The Human Pandemic Plague

The Human Pandemic Plague 

Fintan O’Toole’s article “THE WORLD HAS LOVED, HATED AND ENVIED THE U.S.  NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE PITY IT” arrived in my email so, of course, I read it. I first read it as a political rant, then as a moral protest, and then as an “I am a morally more acute, sensitive, and discerning person, and upon this I am morally outraged, and this demonstrates that I am a very much better person than my target” claim. Buying moral and social capital by moral condemnation.

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Are Humans a Monogamous Species?

Are We a Monogamous Species: Of Course Not! 


Are we a monogamous species? Of course not. Whoever thought that one up was being normative – making up rules for others to obey, telling us how to behave – rather than being observative – seeing what we really do.

The narrative arc of a pair bond1 is well told in a cartoon. A young man is kneeling before his beloved, presenting her with a diamond ring in its box, raised up to her eye level. He asks, “Will you make me the one who one day rues the day I met you?” With their hands conjoined, right to left, her left hand raised to accept the gift, her eyes and mouth open in astonishment, she delightedly says “Ohhh, yes!” How soon, how soon, before the day that they rue their meeting?

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  1. I introduced the pair bond in  

Into the Ring of Fire


This is my fourth essay on sexual behavior and morality.  The first, is not specifically about sexual morality, rather, among other topics, it developed the thesis that we were moral before we were civilized – that our chemo-hormonal morality was developed in millions of years of evolution and forms the basis for our moral systems.

In the second: I developed the concepts of sex drive, or better, sex compulsion.  I then placed sex drive in the context of, first, a Hominid Model of Sexual Behavior, and second, a putative Model of Human Sexual Behavior which is substantially different from the hominid model: primarily the pair bond which is the rarest primate mating behavior.

My third effort examined the pair bond in more detail – its evolution due to our development of exceptionally large brains and heads; and the function of the pair bond and partial monogamy to ensure sufficient resources for offspring to develop and have offspring of their own.  I also developed the concept of transfer for one group to another to avoid in-breeding.  This is a critical function, particularly in small-scale groups that do not inherently have sufficient genetic variability.  Female transfer, the choice of a group, is a core of female choice of potential mates.  It also underlies female bonding within the group in the absence of genetic relatedness.

In this essay, I have returned to sexual desire and the pair bond to propound the notion of the paleo- and neo-brains, their cooperative and conflicted relationships, and the problems of the control of human sexual behavior. 

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Demographics, Territory and Temperament


Demographics, Territory and Temperament 


This, and the next several essays, build upon concepts developed in previous essays beginning with What is a Social Species, and a later set beginning with From Utilitarianism to an Evolutionary Morality.  These new essays will mix those two tributaries that are at opposite ends of an evolutionary timeline: our paleo-morality and our modern moral failures.  This set was triggered by reading the phrase “Ice Age refugia”1 while I was writing about the rape of Neryl Joyce and ‘Alice’ in Evolutionary Sexual Morality: From Sex Drive to the Pair Bond – Carl Wilson (  I made a connection between Ice Age refugia and modern rape, an unusual pairing which began with the thought that rape was probably not a sexual behavior in our paleo-morality, and that it somehow and somewhy developed later.  To get here – to these essays – I also had to develop the concepts of paleo or evolutionary morality, which I did in four previous essays.2  There, where I am going, is how behavior is controlled within small-scale foraging hunter gatherer social groups, and then to how and why behavior is insufficiently controlled in civilization.

