Discover more from Harvard to The Big House - Straight to Your House
parte tres - soñadoras desde las montañas - dreamers down from the mountains
Place your hand on the past and learn what ancient fishes can teach us about the meaning of True Love, and why we've always been much closer to each other than we've been allowed to think.
Death still prowls the South American jungles, where some of the last traces of magic in our modern world can still flicker to life from the corners of watchful eyes. Especially within a vast region known as the Guiana Shield, where one of the last lungs Gaia has left stretches across a massive swath of South America, where the enchanting soaring tepuis were forever immortalized within the movie Up! Inexplicably elevated but entirely flat mountains towering high above the dank canopies of cloud forests below, thought - as mountains nearly always are - to house the gods.
But far below the safety of these heights, death once took many forms, and often still does for those unlucky enough to wander into its lush and unrelenting embrace: If simple exposure doesn’t kill you as all the vital salts are relentlessly leached out of your body, heat exhaustion might step in to help finish the job. Because there might be plenty of jungle vines full of water, but that doesn’t mean they’ll carry all the trace salts and minerals needed to replace the ones that already gushed out of your body miles back.
And those small bites from nearly-invisible flying fiends, the more you scratch them, the better the odds a deadly jungle fungus will jump into your bloodstream and slowly begin consuming you from the inside - parasitized by local plants for all intents and purposes.
However for the native peoples who learned to tame the sun and the bugs, to strike a harmony within Gaia’s sweatiest and angriest armpit, this is not the Death they fear.
Their worst fears were depicted within the caves and grottos deep within the canopy-carpeted mountains, known as the Echoes of Silence to locals, but as Chiribiquete National Park to today’s Colombians, where the over 75,000 pictographic rock-art depictions are the largest collection of its kind anywhere in the world.
These ochre-frozen moments display a vast collection of local fauna, from shamanic mastodons to hand-crafted capybara, and everything that slithers, hops, and flies in between. And much like their cousins way across a very big pond who left flickering images of the cavebears, direwolves, and sabretoothed nightmares that prowled their dreams - Here within the deepest corners of the Guiana Shield a more tropical version of the same sabretoothed nightmares that haunted Eurasia also prowled, waiting to help more souls along on their way into the afterlife.
Like many other animals, large cats managed to inhabit much of the globe before humanity got a firm grip on the civilizations which eventually drove them into extinction within many of their old habitats. And just like convergent evolution - when nature’s challenges are mirrored within geographically distinct ecological niches, resulting in similarly mirrored genetic changes within various distant and distinct species’ DNA because they’re living in distant but similar environments - led to a large predatory feline form becoming a dominant alpha predator for long periods of time across vast swaths of Asia, Europe, Africa, as well as North and South America - so too did our brains adapt in parallel all across the world, no matter the distance we traveled from our shared home atop the Roof of the World.
Separated by countless miles and impassable crags and oceans, but still united as a people by the shared altitudinal ancestry of our once-home high up above the clouds, by another bridge that Science wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But instead of an intergalactic one, a temporal genetic one that unites all humanity because of our shared time on the Roof of the World, a unique ecological niche.
The metaphor isn’t perfect, but in a sense: Just like everyone zipping along in an airplane way up in the sky shares a tiny bit of time travel together, our time together on the Roof of the World forever bound humanity together as a species more profoundly than you ever could’ve possibly imagined. After all, our lives are not our own, and from womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And with each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.
The Roof of the World was where we became the Hairless Apes in the first place: Losing our hair after going far enough through the Doorway to the Deep as the roiling plateau pushed up through the clouds, into a similar lower-oxygen environment as the one that exists deep below the waves. Convergent evolution means that genetic ancestry becomes far more interesting than simple linear heritage, and that it still makes complete sense for us to consider someone on the opposite side of the globe whose family we haven’t seen in over two-million years our neighbor - still right next to us, even if they don’t appear to be.
Even our Neanderthal cousins who were left behind and never made it onto the roof of the world could still interbreed with the Hamrcas after their descent, which isn't surprising considering that most of the genetic differences between us are incredibly subtle, like the one that helps explain how we know Neanderthals never made it up onto the Tibetan Plateau: Our brains differ from theirs by just one base-pair within an important protein-coding gene that’s very active in mammalian brains, called TKTL1. And this gene is directly responsible not only for changing the function and organization of the layers of our frontals lobes and especially our neocortex, which helped differentiate us from apes, but also helps with the hypoxia that occurred at elevated altitudes: TKTL1 also allows survival in the absence of oxygen (hypoxia). This protective program is triggered, for example, in the event of a ruptured blood vessel and a resulting oxygen deficiency. TKTL1 controls this hypoxia program, which allows cell survival in the absence of oxygen by fermenting glucose into lactic acid.
So as the Roof of the World slowly pushed up into the skies, it pushed us ever so slowly farther from our earth-bound ancestors, forcing this slight change in brain metabolism to further help our ancestors acclimate to lower-oxygen life at altitude also opened the door to our singular intelligence. A door that was pushed even further open by another metabolic change, as our Hamrcas began to process a specific protein - glutathione reductase - more efficiently than Neanderthals, which would have provided additional protection from the increased exposure to free radicals that occurs at higher altitudes. And so after the dreamers came back down from the mountains, we weren’t a different species from the Neanderthal cousins we’d left behind, however our brains and bodies were optimized by the hypoxic environment quite a bit more than theirs, allowing us to spread our culture all across the globe following our descent from the Roof of the World following the Yellowstone Caldera’s cataclysm of 2.1mya.
And so after scrambling down from our ancestral home, humanity began to differentiate into today’s multi-hued tapestry of skin colors and slightly different skeletal structures, interbreeding with the various hominid populations left behind and then going through localized adaptations just like the dogs we brought along with us. As around 2mya they too began to exhibit different and distinctive morphological features, especially in tooth-structure and skull-shape, where modern humans also display distinct regional variations in the present-day. But despite these superficial differences, the cave-paintings found all across Europe’s caves carry an unmistakable resemblance to the ones found in even greater numbers across the Americas, and throughout Asia and Africa as well. In all cases ochre, useful as both sunblock and insect repellent, was applied by entire flared handprints as well as by careful fingerstrokes to depict events that appear to be a blend of the Hunt and the Feast. Whatever is being depicted, there is clearly a profound religious and awestruck significance to the crimson images.
And whether it was these ancient pictographs in modern-day Colombia, the ones found a bit farther north atop the Colorado Plateau where the Pueblo Peoples left their own marks, or even all the way back in Tibet where the very first finger-paintings may have been left over 200,000 years ago by some kid - arguably the very first cave art in the world found right where we started - there’s always the ubiquitous flared handprint found as an artistic template, slapping someone’s existence into eternity.
However even though you might’ve made something fairly similar to this in kindergarten as a gift for your parents at some point, it's tough to make revolutionary arguments about genetic evolution via art criticism of what’s functionally finger-painting, and large felines have been and are still found all across the globe - so neither of those two elements really offer too much more to the story. For that, we’ll have to return to an old adversary, humanity’s oldest foe throughout all of our shared mythologies.
Because whether you’re some dude contemplating an apple or Indiana Jones himself, there’s one incredibly powerful creature you know to be careful about getting too close to, since it’s always been respected as one of the most influential and knowledgeable creatures in existence - ever since we were forced into much more interaction them around the geothermal pools that sustained both species in the Long Winter that followed the Yellowstone Caldera’s explosion.
