Musings concerning evolution, culture and religion, in relation to some of the problems in the world today
That there are evolved, genetically (DNA) laid down neurochemical mechanisms structured in the brain, which include endorphin release, that reward and encourage altruistic and cooperative behaviour.
- That these and others establish the ‘tribal’ behaviour that is essential for the safety, well-being, and contentment for all the individuals. This aspect made ‘group survival’ supersede ‘survival’ of the fittest’ individual, for the survival of the human race.
- That other evolved neurological structures give rise to language and imagination which lead to all the cultural activities that function as reinforcers of altruism and a sense of belonging.
- That these mechanisms ensured the social cohesion and the ‘safe rearing of children’of hunter-gatherer tribes over many millennia.
- That these mechanisms are only fully effective in ‘small groups’ (? Less than 300) situations, because antisocial behaviours take over with lack of contentment. With the advent of farming and population increase, other strategies have to be devised to ensure co-operation in large communities.
- That these devised systems (Religions, Laws and Politics) are failing to control the inherent egocentric antisocial behaviours of anger, greed, pride, jealously and envy, throughout the world today and are leading to many global problems that have the potential to be terminal.
1) The genetic basis for altruistic behaviour.
(In evolutionary terms, the neurolgical forerunners to bonding, that keep immature offspring close to the mother for increasingly prolonged periods of time, and govern behaviour patterns, are ‘imprinting’ (e.g.ducks), ‘attachment’ (e.g.apes) ‘herd hunting’ (e.g. lions’)
The Bonding Process
The Bonding Process arises from an extremely complex neurochemical system within the more primitive parts of the brain. It is incorporated into the autonomic nervous system, which monitors and maintains physiological homeostasis, and it is an extension of it, in that it monitors and motivates psycho-social ‘balance’ and establishes the basis for social behaviour.
The process is mainly latent at birth in the baby, and has to be activated by all the sensations that the baby experiences while being nurtured by the Mother. This is best achieved by starting with ‘Skin to Skin Touch‘ immediately after birth. Then the pleasurable sensations of taste, touch, sight and hearing stimulate the release of specific Endorphins from the cortex set up the SOCIAL NEED system. This establishes how any friendly social interaction will be a stimulus for pleasure, inducing Endorphin release, which is the basis which motivates altruism and cooperation with all other people, and ensures satisfaction and contentment.
The physiology of the Social Bonding process is extremely complex, but it starts with all the rewarding, pleasurable sensations the baby experiences being registered in the Thalamus as Needs. Links to the specific Endorphin area in the Cortex establishes friendly social experience as Social Needs. As with physical needs, they have to be constantly replenished, through interaction with other people, to feel satisfied and contented. Thus altruism and cooperation important motivators in human life. If, through a variety of negative experiences, Social Needs are not met, the alerting anxiety arousal system is activated. However, because this is the same system as for physical lacks – which have their specific alerting symptoms – there are no specific symptoms to indicate that it is Social Needs lack which is the problem.
Alongside the system for Social Needs, there are linked neural networks which establish all the positive and negative expressions and gestures that are needed for cooperative group social behaviour.
From the early establishing of Maternal Infant Bonding, the baby needs to be safely incorporated into social life by learning what behaviour brings pleasure, and what upsets others. Kind deterrence is sufficient with well bonded babies if they do anything unacceptable. Where antisocial actions do occur in infants and children it indicates that the Bonding Process has not been fully implemented. Attempts to correct the problems with punishment are never effective in improving things. Having extra cuddles and safe, inclusive social interaction with other infants and their mothers is the best solution.
These evolved processes have changed the mechanism for the ensured the success of humans on the planet. Instead of Survival of the Fittest Individuals, Altruism in cohesive Groups takes over as the main mechanism for the Survival of the Species.
Tribalism is the default human condition, and some 40,000 years ago, when Modern Man emerged, the planet was a dangerous place and the necessities for life were sparce. The DNA, evolved from apes and hominids, extended the coding beyond the established Maternal Infant Bonding to ensure that individuals would live together in friendly and cooperative groups. To this day, when a group of people gather for a purpose, individuals enjoy a sense of belonging, collude with each other and cooperate to establish norms and rules and appropriate behaviour, and let leaders emerge. Membership of a group provides every individual with a rewarding sense of belonging and feeling valued, and these pleasures become established as ‘Social Needs’ which are as essential to life as those of Maternal Infant Bonding. All established groups are wary, and often hostile to members of other groups, and towards individuals who try to intrude and do nor appear to have the right credentials.
In modern life people will be members of many groups concurrently. They may be as small as ‘the family’ or as large as ‘the nation’ and can be defined as ‘formal’ or ‘informal’.
The Formal Groups have a stated purpose, appointed leaders, rules and sanctions. Members are there by stated circumstance and they may gain, and need, some pleasure from ‘belonging’, but the main reward is likely to be money or status, which do not meet Social Needs.
Informal Groups can be as small as a ‘gang’ in the playground, or as large as a supporters crowd at a football match, but they all exist to generate a sense of belonging and friendship. There will be differences in the degree of the strength of cohesion in small groups, and the amount of time they take up, but roles, rules and strategies emerge, which generate the sense of friendship and belonging, which is expressed as loyalty and pride.
Because group membership is so important for peoples welfare, there is a remnant of DNA in our subconscious current evolved coding, which continues to regard ‘others’ as potentially dangerous. This has to be consciously overcome to fit in with current concepts.
Alongside the imprinted socialising strategies, various neural structures were laid down in the cortex, which allowed for enhanced communication, through language, abstract thought and imagination, enabling increased sociability.
Complex language was a very important aspect of human evolution. It enabled singing, dancing, story-telling, painting, and sculpting which provided shared enjoyment. Conceptual thinking and imagination provided the impetus to ‘make sense’ of their lives and surroundings. Because of this they developed myths and concepts which made the ‘Great Unknown’ less threatening, and added considerably to the enhanced, emotionally rewarding pleasure which maintains and increases Tribal Cohesion.
From the early beginnings Hunter Gatherer tribes proliferated and spread throughout the world, but the well-being of each tribe was dependent on the number of individuals being restricted in number. The socialising process of Bonding is only effective if all the members know each other intimately. They have to pick up all the language of expression, gesture and speech, and the rules and taboos, which monitor and reward – or punish – ‘belonging’ to the tribe. When tribes became too big, this does not happen, so a small ‘community’ of the tribe would move away and set up on their own wanderings. (This strategy must have been imprinted in the DNA) This process continued through many millenia, and tribes settled all around the planet. Eventually the planet warmed up enough for plant life to proliferate, and the Hunter Gatherer tribes learnt to ‘cultivate’ them, and could settle.
This meant, among other things, that they had ‘time on their hands’, and what should they do with it? Looking back it seems they had more babies, because populations increased. Because they had settled, the genetic impulse for some members to move on, did not seem necessary, so the size of the tribe grew, and the Bonding strategies that enforced cohesion failed to be fully effective for all the individuals, Since that time, the numbers of people on the planet is increasing exponentially, which limits the formation of small enough ‘groups’ where individuals can spend enough of their time to meet their Social Needs.
It is these failures that are leading to increased disorders of mental health, and criminal behaviour in individuals, and serious conflict between communities throughout the world.
(Last edited Jan 2017)