My goal is to establish a sociological/territorial model of human behaviors rather than the conventional Western individual/psychological model, by setting our behaviors within the context of social groups and their dynamics:

“In this essay I offer a sociological explanation of temperaments and behaviors based upon the needs of an intelligent, ground dwelling, social species, and once upon a time, prey, specifically, H. sapiens.  We have an evolutionary sociological history, a path dependency at our social level.  Our brains have been optimized over the course of that history for living in small social groups in a dangerous ecology – the mixed open grass and wood lands of the African savannah, home of herbivore herds and hungry carnivore predators.  We are omnivores, suspended between those poles of prey and predator and, lacking any significant defensive or offensive weapons and muscularly weak, we were more prey than predator.  We are now more predator than prey.  We retain the morphology and physiology of prey, and have overlaid them with a cultural accumulation of technical – that is, non-biological – weapons of a predator.  From prey to predator is an astonishing evolutionary narrative arc and it has significant consequences.  I posit that we retain some of the sociology and psychology of a prey social species, specifically, danger perception and response mechanisms.”3 We also lack a major temperament of natural predators, but of that, more in a future essay, because that occurs later in our evolutionary history.

That we were once very much more prey than predator and retain the temperaments of a prey is a significant factor in our behavior.  In succeeding essays, I will set out the proposition that at least one major element of social control of our paleo-morality is based upon fear.4Looking back, I posited that our paleo-chemo-hormonal behaviors are released by the reception of signals.  Looking ahead I will suggest that the expression of these behaviors is regulated by social controls in the context of tightly bonded small-scale social groups typical of foraging hunter gatherers.  This is ‘evolutionary sociological path dependency.’  Our path to here is the major factor in what we are now.


Our large-scale demographics may be summarized in three words: inexorable population increase.  There have been decreases at times, particularly during pandemics and famines, but overall, our population has increased – dramatically.  We have defeated many of our predators from bacteria to worms to leopards.  We now lack adequate predation and ecological constraints, and have escaped most the population controls typical of animals.5  This is an independent factor that has interacted with all of the other factors and it raises the question: how have we adapted or accommodated to our population increase?

Social Group Size

Our small-scale demographics may be summarized in two words: Magic Numbers – the size of our social groups.  Ethologists and anthropologists have long observed that each species of the primates has a maximum, minimum and optimum group size.  They were called Magic Numbers because they while they were observable, they were not explicable: the reason for them could not be specified so they are like magic.  The Magic Numbers are another independent factor in our social evolution.

We are not a solitary, herding or flocking animal.  We were ab initio a social species whose social structure is composed of a mosaic of small-scale groups characterized by membership boundaries: in-group and out-group.  For humans in foraging hunter gatherer societies, the typical range is from about 25 individuals at the low end to about 150 at the high end.6

“We are a neurologically and behaviorally complex social, tribal, and territorial species.  Mental capacity, effort and time are required to form individuals into a group, to maintain that group, and to function within the group.  Our brain has limited information bandwidth capacity and processing power.  The upper limit to a group size is set by the intensity, complexity, variability and duration of the combinations of individual relationships intersecting with that mental capacity.  Keeping track of individuals, who is doing what to whom, who is dominant and submissive, who grooms whom, etc., is one of our major functions.  In the center of the group is the mother-child bond, around that, the female-male pair bond, and wrapped over both is the penumbra of tribal care of each other.  There are a lot of interactions to keep track of, and being social takes time and mental capability.”

In the 1990’s, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar,7 advanced the social brain thesis to explain the upper limit which is set by the information bandwidth and processing power of our brains.  He did a major statistical study on primate brain size vs social group size to support the idea that our relatively large brain size evolved to solve the problem of bonding a number of highly complex and variable individuals into a social group that met both individual and social needs to an adequate degree.  There is an intimate relationship between behavioral complexity, brain size,8 and social group size, each affecting the other.9

The relationships may be inverted: increased brain size, evolved for an unspecified reason, allowed us to form and to operate effectively in social groups within our Magic Numbers.  This would account for relatively large brained primates who are solitary.  There may well be several factors in the evolution of large brains and sociality. Dunbar’s social brain hypothesis, like so many evolutionary hypotheses, has its critics.  What is secure is the observation of the Magic Numbers.