Much like large predatory felines, the serpentine approach to adaptation has proved incredibly durable - even more so when you consider that snakes have been around for roughly 100 millions years, whereas cats only showed up about 25mya.
And over the course of these 100 million years, snakes have managed to swim, crawl, climb, and although they can’t legally fly - much to the surprise of Samuel L. Jackson - they can glide for fairly impressive distances, appearing to slither across the skies when seeking safety. However other than keep warm without an outside heat source like the sun or geothermal vents when it goes missing, another thing they can’t and don’t do is cover incredible distances over land, and migrate from one ecosystem to another.
Given their very personal full-body approach to locomotion, snakes are stuck near where they hatch for the most part, and although they might be hard to find hidden within their natural habitat, many species can reliably be found only in very discrete and specific ecological niches.
And it turns out that one particularly remarkable and very discrete family of snake is found in only two places on Earth: the Tibetan Plateau, and then also high up in the plateaus of the South American tropics.
These locations are separated by some 10,000 miles, making them on nearly exact opposite sides of the globe as each other, and the two subfamilies of snakes inhabiting their two hot springs are classically thought to have diverged somewhere in the neighborhood of 28mya - even before felines emerges as a discrete species at all. Up on the Roofs of the World, the two slithery species are known as Thermophis baileyi and Thermophis zhaoermii, different version of “heat snake” with the moniker of the preeminent Western and Asian herpetologists who discovered them tacked-on the ends of each.
Over in the high-altitude cloud forests of South America, there are far more discrete flavors of heat-snake, roughly 500, but all of them fall within the subfamily of Xenodontinae snakes, which are found all across the Guiana Shield within the same elevated and tropical environment as the one offered by the Roof of the World - A nearly identical niche combining nearby rivers, low sulfur, and of course: high elevation.
At this point scientists generally just point to this kind of thing as one of those strange unexpected wonders of nature, the fact that one variant of snake somehow manages to have its closest living relative on the literal opposite side of the globe as where its found - without examining just how extraordinarily screwy this really is when you draw the accepted evolutionary science out to all of its logical conclusions.
However there’s another example that serves as an even starker example of the same principles being turned on their collective heads: Despite being separated by an absolutely preposterous 184 million years of evolution and being found on different sides of the Earth today, the Russian sturgeon and the American paddlefish have no trouble at all conceiving some of the most improbable offspring you’ll find outside of a Nazarean manger.
This discovery was entirely accidental, Hungarian scientists were attempting to trigger asexual reproduction within the Russian sturgeon, hoping to use the American paddlefish sperm only as molecular trigger for their unholy caviar-producing experiment - when, lo and behold, these would-be virgin eggs became unexpectedly fertile and the scientists found themselves with about 100 viable but supposedly impossible individuals.
Impossible in the sense that nothing about these fairly messianic fish fits within the classically accepted temporal evolutionary framework: Evolution is supposed to be regulated by the predictable ticking of a “molecular clock” that counts off mutations as they regularly emerge from one generation to the next. And as this clock ticks regularly and predictably away, these mutations are thought to emerge “neutrally,” in the sense that it's roughly a coin-flip as to whether each change will be beneficial or deleterious to the next generation - or most often, appear to do nothing at all.
Whether or not a population is spreading happily across its ecosystem or being challenged and dying-off, this molecular clock is thought to tick regularly away in the background, giving scientists a universal molecular method to estimate how far apart any two or more species are thought to be as distinct mutations accumulate independently in each branch, whether they’re bunches of fungus or just some fun guys.
And so whether or not these “neutral” mutations affect a species much, they’re still thought to accumulate over time, eventually leading to a new species once either enough time or distance separates an original founding population from its future populations. It’s this broken assumption that’s mistakenly inspired the “Out of Africa” theory of human origins, since there’s so much more genetic diversity within Africa compared to the rest of the world, the theory is that this diversity represents an extended amount of time that humanity’s been only within the African continent - more diversity is erroneous equated with more time. This assumption entirely ignores that the diversity isn’t evenly distributed, and is concentrated within regions that regulate our immune systems - so that diversity doesn’t represent time ticking away in the background, but instead the larger toolbox that’s always needed to fight off Africa’s vast interconnected cornucopia of tropical threats to the human immune systems.
Given enough time, enough distance, or enough of both - all life on earth is thought to differentiate and change due to that molecular clock ticking regularly and relentlessly away, and in the process lose the ability to interbreed with its ancient relatives, since with enough time, separation into discrete species is thought to be inevitable.
Had thought to be.
Because with their miraculous mating, those ancient fishes form another impossible bridge that Science says can’t exist at all, and are demonstrating many things - including, perhaps surprisingly, the ultimate demonstration of what True Love really means for all life on Earth.
Love at first sight. A feeling of fate, destiny, of Meant To Be.
We’ve all been there, enthralled by a sense that in someone else we’ve found a missing piece of ourselves. From the time we’re kids, we’re told that this is the most wonderful compulsion in the world, that we should all be so lucky to have love sweep into our lives and wash away all of our fears and hesitations with its tempestuous embrace.
And yet, like all things, love too has a hidden side that we’d rather tell ourselves isn’t really there at all. But confronting it isn’t a simple matter, because that requires admitting to yourself that there’s an insidious stranger who haunts your dreams and influences the choices you make and beliefs you hold in ways you’d rather not think about too much.
Since all of us would like to think that the choices we make are very much our own, that although our moral compass may at least partially be a biological construction, choosing whether or not to follow it - or who to fall in love with - is still the reasoned product of our own carefully applied free will, and a direct reflection of our unshakable individuality.
But it turns out that not only are our minds inevitably influenced by the behavior of those around us, but that Reason has much less than we’d like to think to do with our decisions: Our choices are far more tied to the most primitive emotional parts of our brains than our conscious awareness would like us to think. And perhaps there’s no better way to demonstrate this than by looking at patients with damage to an oblong tangerine-sized region of our brains just behind and above the bridge of our nose, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Enough damage to this region can drop your emotional function to zero, meaning you could “look at the most joyous or gruesome photographs and feel nothing.” Which also means that although you’d still be able to answer abstract questions about morality in others’ lives, in the sense of filling in the blank of a social equation, in your own personal life your decisions become so amoral or foolish that you alienate your loved ones, lose your job, and your entire life falls apart.
This, inevitably, led the neuroscientists who noticed these changes to conclude that “gut feelings and bodily reactions were necessary to think rationally” and that without the emotions produced by a functioning ventromedial prefrontal cortex it’s impossible for us to integrate these gut feelings with conscious thought. So without this region of the brain working properly “every option at every moment felt as good as every other.” As it turns out, it’s this most primitive, instinctual, split-second region of our brains that leads the charge into decision-making.
And so “moral reasoning is mostly just a post ad hoc search for reasons to justify the judgments people had already made,” meaning that by the time you notice yourself weighing options and thinking about the best path, you’ve really already decided subconsciously and emotionally, and are just spinning excuses and justifications to yourself.
