In effect, I had been choosing to live my life, since a small child, in a way that I thought would make my father's life more secure, and support what he felt was important. I loved and love my Dad. This, for me, included my never quite succeeding in tasks that I would undertake in those areas important to me. As a result I had become proficient, but not successful, in almost half a dozen areas (comic art & cartooning, fine art ink renderings, restaurant cooking, neurolinguistic programming, publishing, syndication, toy design). The only exception was with my sales firm, it supported me for 19 years, but making money through sales had never been on my list of desirable professions. (Sales was how my father made his living.)
By October, less than a month later, asthma began to lift that had been pursuing me for forty years. Drug applications began to decrease from the fifteen hits of adrenaline a day to ten, to five, to less than five. By January, I was off the drugs for the first time in four decades. During this time I was aware of feeling fury toward my father, a feeling that did not abate for several months. It was winter before I could feel compassion for him and his situation, and compassion for myself.
In addition to running my sales firm, I had designed a toy line. My wife, my father and I were collaborating on this effort and we were in the final stages of taking it to market. I had begun this business in the same flurry of creativity as the dragon project. Now I had to learn two pieces of design software and produce a catalog in preparation for a national show. The whole serpent/dragon project was put on hold for a season and I put curbs on my reading.
In January, I went into an anxiety state that lasted almost continually for six weeks. It peaked in a painful attack of shingles in mid February at the New York trade show where the toy line was introduced. The show over, exhausted, I returned home.
As March approached the toy project was complete for now, my emotions settled back to a familiar "normal" cadence. I renewed my reading with Joseph Campbell's Primitive Religion and Charles Darwin's Descent of Man and began to put in writing the insights that had been gathering through the fall and had culminated in my "ah-ha" experience concerning our evolutionary origins in female based social structures.
The second stage of the central insight began in mid March 1998 and lasted several months. During the peak period from mid-March to early April I felt an experience identical to functioning on psilocyban mushrooms. (I had ingested mushrooms a half dozen times as a student in the early 70's) For those weeks I slept little. I didn't seem to need much sleep. While meditating, insights, pieces of the puzzle, came to me fully formed. I'd awaken in the morning the concepts complete. I sometimes awoke with splitting headaches that only stopped after I sat down at the typewriter and poured out the concept connections that were flooding in. Darwin's and Campbell's works each contained missing pieces to the puzzle suggested by earlier insights. In Descent of Man, Darwin introduces the concept of female sexual selection. In Primitive Religions, Campbell helped make crystal clear to me the connections between female sexual selection and matriarchal culture and its manifestations through serpent and dragon mythology.
This was nothing less than a revelatory experience. My conscious mind was not calling the shots. I was just trying to keep up with the coalescing synthesis. My biggest challenge was corralling in the fantasies my scared self would be generating while hypothesizing the rewards of this extraordinary experience. I was having a very hard time tolerating the feeling of joy that would accompany the insights and would catapult myself into fantasies, a safe and familiar place. My family was confused and frustrated by my prolonged altered state. I was reading and writing pretty much all my waking time. Finally, after peaking in April, I was back to 'normal' by early May.
As I returned to normal consciousness, I continued to read, scouring book stores, bibliographies and libraries for sources that could help me to get a more complete understanding of the insights and ideas that felt so exciting. Stephen J. Gould's, Ontengeny and Phylogeny cleaned up cloudy areas in my understanding of the dynamics of the effects of changing maturation rates on human evolution. Next, I began my six month journey into the neuropsychological literature looking for evidence of the theory that was forming. That journey began with Norman Geschwind's, Cerebral Lateralization.
Of the hundreds of sources I read in those inspired months, several authors were instrumental in the forming of my understandings. In the sequence of my reading them, they were: Riane Eisler, William Irwin Thompson, Joseph Campbell, Jane Goodall, Marija Gimbutas, Chris Knight, Stephen J. Gould, Charles Darwin, Norman Geschwind, and neuroscientist Marian Annett.
Where, exactly, had I been lead?
From the article I had read from the grocery store that fall, I surmised that dance may have preceded spoken language as a communication tool, and that dance and gesture, not speech, may have been a bridge that humans used as they acquired facility with symbol and sign. Listening to his tapes, I became familiar with Steven J. Gould's popular works discussing 'neoteny' and effects of slowing down, prolonging, and speeding up maturation rates. It struck me that females, selecting males for their facility at proto-dance, a hominid version of a male chimpanzee demonstration, would have been at the same time selecting for males with larger brain mass based on Gould's citation of Jerison's work on the increased brain size of predators over their prey; speed, endurance, and agility demanding more upstairs than fleeing. It also occurred to me that in this hypothetical culture characterized by female sexual selection, females would select for: males with cooperative tendencies, males less hierarchically inclined, males lower in testosterone, and males more likely to hang out with the kids making sure that they got fed. I imagined a feedback loop with females sexually selecting cooperative males adept at dance, generating an evolutionary trajectory characterised by increasing brain size and a "taming" of the male of the species. It seemed an elegant and imaginative theory, but unprovable.