So if you continually put yourself in emotionally-charged situations, it’ll only be a matter of time before this elephant of subconscious emotional desire shifts beneath you and takes a step down a path that can ruin your life and the lives of those around you. And it’s always this dominating emotional elephant of rapid instinctive moral judgments that’s in control, the best that the contemplative reasoning rider on top of this primal beast can do is to come up with rationalizations after the elephant has sated its desires.
Sometimes these desires are perfectly healthy for ourselves and the society around us, at other times they leave feelings and lives trampled behind. Which means that although the rider can do his best to look into the future in an attempt to steer the elephant down the best path, more often than not he’s left trying to serve as the elephant’s spokesperson without really knowing what the elephant is thinking and “fabricating post ad hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done” while justifying whatever course it feels like taking next.
Turns out, “reason is the servant of the intuitions. The rider was put there in the first place to serve the elephant.” This tension between our emotions and our thoughts defines human cognition in many ways, it’s determined by the underlying neurobiology and then manifests in many ways: Sometimes as a stranger who sometimes seems to visit us in our dreams, who we’ll meet soon.
But many times simply as the irrationality that seems to define so much of our behavior, as we sleepwalk from one mistake to the next despite all the warning signs.
And although this irrationality is nearly impossible to pluck out of our own lives, or even identify in the lives of those we hold close, taking a wider look at social forces makes it abundantly clear just how firm of a grasp this collective irrationality in fact has on so many endeavors that require groups of humans to agree on a shared reality together, without ending up at each other’s throats.
And so the good news is that humans seem to be wired to function as members of a group, and that this membership and the feelings of belong it entails occurs – in the purest sense of the word – naturally throughout American society.
We find it holding our families, surrounded by our friends, laughing in our classrooms, and as athletes huddled together with our teammates and coaches. And this entire instinctual debate between our emotions and rationality within our brains can actually be seen in black and white too, as neuro-imaging has shown that humans have “emotional biases toward cooperation that can only be overcome with effortful cognitive control.”
This sense of cooperative belonging permeates everything that is good in our lives, and is all-too easy to take for granted if we never take the time to look at the path we’ve worn and notice how much help – from shoelaces and sandwich crusts, to pep-talks and wind-sprints – we’ve relied upon along the way.
Because not only are none of us islands, but in a very real sense there’s no way to understand your own individuality unless it's within the framework of interacting with others, and society at large as we get older and our perceptions and preferences emerge. Whether we like it or not, we are forever connected not only to every other human population by the temporal bridge that links us back in time to our collective beginning on the Roof of the World, but also in a very immediate sense to each and every soul we can see around us.
And even before we could document these neurological underpinnings, many decades ago, Jean Piaget - widely considered the greatest developmental psychologist of all time - recognized that social ideals such as fairness seemed to be somehow rooted in our inherent biological wiring: It wasn’t until age five or six that children begin to recognize fairness, as captured by their behavior playing marbles and other games in his lab. Piaget’s experiments and observations introduced the idea that human morality somehow develops alongside our physical body as we get older, since it’s impossible for children to grasp certain moral concepts until they reach a given age.
His research was expanded upon by another giant in the field, Lawrence Kohlberg, who codified Piaget’s insights into a six-stage progression in moral reasoning, stages that could only be reached at discrete ages. So while three-year old humans never grasp the concept of fairness no matter how you try to explain or teach it to them, five and six year-olds readily grasp it after having it explained to them and playing a few games together where they can demonstrate it – illustrating that the human brain has to hit a certain age before its ready to contemplate moral issues.
But maybe more curiously, in recent years careful experimentation has shown that chimps, bonobos, and other mammals even lower on the evolutionary ladder than us seem to display an inherent, biological sense of fairness as well:
Primates will happily perform a task for cucumber slices until they see others getting grapes, which taste so much better. The cucumber eaters become agitated, throw down their veggies, and go on strike. A perfectly fine food has become unpalatable as a result of seeing a companion get something better.
We labeled it inequity aversion, a topic since investigated in other animals, including dogs. A dog will repeatedly perform a trick without rewards, but refuse as soon as another dog gets a piece of sausage for the same trick.
And as the only primatologist to make Time‘s list of 100 Most Influential People, Frans De Waal, narrates in The Bonobo and the Atheist, moral behavior in lower primates goes far beyond simple fairness. Instances of abundant, soulful altruism abound in primatology. There’s Azalea, a rhesus monkey with the ape equivalent of Down Syndrome who not only spent her entire life being lovingly tended to by her troop but could break about every rhesus rule there was, going as far as clumsily threatening the troop’s alpha male, without any sort of repercussion from her normally highly socially-regimented species.
Then there’s Mozu, a Japanese macaque who was born with neither hands nor feet. While her troop swung high above her in the branches, Mozu would plod along through the snow below following them. However she was far from left behind by her extended family, as she mothered and raised five offspring – with, of course, a little help from her friends.
Chimps have often been observed not only to make tools for their own use, but to make them for friends to use after they’ve eaten their full - as well as to actively mourn for those friends after they die. So as primates we humans are far less unique than we once thought when it comes to getting by only with a little help from our friends, and looking out for others even when we don’t directly benefit at all from it.
All of this apparent altruism would seem to point to something unique in primate neurology, and in the late nineties that’s precisely what a team of Italian researchers found: simply watching another monkey perform an action would cause some of the neurons in the observing monkey’s brain responsible for performing that same action to fire, meaning that those brains cells were “adopting the other animal’s point of view … and were for all intents and purposes reading the other monkey’s mind.”
So it is these mirror neurons which allow you to place yourself in other’s shoes, and which “enable you to imitate the movements of others, thereby setting the stage for the cultural ‘inheritance’ of skills developed and honed by others.”
These mirror neurons also fire when you, or any other primate, watches something happening to someone else - and it’s only because your brain checks in with nerve cells on that part of your body to make sure no physical contact is actually occurring that you don’t literally feel another’s pain. However, as exposure to a home video depicting someone getting drilled in the nuts by a wayward football can illustrate: sometimes that feedback loop is at least partially overridden. And so the implications for empathy and all social behaviors are profound:
Anytime you watch someone doing something, the neurons that your brain would use to do the same thing become active – as if you yourself were doing it. If you see a person being poked with a needle, your pain neurons fire away as though you were being poked. It is utterly fascinating, and it raises some interesting questions. What prevents you from blindly imitating every action you see? Or from literally feeling someone else’s pain?
In the case of motor mirror neurons, one answer is that there may be … inhibitory circuits that suppress the automatic mimicry when it is inappropriate. In a delicious paradox, this need to inhibit unwanted or impulsive action may have been a major reason for the evolution of free will. [You] constantly conjure up vivid images of multiple options for actions that are available in any given context, and your frontal cortex suppresses all but one of them. Thus it has been suggested that “free won’t” may be a better term than “free will.”
Humanity is wired for collective behavior by these neurological circuits, on some level our mirror neurons are driving our consciousness to merge with everyone around us and require an inhibitory neurological buffer to keep this from happening - perhaps sometimes manifesting as that disembodied stranger who seems like part of us, but somehow not really.
As the late, legendary maverick biologist E.O. Wilson first argued a generation ago, even insects can be said to exhibit the same sort of altruistic “eusociality” that binds human and other primate societies together. However as wonderfully complex and coordinated as social insect behavior can be, and as much data can be encoded in the quantum wiggles of a bee’s bootie - we relatively hairless apes and our brethren are able to coordinate and channel our collective actions in ways that surpass our multi-legged friends in many ways - aided by the mirror neurons that accelerate the learning process by wiring collective mimicry into our unconscious minds.
Due to the complexity of this encoded action, hominids have managed to permanently alter their surrounding environment in ways that no species ever has, passing along skills refined using those mirror neurons to establish culture - in the sense of repetitive behavior that’s passed from one generation to the next.
First using concussive impact courtesy of our opposable thumbs and stone tools to leave indelible marks on the geological record that can be dated with some accuracy to several distinct epochs which are marked by rock-chipping technological leaps that seemed to spread across the entire planet almost instantaneously, as knappy adaptations to increasingly challenging environments. This tool usage started with the Oldawan era, beginning right as one climatic period was transitioning into another about 2.6mya, the same era that the invitingly humid Pliocene transitioned into the colder challenges of the Pleistocene.
A transition which was also marked with a geomagnetic pole reversal that would’ve stripped the Earth of her protective magnetic shell among other things, making humanity nearly helpless against the effects of a nearby supernova that bathed the entire planet in galactic cosmic rays - of course with mutagenic effects.
And so the first era of human tool-use runs from about 2.6mya until roughly 1.7mya, when the oldest Oldawan era transitioned into the Acheulean - marked by stone tools that were crafted with wood and antler instead of just other rocks and required far more planning, practice, and precision to create and which held a far sturdier and more symmetrical edge. To make this transition it appears like our ancestors may have needed to upgrade their thumbs a bit, since along with so much else that marks our unique humanity - modern thumbs also first appear roughly 2mya, in the middle of the Oldawan. They were likely slowly selected for by the mastery of Oldawan tools, tools that became necessary right as the cooler Pleistocene Era’s glaciation started up - as both the Oldawan era of tool use and the Pleistocene geological period began at the same time a bit prior to that, 2.6mya.
So following that supernova and geomagnetic reversal of 2.6mya which effected every hominid on earth and kicked-off the start of the Pleistocene’s Ice Age, it was our Hamrcas continued time on the ever-rising Roof of the World pushing our brains further through the Doorway to the Deep that made evolutionary room for our modern brains. It was also here on the Tibetan Plateau that the Achulean era may have actually begun, since although these tool don’t show up in the fossil record until about 1.7mya, like everything else up there the geothermic activity would’ve erased all traces long ago.
And so after Yellowstone’s eruption about 2.1mya, our Hamrcas would’ve fled the Tibetan Plateau and spread back out across the rest of planet, carrying their Achulean tools and merging back with and interbreeding with the Oldawan-only populations over the course of the next two-million years, and creating the muddled mess of hominid fossils which anthropologists have mistakenly attempted to create a linear narrative out of. Since as it turns out, “there was not a simple linear progression towards later sapiens morphology, and there was chronological overlap between different ‘archaic’ and ‘modern’ [forms].”
Meaning our modernity can be traced all the way back to the Achulean technology that shows up about 1.7mya, as brain-scans demonstrate that “humanlike” thinking integrating multiple regions of the brain is necessary to make Achulean, but not Oldawan tools. Additionally, the argument that modern ways of thinking emerged alongside the Achulean is further bulwarked by analysis done on the braincases of our most ancient ancestors, which were able “to narrow down the time range within which modern brain structures evolved to between 1.7 million and 1.5 million years ago.”
Another line of hard evidence also point to something unique happening to humans around 2mya: The fact that the earliest form of core-and-flake stone tools have been found not in Africa but instead in east Asia and dated back to around 2mya, then this simplest form of the technology was then found in Georgia about 1.7mya, and finally in southern Italy roughly 1.4mya - consistent with early modern humans radiating away from the Tibetan Plateau following the Yellowstone Caldera’s cataclysm of 2.1mya.
Then over one-million years later, equipped with modern brains capable of modern thoughts, came the transition to a third even-more complex era of tool-usage, hallmarked by the even more complicated Levallois Technique, which emerged roughly 300,000ya - just a bit after humanity seemed to collectively manage to sustain fiery hearths for the first time all across the globe, at roughly the same time everywhere on the planet.
All of these early epochs seemed to have emerged and then mutated almost instantaneously across the face of the entire planet, a phenomenon that’s generally explained by very promiscuous “cultural transmission,” or the idea that beneficial ideas nucleated at only one point before spreading across early human populations, and so these stone-making techniques would’ve simply been passed along, tribe-to-tribe all across the face of the earth, just about as soon as they emerged.
However this framework of “cultural transmission” makes just as little sense as the concept of persistence hunting, and is a narrative that’s been falsely strung along because it bulwarks the underlying linear nature of the accepted genetic theory, the Neutral Theory with its regularly ticking clock, that’s generally accepted to run alongside all of this.
Luckily for us, the faulty assumptions underpinning all of this are easily revealed, as soon as you remember that not only birds and bees, but also hundred million year old fishes get to do it too. Because Love knows many things, including that when it’s all said and done - age really is just a number.
Multiple anthropological enigmas stretch across the Americas, especially within the region called the Colorado Plateau, which is centered on the Four Corners intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Not coincidentally, the average elevation on top of these mesas is a lot closer to the Roof of the World than any other contiguous habitable region in North America, and there are peaks which reach up to the same elevations.
And curiously there’s also a linguistic enigma, since the extant Americans found there today, generally known under the umbrella of the Pueblo Peoples on top of the Colorado Plateau although they all have their own names for themselves and often each other, speak four entirely different languages. Not just different dialects, but languages from distinct families that are entirely mutually incomprehensible and don’t seem to ever to have shared a root at all - as if they were speaking Chinese, Arabic, Dutch, and Navajo all on top of the same relatively small dusty mesa by four closely related families of people.
This kind of extensive linguistic differentiation should underlie vast amounts of genetic separation, one of the more predictable findings in modern anthropology has been the unity of linguistic and genetic heritage, as the two seem to evolve intertwined with each other.
And so the existence of four entirely different linguistic families all atop the same plateau should speak to many thousands of years of separate evolution during a very long paralleled past, but today these modern Puebloans don’t seem terribly genetically distinct from each other at all. However like everything else that’s inexplicable in the Americas, scientists have largely just shrugged at this temporal linguistic enigma and moved on, acting as if the biological clock they use for everything else isn’t really obviously having an issue.
Here on the Colorado Plateau you can find everything from Anasazi granaries inexplicably found hundreds of feet up steep cliffs, appearing to emerge out of the middle of mountains - to the bizarre teosinte corn, which magically re-domesticates itself under ancient environmental conditions from many thousands of years ago.
And yet these enigmas can be unlocked with the exact same key, whose outline is revealed once you understand the impossible love story of fishes separated by over 100 million years, and the convergent emergence of heat-snakes high up in two different hills - nearly on totally opposite ends of the globe from each other.
If you examine evolution from the classical linear view, the regular ticking of the molecular clock regularly throws off mutations whose effects on the whole are said to be neutral - neither adaptive nor deleterious. And life would appear to flow as a current that branches-off into discrete rivers that split from each other after a bit of overlap, flowing separately forward in time away from each other, from the past moment of assumed divergence.