By this time, the scope of my insights and interests had so broadened that I was at any one time reading books and papers from the fields of anthropology, mythology, evolutionary biology, primatology and neuropsychology. I came across a passage that noted that ambidextrous individuals often process language through both hemispheres rather than primarily through the left. Neurological anomalies that I became aware of nearly twenty years earlier during training in Neuro-linguistic Programming and Ericksonian (psychotherapeutic) Hypnosis began to fit together with the biological and cultural insights. It seemed that there were discernable patterns to the anomalies and that the the evidence of female sexual selection might be found in the clusters of features of various neurological structures and hormonal constellations in humans today. I surmised that there were members of contemporary society that evidence physiological, neurological, and behavioral features characteristic of this hypothesized evolutionary past: a combination of verbally challenged, physically adroit, musically inclined, ambidextrous (cerebrally non-lateralized), and larger brained (brain sizes have decreased over the last 25 thousand years). The populations displaying this specific cluster of characteristics would hold another piece to the puzzle of our evolution.
I asked myself, would a neurological type characterized by speech difficulties also feature mixed-handedness and have a larger brain size than the rest of the population? I had worked with autistic adolescents after college and was familiar with some of the neurological characteristics of autism. I read some papers on autism and found that indeed, that syndrome is often characterised by far fewer strong right-handers and a larger brain size. More questions formed in my mind. I made predictions. The studies I read revealed that the patterns found in existing neurological conditions matched the predictions made through the theory of biological and cultural evolution I was forming. The anomalies in neurology, biology and culture fit together in the larger context of this transdisciplinary view. I came to believe that the cluster of features that would characterize specific neurological diseases (autism, Tourette's, dyslexia, stuttering, etc.) were not actually "diseases" but examples of the manifestations of the human genotype before and during the final evolutionary step of cerebral lateralization or the differentiation of the left hemisphere for spoken language. The theory didn't seem provable, but it was showing strong suggestions of usefulness. And over and over again I'd come across anomalies that fit beautifully into this new approach. Unexplained experimental results were understandable, even predicted, by this new paradigm.
Neurological diseases are often characterized by extremes of maturational delay or acceleration. When I came across the work of neuroscientist Norman Geschwind, it stuck me that the relative levels of testosterone and other sexual hormones were fluctuating in response to sexually selected criteria with varying testosterone levels driving changes in maturation rates. (Estrogen may be equally as powerful an influence but there are almost no studies tracking estrogen changes in neurological conditions) This meant that any environmental stimuli resulting in changes in testosterone levels would influence these same maturation rates. In other words, our concept of disease might have to be redefined to accommodate the evolutionary effect of environmental, biological and social influences on maturation rates. We might not be"ill" as often as we are being pushed and pulled into our evolutionary past and "future", maturationally influenced by our social and biological environments through our sexual hormones.
Additional reading revealed studies that suggested pieces of the human evolution puzzle gleaned through my insights. The theory had become more than a feeling. It could be expressed in words and symbols. A model had evolved from the theory. The provability of the theory seemed of less importance next to the usefulness of a model that could predict the circumstances responsible for the appearance of a number of diseases and conditions such as the origin of bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, sexual organ cancers and a host of neurological disorders.
To give you some idea of the power of this conceptual model, let me describe an experience I had while in a retail shop on a sales call. The women I was talking to had blue eyes. She was very overweight. Her voice tone was low. The hair on her head was relatively sparse. Based on the extensive reading I had done in the field of neuropsychology, these characteristics told me she had unusually high testosterone levels for a woman and that these levels were likely hereditary as opposed to acquired or as a result of environmental influences such as smoking. I estimated that if she had male children, they would be developmentally delayed potentially displaying learning disabilities characteristic of that pattern. I wondered if she had boys either dyslexic, stutterers, or with autistic tendencies. I asked her if this was the case. She had two sons. One was autistic. The other was dyslexic.
If this woman had known that she retained a genotype such that the male children she gave birth to would be likely to be developmentally delayed, she could have engaged in specific non invasive life-style changes before and while she was pregnant to reduce the likelihood of producing children with disabilities.