However under this model, our messianic sturgeon simply cannot exist - their parents are supposed to be separated by over 100 million years of evolution and half the ocean, and so during this time their molecular clocks should’ve been ticking away, inevitably separating each species with far too much distance for simple misplaced piscine love to overcome. Just a few dozen generations is generally plenty of time to allow speciation, and so for several orders of magnitude more time than that to have passed and offspring to still emerge - it simply shatters that theoretical framework.
Heat-snakes help us understand why, since their habitats are far more complex than sturgeon, who just need deep dark seas and enough prey coming in on the current.
Natural selection is fundamentally about the interplay between a given environment and whatever life finds itself there. If that life is plant-based, it’ll use photosynthesis to create energy, which means the familiar branches, stalks, and leaves that are found in a wide kaleidoscope of fractal arrays within our flora to soak up the sun’s rays. And so plant life colonizing an environment always takes the same familiar shape, and assuming there’s enough rainfall and sun, tree-shaped plants are found growing on top of nearly the entire globe.
And much like our star-crossed sturgeon inhabiting the unchanging depths of the seas using a fish-based solution to fill in the environmental niches that are offered, which haven’t much changed in 100 millions years, trees have been around pretty much in their current model for about 350 million years. Just like undersea fishes, their genomes figured out how to fill the niche being offered a very, very long time ago - and so although mutation may not have technically stopped, in the case of the two sturgeon species it's clear it stopped being meaningful many, many millions of years ago.
In the case of our two geographically isolated communities of heat-snakes, one in the middle of Asia the other almost halfway across the globe in South America, the classical way to describe their relationship is that they last “shared a common ancestor” about 28mya.
But how exactly would you get this assumed genetic tree to fit given the geographic realities? What exactly has been going on over the past 28 million years with each population and variant of snake: Where were they, and when were they there, exactly?
Even tens of millions of years ago Asia and South America were still separated by a vast ocean, the idea of a “common” ancestor means being able to trace their existence back to an actual interbreeding ancestral population that was living somewhere on earth. Where could this ancient original granddaddy heat-snake species have possibly lived?
There’s no way for the species to have migrated from one continent to another while maintaining the mutations that acclimate heat-snakes to their unique niche, and there’s no halfway point that makes any sense - mutations acclimating them to high-altitude would be lost for instance, not to mention ones necessitating their proximity to reliable heat sources even at night. They’d have to travel back and forth through multiple different environmental zones to reach each other - any sort of “shared” ancestry is an illusion.
Accepting the classical view of evolution requires ignoring everything except the genetic evidence - since when you combine the genetic evidence with the reality on the ground, the Neutral Theory of evolution immediately falls apart.
In the case of the timeless love between fishes, even 100 million years of the molecular clock ticking away failed to change much since it didn’t have to - dark undersea regions have reliably been found over the past many billions of years, only changing slowly as currents shifted over the course of geologic time. And in the same way, even though many human populations have been separated from each other by two million years, interbreeding isn’t an issue because we’ve retained the same high-altitude adaptations that define our lineage.
Once life complexified enough for nature to find the fishy form, it spread everywhere there was ocean, and subsequently changed to meet the challenges of different depths and proximity to certain latitudes and the sometimes need to migrate. However once it found a solution to a given environment, which in the case of both our messianic fish’s parents was about 100mya, it no longer needed to change much. And although the molecular clock didn’t technically stop, it certainly stopped counting any sort of meaningful change.
In the same way, after emerging roughly 100mya, the snakey form managed to wriggle itself everywhere there was land, soon populating all but the very harshest terrestrial habitats, and eventually many aquatic and arboreal ones as well. And just a few million years ago, as the Tibetan Plateau began to rise from the geothermal heat beneath, the snakes found there began to make their way down the same evolutionary path taken by the heat-snakes in South America - relatives they hadn’t had any connection to at all until height begin to rise up as a shared variable.
And it doesn’t particularly matter whether the heat-snake form emerged first in South America or on the Tibetan Plateau, the two communities aren’t really relatives so much as inarguable examples of convergent evolution: Heat-snakes are Nature’s answer to how a snake adapts to high-altitude, low sulfur, and abundant geothermal springs.
This concept, of convergent evolution and its effect on phylogeny, is one of the most overlooked in the zoological sciences. In addition to explaining why both humans and cetaceans become hairless after being exposed to low oxygen environments, it provides the framework that caused life to organize in the first place: The first step towards complex life, of moving from single-cell existence to multicellular, happened at least 20 different times, in convergent moments of complexity all across the early seas - as Life realized that cells had a much better chance of surviving teamed up into codependent lumps like your in-laws, rather than off on their own.
Not only did convergent evolution begin to complexify life in the first place, it’s emerged again and again to demonstrate that understanding evolution isn’t a matter of linear genetic change, but instead of Life “finding” the optimal strategy for repeated problems and applying it everywhere the problem occurs, as variants of overlapping species fill related ecological niches.
Starting with one of the simplest forms of organized life, even yeast colonies display widespread convergence throughout their genomes, even over 10,000 generations of change - pumping out countless variants all searching similar pathways for similar solutions to achieve the highest fitness. And a simple mechanical example of convergence is the fact that three distinct undersea species separated by about 550 million years of evolution all convergently figured out how to swim using the same patterns using their fins to maximize underwater speed.
More complex than motion is adaptation to an aquatic environment, a study of over a dozen different mammalian species across two separate families showed all of them convergently adapted to aquatic life as genes regulating everything from vascular development to body composition evolved in almost the exact same patterns across all the underwater species studied despite all their other biological differences.
Another watery example links us all the way back to our fishy forbearers: Humans were thought to have inherited their complex four-nerve ocular set-up at the end of a long evolutionary chain, after it first showed up in the four-legged tetrapod lineage way back when. However even 100 million-years before that lineage began, it turns out some ultra-ancient fish had already arrived at this solution - Tetrapods simply found it again convergently many millions of years later, a variation of the exact same theme.
And the fundamental importance of convergence was displayed when critters first had to trigger the original Master Switch of Life that would later help make us hairless, and turn that terrestrial Switch on in the first place: Over 30 distinct families of fishes have all managed to convergently make their way from their underwater homes to working on their tans, using the same mutational patterns in the same genes across all these piscine variants as they were convergently attempting to make their way onto dry land - evolving from fish to proto land-animals.
This transition, to life on dry land, also provides one final convergent example to tie all life even more closely together on the way though the Doorway to the Deep: The entire tetrapod lineage, everything four-limbed walking around the ground, all adapted to use the same hormone to communicate thirst throughout their bodies as all amphibious fish do as they slowly learn to adapt to dry land - something that’s happened over 30 times, in countless convergent mutational events spanning the epochs from millions of years ago up until the present day.
So although you may well have to go back 100 million years, back to the original emergence of the snake form, to find the last time the two ancestral populations which seeded the two heat-snake communities were in fact interbreeding with each other and functionally related, a much more parsimonious explanation than shared heritage is simply that each time snakes encountered the hot-spring habitat, they evolved convergently to fit in - regardless of timelines or past ancestors. Because there’s no way at all for snake genetic material to flow from South America to the Tibetan Plateau, and so the concept of a shared ancestor between the two communities simply doesn’t make any practical sense at all - they’re just variants that found the same evolutionary solution to the same niche.
And in the same practical sense, if all humanity flowed together off the Tibetan Plateau at about the same time, about 2.1mya when the Yellowstone Caldera blew and ushered in our current Icehouse Era, the timer that’s been ticking away since isn’t one counting separation from each other. Instead it simply keeps track of how long everyone’s been simply trying to survive, and each of these stone-working technological periods above - the Oldawan leading to Achulean and finally the Levallois - are simply anniversaries of our departure, likely celebrated with the various global catastrophes that forced their adaptations.
Although we went to every corner of the compass as we fled our homes on the Roof of the World, we’re all still united by our convergent genetic responses to the global ecological adversities we’ve faced as a species in the generations since. Because it doesn’t take a planetary event the size of a volcanic caldera exploding to create a cohesive evolutionary pressure across the entire planet: Asteroids strike, magnetic poles shift, and as the Earth travels through its irregular wobbly journey across the galaxy, celestial cycles based on subtle but predictable changes in that journey also caused worldwide ecological pressures.
Adversities that were shared by everyone alive at the time, since just like Yellowstone’s cataclysm 2.1mya created the ecological challenge that chased us off the Roof of the World and away from our ancestral home, beginning the genetic cascade that led us to modernity, other less dramatic but still worldwide ecological challenges would’ve been created by the ancient cycles rotate over the course of many hundreds of thousands of years. So it was another explosion of that exact same Yellowstone Caldera 700,000ya that altered the global environment enough once again to create the climatic conditions that selected for our modern brains - since they reached their modern full size at just that time, when that second catastrophe locked those brains into place with an environmental bottleneck.
And as these explosive events were occurring, magnetic pole-switches more ancient than the most recent Laschamp event of about 40,000ya would’ve created the fantastical kaleidoscopes of auroras above our heads that would’ve reached down from their usual home around the poles - causing the aboriginal Rainbow Serpent to stretch all the way down from the skies for the first time, displaying his true character to our ancient ancestors.
Right around 40,000ya the explosion of the Yellowstone Caldera of 2.1mya was echoed by the Campanian-Ignimbrite explosion of the caldera beneath Mt. Vesuvius, of Pompeii-destroying fame, which dumped up to 100cms of ash as far as southeastern Romania and kicked off a mini more localized Ice Age across much of Eurasia. Which is also the same era that humanity’s last extended cousins appear to have finally faded out, as the current model holds that it was 40,000ya when homo sapiens are said to have consolidated ourselves as the last hominid species due to the disappearance of the Neanderthals at that time.
And so making it past these challenges - massive shifts in global conditions that would’ve washed across everyone alive at just about the same time - would’ve provided the pressure to force the selection of brains that could produce different stone-working solutions to more efficiently interface with the now more-challenging environments, until mastering flame would led us out of those Stone Ages and into Ages of Metal - beginning with copper and running right into today, when novel metallic alloys are still being created. Broad strokes of this continual change can be found in the fossil record, as an analysis of human brain-cases found that when climate change accelerates its chaotic intensity, our brains accelerated their growth in an attempt to keep up with the growing pace of unpredictable challenges.
So just like frisky undersea fishes or high-altitude heat-snakes, it makes no practical sense to define humanity by our genetic or geographic distance from each other, especially because we’ve all held on to the same shared high-altitude adaptations from so very long ago, and over the eons have been reliably united by finding the same answers to the hardest questions we’ve faced - improvising, adapting, overcoming together as a species, united by a home we’ve long forgotten except in our legends, still together even though we were spread so very far apart all across the face of our shared planet. What defines us is what made us in the first place: Facing certain disaster and the end of our species because of an unstoppable global force.
Anyone know what that’s like?
But it’s one more temporal paradox, which isn’t really a paradox at all so much as accurate descriptions of reality that only seem paradoxical because the current models are so broken, that also answers all the archeological riddles posed by the Americas.
Throughout the eons, the Americas were shaped by the same geological forces that pushed the Roof of the World up into the skies, although not quite to the same grand extent. But there’s certainly room for argument, since although the Grand Canyon doesn’t cover anywhere near the same amount of real estate as the Tibetan Plateau - its depths and cliffs were shaped in spectacular fashion by similar eternal forces.
Similar but not the same, as instead of constant geothermal activity pushing dirt skywards, in the case of the Grand Canyon the eternal power of aquatic erosion is showcased. Although it is a bit of an illusion: Instead of the river pushing down through the ground as we might typically imagine a waterfall cutting its way down through cliffs, the Grand Canyon was instead created by tectonic activity slowly pushing the rest of the Colorado Plateau higher up as the river held its place and height, snaking its way through the millennia of rising rocks and dirt to carve out the nearly 7,000 foot-high cliffs.
And just like scientists can ballpark the ages involved with the geologic changes around the Roof of the World, the same is true for the Grand Canyon. Although the super-structure of the formation can be dated back to about 70mya, the current presentation with one continuous river-valley only began to emerge over the past five or six million years, right as the Roof of the World began its lift-off.
However erosion wasn’t limited to dramatic monuments like the Grand Canyon, across the entire American Southwest the landscape was chiseled by the chinooks that whistled across the Sierra Nevada’s crags, and eons of La Ninas and Ninos taking turns playing with the shape of the Americas.
And all across the American southwest, especially where you can see the eternal rainbowed sunsets of the Colorado Plateau, unassuming signs of these weathered millennia can be found - like in Bandolier National Park, where strange caves seem to pockmark the hills and valleys, needing ladders for little boys to climb up into, leaving a few wondrous minutes later excited to go back to school the next day to tell his Pueblo friend about what he’d found about his ancestors, and ask what it all meant.
Up to the northwest a bit you’ll find the ancestral lands of the Fremont people covering much of Utah’s share of the Colorado Plateau, a culture distinct from the more historically sexy Anasazi people, located a bit to their south. But it’s the Fremont who provide us with the most obvious physical clue that explains the Americas: A granary found 90 feet up the side of a cliff.
And it wasn’t alone, multiple steep faces within this region have holes popping randomly, apparently for squirreling away their ancient beans, squash, and gourds. But in inexplicable locations, within holes that appear carved dozens of feet up off the ground, requiring skilled ascension just to grab lunch - not to mention excavate the caves in the first place. In the case of many, the only way to access them even with modern equipment was rappelling down from above, hair-raising descents not without their own risks.
Given that maintaining food storage and maintenance back at home would’ve often been done by the elderly, it’s hard to imagine any practical reason for these granaries to require a reenactment of Cliffhanger just to get to them. But in additional to what these rocks are trying to tell us, there’s also a clue within the seeds themselves, because it turns out something rather magical happens when you put the native teosinte corn into a time machine of sorts: Exposure to atmospheric conditions from 10,000ya turns tiny stubborn little seeds that mature out-of-turn and don’t seem to offer much nutritional value when they’re grown in a modern climate, into something much closer to the corn we’re all used to.
Thousands of years ago the earth was a few degrees cooler and there was much less carbon in the air. And so if turning back the clock to 10,000ya creates something much closer to modern corn - what happens if you turn back the clock even further, when temperatures and carbon concentrations were even more different?
Since the scientists who observed this atmospheric time-travel noticed that the teosinte was transformed into something resembling modern farmed corn - not our modern corn’s original ancestor. What scientists had summoned back into existence was a domesticated plant, one that was acclimated to the atmospheric conditions of 10,000ya. However the accepted theory is that modern agriculture didn’t even begin at all anywhere until about 10,000ya - if a fully domesticated crop is acclimated to the atmospheric conditions of that time, that means we’re seeing the end of a process within teosinte corn.