It all began with the dragon. As my studies evolved so did the hypothesis that our cultural origins may have been in female centered tribes 50,000 to 100,000 years ago when anatomically modern humans began their diaspora. I imagined these early humans dancing out of Africa as they began an evolution toward patrifocal social structures. I had looked in the eye of the dragon and experienced the universe looking back.
I realize that explaining this theory, which I call shift theory, in this very brief sketch can't give you a full understanding of its potential. (Please visit our web site, www.serpentfd.org, for a more comprehensive look.) What you can understand is what the name I've given it implies. Any theory is deeply influenced by its presuppositions. My presuppositions are at the core of this thesis and represent a shift in perspective that occurred while looking for the pieces to the puzzle of human evolution.
I am presupposing that it is possible that the females of our species may be at the root of what makes us human. I am rejecting: tool building, the evolutionary fruitfulness of aggressive tendencies and the dynamics of monogamous nuclear families, as primary reasons for our evolution. I am also presupposing the possibility that natural selection may not be the most important selective process in determining our species' evolution. Shift theory postulates that female sexual selection and the inheritance of a parent's adapted or acquired characteristics via hormonal intermediaries (largely through a mother's influence on her embryo and post birth environment influences) are selective processes responsible for specific human traits or features.
I do not presuppose that consciousness is characteristic of individuals only. This is a guiding presupposition of western science built upon the fact that consciousness can not be measured. If consciousness can not be measured, it is ignored as a variable, and reduced to its only manifestation as a piece of shared information; that it exists in an individual. This reductionist presupposition hog ties scientists and theoreticians to the belief that consciousness did not exist before humans evolved in their present form. (I don't presuppose this larger consciousness to be an intentional consciousness or god, but an immanent consciousness characterized by specific features of the human unconscious, what Gregory Bateson describes as Freud's primary process; 1) only one time, the present, now. 2) only one place, here. 3) no negatives, only what is. 4) a deep compulsion to "play".) Marija Gimbutas discusses in her work that the foundations of matrifocal culture are tied to a belief in an immanent deity. I am suggesting that the only way we can understand who we are and where we came from is by hypothesizing that our evolution as a species is directly tied to our experience as spiritual beings.
In the late summer just before autumn when the first insights presented themselves, I was filled with a feeling characterized by feeling part-of-something-larger-than-my-self. I also felt a strong connection to those humans who had wandered our planet before the advent of full scale language. (Indeed, I did not start talking until I was three.) My intuition was that they too had felt led, led by the artistic process that places the creator and the participant within that same feeling of feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self. I believe that humans evolved because those humans most successful at communicating that feeling of feeling-of-feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self, through proto-dance and proto-song, were selected by females as mates. I am not suggesting that it didn't work in both directions, that males picking females didn't have its evolutionary effects, but that it was primarily females, on a number of different levels, that guided our evolutionary growth up until the appearance of patrifocal social structures approximately 50,000 years ago.
In other words we evolved because of females picking the most talented people at communicating tribal, physical and yet self-transcending love; a consciousness that both exists in the individual and transcends the individual. Females choose males for these abilities exhibited in the original art form; dance and song. Pleasure, physical and sexual, and its direct connection to spiritual experience, I believe, is a key to understanding the puzzle of how we came to be. There are accounts by Jane Goodall of her chimpanzee informants behaving in ways just one step away from the process I am suggesting.
Writers like Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas, and others have re-introduced concepts absent from a westerner's experience for almost 5000 years. These concepts have created an opportunity to ground science in a subtly new way and to place the reductionist disciplines on a spiritual path. The secret to this new position is defining god, not as something out there, but as what we are here and now, in our unconscious. Assuming the existence of god as a given in our presuppositions, and conducting our conjectures "as if" this were the case, we create the opportunity to generate a living breathing science with the warmth of love. Whether our conjectures are true or not is totally beside the point. And I know, for a fact, that what I am saying is not "true". Life and spirit are far too subtle to be represented by words. The filter of personality is too gross to translate or decipher the subtleties of experience. All that we need pay attention to is whether what we are making is 1) beautiful and 2) useful. It is by making believe that god has the same features as the human unconscious that I have been a participant in making, what I believe, is something beautiful. Whether it is useful... only time will tell.
I have described an emotional/intellectual/spiritual journey which has culminated in a novel way of looking at the world. I have endeavored to show how closely tied my personal evolution was to the growth of my ideas of species evolution. Moreover, I have described how my belief in God (Goddess) has influenced those ideas. In the end, the distinction between body, mind, and spirit is arbitrary. Yet, like the dragon herself, a composite of the serpent, the bird and the bull -- the three primary symbols of the prehistoric goddess cultures -- our ability as humans to experience the world both as individuals and as a part of the whole lets us commit to our individual dance steps while listening to the larger music that unites us all.