The only way for teosinte to lose its domestic phenotype and turn back into a simple grass as modern times have progressed, is for it to have been getting more acclimated further back in history, leading up to the point 10,000ya when it appeared to be fully domesticated. Which seems like a reasonable time to point out that the climactic era leading up to roughly 13,000ya - the Younger Dryas - which ran from about 13,000ya to 10,000ya, gets its name from a wildflower which bloomed abundantly and suddenly during this cold, which came after a much warmer and more humid period. So there’s a very direct link between these atmospheric changes and how well certain flora does.
And in fact evidence for much earlier proto-farming emerged along the Mediterranean near the Sea of Galilee dating back about 20,000 years ago - well before the formal emergence of farming about 10,000 ago in the Fertile Crescent - where evidence was found that the community living there was attempting to grow crops by isolating the most fruitful specimens. This early attempt at plant domestication was only captured because of the unique geology along the Mediterranean basin that allowed for this site to be preserved along the coast of the Jesus-baptizing Sea of Galilee, and so other attempts across well-irrigated of regions the world were likely occurring at roughly the same time but have been lost to time and the never-ending waters. And then once the Younger Dryas started roughly 13,000ya, all this proto-domestication would've had to start over from scratch due to the thousand-year cold-snap.
And it’s worth pointing out that when farming did emerge, it too occurred convergently. Although the accepted theory had been that farming only nucleated from one point of the Fertile Crescent and then naturally spread all across it, genetic analysis along several sites of the Crescent indicates very clearly that farming emerged separately and convergently amidst at least two distant and genetically-distinct groups in present-day Iran and Turkey, with no evidence at all of mixing during their separated thousands of years of agriculture.
So just like it would’ve taken a fair amount of time for ancient teosinte to have been intentionally domesticated into the state it was found roughly 13,000ya, many thousands of years for this process to first become codified within society, it would’ve taken an enormous amount of time to erode the hills the Fremont granaries were built into down into the cliff-faces they’ve become today.
In that case, possibly hundreds of thousands of years.
Although this is far from accepted anthropological theory, the idea that modern humans have been in the Americas many hundreds of thousands of years, there’s already several established points of evidence that points back in this direction.
Back in the 1960s several archeological teams began to debate about the discovery of stone tools sitting right inside a fossilized camel pelvis at a site called Hueyatlaco in Mexico. Because that organic pelvis could be accurately dated back to roughly 250,000ya, this created a bit of a stir, as it pushed the accepted timeline for human habitation in the Americas back by an order of magnitude.
However for no other reason than such a finding would throw several scientific theories out the window, allegations of impropriety were made and the lead team was accused of planting the stone tools, which can’t be as accurately dated as the organic pelvis - and so this site has been thoroughly ignored in the literature and by the anthropological community at large.
A bit farther north and not as far back in time, the Cerutti Mastodon site outside San Diego has mastodon bones that appear to have been shattered by stone cobblestones nearly 150,000ya - showing signs of repeated use, not just natural wear. Again, the scientific community has simply decided to pretend this site doesn’t exist - instead of using it to challenge any of the other genetic and other dogmas challenged by this finding.
In addition to these specific and datable sites, there’s also several broad evidentiary points that indicate humans may have a long lost history in the Americas. Adjacent to the Fremont and Anasazi cultures but up in Colorado and home to the Pueblo Peoples you can find Mesa Verde National Park, which features a massive rocky town carved into the cliffs - something of a more horizontal Petra.
This construction would’ve required many thousands of logs to form the beams and braces needed during construction, and yet there isn’t any signs of tree stumps or signs of an ancient forest anywhere to be found, leading anthropologists to declare that a phantom forest must’ve existed at some point in the past to provide all that wood, since no trees or any signs of a forest at all can be found.
However with hundreds of thousands of years to work with instead of just a few thousand, the prospect emerges that all signs of these tree stumps have been erased over the eons. With a few hundred thousand years there’s plenty of time for entire climatic shifts to occur, and although the American Southwest is a desert today, go back tens of thousands of years or more and there’s plenty of room to find forests in different places, and for their existence to have been erased.
For instance, just 18,000ya there were pinyon pines spread out across the deserts of the American Southwest, and they were found at much lower elevations than in more modern times. However this far back there wasn’t supposed to be organized society at all, nonetheless one that could build an entire city into a cliff. But given that the entire world would’ve seen massive climate shifts every 100,000 years or so on top of these local changes, there’s plenty of room for vast ancient forests, lost to the sands of time and rains of erosion, to have provided the wood necessary to construct the city in the cliffs found at Mesa Verde.
But seeing the past this way requires pushing back against what pretty much the entire rest of the world has been telling you, except maybe that Ancient Aliens guy with the sweet Jew-’fro, something that human history has borne out over and over again - is much easier said than done. Because no matter what the stakes and what’s on the line, humans seem to have a very bad habit of dreamwalking our way through life, and just going along with what everyone else seems to think.
As the space-shuttle Challenger exploded into thousands of shimmering, smoking pieces a few moments after launch a handful of NASA engineers felt their hearts drop to the ground far more swiftly than the debris peacefully arching its decent through the crisp Florida morning, silently tracing out the last moments of seven astronauts, seven of their friends. These men knew the Challenger disaster was entirely avoidable:
The NASA contractor charged with engineering the O-rings requested a teleconference on the eve of the fatal Challenger launch. After a previous launch, its engineers had noticed O-ring damage that looked different from damage they’d seen before.
Suspecting that cold was a factor, the engineers saw the near-freezing forecast and made a “no launch” recommendation – something they had never done before. But the data they faxed to NASA to buttress their case were the same data they had earlier used to argue that the space-shuttle was safe to fly. NASA pounced on the inconsistency. Embarrassed and unable to overturn the script they themselves had built in the preceding years, [they] buckled. The “no launch” recommendation was reversed to “launch. “
When an institution accepts behavior ranging from morally dubious to blatantly immoral, just about everyone who’s a part of that institution tends to go along with it, a phenomenon that’s been called the normalization of deviance. This results in group members behaving as if nothing is wrong even when cold, hard facts point to extraordinary risk or even explicit harm, “a cultural drift in which circumstances classified as not okay are slowly reclassified as okay.”
This behavior may seem bizarre and inexplicable, but it has a direct counterpart in our neurobiology, which fits right in with our mirror neurons and emotional processing setting the stage for widespread collectively mimicked behavior. Patients with a rather peculiar sort of brain damage can produce a particular type of delusion known as a confabulation, they won’t know who they are or where they are or who the president is, but they’ll think they do and “fabricate bogus replies and say them with confidence, repeating those same answers day after day.”
Stuck in a starkly-lit hospital room and surrounded by medical machinery, if you ask a patient who’s confabulating how he could possibly still be at home in his own bed as he’s insisting when there are elevators outside his room, he’ll respond that you wouldn’t believe how much it cost to have them installed in his house.
And he won’t be lying, confabulations aren’t intentional untruths – they’re elements of a necessary story that a brain-damaged patient is clinging to as they try to explain the reality they find themselves in but can’t wrap their heads around. But even without brain damage, social pressure can cause any of us to come up with moral confabulations to explain away our questionable behavior in group settings.
In the Challenger’s case it was O-ring damage, in the case of the Ford Pinto it was the fact that even though when struck from behind the car would explode like a Jerry Bruckheimer prop and incinerate its passengers, recalling it failed a corporate cost-benefit analysis – a moral confabulation that caused over two-dozen people to needlessly burn to death.
Both of these cases, and the countless other moral confabulations like them in the corporate world – some involving life-and-death scenarios and others only mortgage defaults and families being thrown out into the street – involve group members “developing a definition of the situation that allowed them to carry on as if nothing was wrong … not merely acting as if nothing was wrong,” but actually believing it, “bringing to mind Orwell’s concept of doublethink, the method by which a bureaucracy conceals evil not only from the public but itself.”
No matter what sort of organization or administration you’re in, these moral confabulations and this doublethink can always emerge. By any measure NASA engineers are incredibly intelligent, all the same that didn’t protect them from those errors any more than Wall Street’s wanton greed causes their morally questionable behaviors.
To them, their behavior simply isn’t morally questionable at all. Group members can convince each other that just about anything is okay, it’s simply a part of our humanity, the same biological wiring that leads to stone tools and cooperation and altruism. Almost like these behaviors are the result of some kind of social somnambulation, as if we have the capacity to share a waking dream with each other.
Or perhaps exactly like that.
And it seems the only way to prevent it is to never identify too strongly or completely with any one group, to be willing to accept that deviance can be normalized anywhere and to listen to outsiders who are questioning the possible impact of your own group’s behavior.
However it’s one thing to make that pledge to yourself, and it’s quite another to really carry it out, since as we know from our mirror neurons’ behavior - unconscious mimicry is our default setting. At the same time as they open the door to altruism by allowing us to imagine the pain of those around us, mirror neurons also invisibly help weave whatever collective dream the actions of those around us into our own consciousness.
It is these same mirror neurons that allow us to empathize with the pain of others which also weave the shared confabulatory dream that we usually call “culture” all around us, in each and every collective subconscious impulse that allows collective behavior to emerge in the first place.
Schools of fish seeming to respond as one are harnessing the exact same underlying neurological evolutionary guidelines that cause schoolrooms to exile outcasts: There’s an unthinking reflex to move together as one that binds all social animals together, in humanity and other primates we can quantify this with our mirror neurons, an underlying neurological network which primes us for collective compliance, to lie back and just accept the dream of lies our cultures have always been based on.
Not just our cultures, but also much of the Sciences as well - especially as far as the concept of time is concerned. Since not only are scientists unable to form any cohesive universal framework that explains things like dark gravity and the inexplicable time-traveling rainbow bridge running through the constellation Draco like Marty McFly’s flaming tire-tracks - but they have no explanation for any of these anthropological and archeological enigmas of the Americas, nor a genetic framework that parsimoniously explains not just human genetic relationships - but those of almost every complex family of critter on Earth.
If nothing else, that time-traveling galactic rainbow-bridge should be a reminder that although some of us may be separated by over two-million years since that apocalypse on the Roof of the World, all that time can be bridged in an instant when the underlying genetics are properly understood.
After all, just like the heat-snakes found both on the Roof of the World and among the South American cloud forests have convergent genetic adaptations to that elevated niche, the native populations of humans in each region have similarly convergent biochemical and physiological adaptations to the altitude as well. Regardless of the actual time of past divergence, aren’t those two of humanity’s populations even closer cousins to each other than the rest of us in a way, despite the drastic actual distances?
And the thing is, although we might be open to the idea that perhaps emotions like True Love can cause us to behave a little bit irrationally at times, the true depths and ever-present nature of the dreamlike illusions running your life - and much of human society along with it - are going to be a little hard to really comprehend. Almost no one realizes it, but in modern society you start on a Walkabout without realizing it… and most of us simply never ever leave the dream at all.
But maybe if you learn the story of what made us who we are, and realize that our very humanity is fundamentally intertwined with the mournful souls we’ve forced away from our sides after they helped secure our very existence as a species - exiled into lives of hunger, deprivation, and inevitable suffering because humanity has marked them with our greatest curse - maybe then you’ll be able to wake up.
Because now the souls who guided us to who we have become are forced into skulking on the outskirts of our cities, only allowed inside only if they submit to the source of all human Evil: Our unquenchable desire to play god, and have limitless control over the fundamental underpinnings of what makes all life tick.
Because although we started off as dreamers down from the mountains, after that descent we did not wander off from the Roof of the World and into that Long Winter alone. And we would’ve had no chance at all of survival as a species if it wasn’t for the canines who refused to leave our sides. Souls we have thanked by demonizing and slaughtering their feral ancestors to secure our access to luxury proteins, and breeding into genetic bottlenecks that guarantee generations of completely inevitable and yet entirely unnecessary suffering and debilitation.
Humanity is long overdue for a look in the mirror, because the wonders and comforts of our modern world not only rely on cultural constructs which require us to turn a blind-eye to suffering we cannot see happening deep within factories somewhere else in the world, they also cause us to pointedly ignore the pain we’ve been inflicting on an entire species for hundreds of years - one we call our best friends, but often treat like interchangeable and disposable ornaments.
We’ve condemned the purest sources of Love we will ever be lucky enough to know, into inevitable genetic dead-ends that often lead lives of unending pain and despair, crying out when they simply try and get back on their feet - all just to humor our sense of style.
The True Love we might think we experience romantically between each other, that’s celebrated in movies and stories, and pedestaled as the ultimate goal of each of our life stories - If that was such a force for Good, if that was really the height of human experience, then we’d be able to trace-out exactly how it's benefited our societies collectively over time. But post-nut clarity aside, human romance has no more to do with the survival of our species than any other social mammal having an instinct to get their rocks off routinely with the same partner. Being super-duper excited about fucking ain’t True Love in any meaningful sense of the concept, despite the fact those ideas are nearly indistinguishable in most modern human cultures.
And so over the many eons our story has stretched, as we made our way down from the Roof of the World, the only way to understand who we really are is from the perspective of our best friends. Because along with everything else, they also helped us create the very first example of a physical expression of human love, arguably the first example of human art - although most people alive wouldn’t see it that way, alive but very much asleep.
They would look, but they would not see. To them all there would be is some ugly, lonely bones, well over one-million years old. But alongside these bones not only will we find our own first footprints, but also the only Love Story that has ever really mattered at all.
There is a long-forgotten bond between our species that stretches back over the millennia to our shared beginning, since it turns out that the “Wolf Event” that followed our exodus from the Roof of the World is much better understood as something of a “Werewolf Event.” Because the thing about Love and its place in our story, is that the love between men and women is fairly incidental in the long run, in the sense that it’s evolutionary inevitability makes it a bit of a wash as far as shaping the history of our species goes. Long before any of us remember, it was a much different and much more intentional kind of love that saved us, and which shaped both of our species into what we’ve become today.
As homo sapiens we seem to believe in our own superiority over the rest of Nature, as if we somehow managed to conquer Gaia all by ourselves. However this is the most mistaken and misleading belief we commonly share today, and if we want to find out what True Love really means, we need to stop chasing our own tails, and look back beyond best friends.
But to be able to understand that story, first you’re going to need to learn how to read all over again.