The optimum human social group appears to be around 50 individuals.  A major factor in determining the optimum number is the richness of the territory occupied by the group and the time required to locate, obtain, process, transport and consume those resources.  A resource rich territory will allow the social group to expand toward the upper bound and vice versa.  The lower limit has received less attention because most relict hunter gatherer societies are larger and thus we have no observational evidence.  Presumably a group smaller than 25 individuals is at a survival disadvantage, and individuals of such a group might well attempt to amalgamate into a nearby group.

We are also a fission-fusion species: we break into smaller groups, as small as 2 or 3 and up to 7 – 10 during the day – fission – for specific purposes and tasks, and re-unite later in the day – fusion.  Smaller groups make decisions faster and cooperation easier due to reduced information burden.10 This increases task performance efficiency.  Fusion later in the day increases the grooming, eating and sociality arenas, and promotes defense against nocturnal predators.  The size of fission groups forms other Magic Numbers.11

There is another number of great importance: the low bound on the number of breeding individuals in a group that is required to avoid genetic in-breeding.  With tongue in cheek, I’ll suggest the Exogamic Number, but the technical term is ‘minimum viable population.’12  Estimates vary from around 80 to a higher estimate of 14,000.  Those numbers depend upon the assumptions used to generate it.  The number is neither directly observable nor experimentally verifiable, and its numerical value is unimportant for this essay.

Those estimates for the minimum viable population do not include the non-breeding individuals, the young and old.  Dunbar’s Number for the high limit includes the non-breeding individuals.  The implication is that our social group size is typically smaller than our out-breeding group size plus the non-breeding individuals, and therefore we have built in out-breeding behaviors.  Humans and other primates evolved the mechanism of late adolescent transfer from their natal social group to another carrying with them genes, parasites, diseases, and cultural knowledge.  For humans, it is the female who transfers.13  There are mechanisms for incorporating transferees into the social structure of the adoptive social group.  Transfer and amalgamation will be discussed in more detail in a future essay along with other out-breeding behaviors.

In the section on Demographics (above) I asked the question “how have we adapted or accommodated to our population increase?”  This section on social group size has added a demographic constraint to the problem of population increase: Dunbar’s Number sets the upper bound for the group size.  There has to be a mechanism to accommodate population increase and yet maintain Dunbar’s Number within each social group.  As groups increase above Dunbar’s Number – become supra-DN – intra-group conflict will increase and at some point, the group will fission into two sub-groups.  At this point there are two major possibilities, sub-dividing the existing territory or forcing one fission group to take up new territory.  So, it is to territory that I turn next.

Territory and Temperament

We are a tribal and territorial species.  Social group boundaries – we and they – interact with territorial boundaries – ours and yours – yielding a mosaic of small groups occupying a mosaic of roughly defined territories with sufficient resources for survival.

“About 9 PM I like to go for a relaxing walk.  In the winter I avidly sniff the smoke from wood fires and get to thinking that we have a long association with wood fire – probably our oldest and most fundamental technology.  For millennia out of mind the smell of burning wood has been a signal of hearth, home, happiness, and warmth.  We are naked apes without an insulating fur coat.  Fire dries and warms, cooks our food, lights the night, and deters predators.

“But the smoke of burning wood can also signal danger.  Wildfires, yes, but more significant is the smoke of a campfire of another group.  They are too close.  Who are they?  Are they neighboring tribes with which we occasionally exchange mates and gifts?  Or are they someone we do not know?  Why are they there?  Where are they going?  What will they do?  Are they just passing through or do they intend to contest our territory?  What shall we do?  Just thinking of this scene, I can feel the stomach acid churning.  This is our land.  The imminent danger is to our territory, our land that we know so well, roam so widely and freely use.  We cannot lose those resources.  If we lose, we have to move elsewhere, possibly to a lower quality territory or failing that, conquer someone else’s territory or starve.  Wood smoke signals home and friend on the one hand, and fearful danger on the other.  This is our land.

“Two words that are intimately tied together in that description of territoriality, our land, form the nucleus of this section.  Our: we are a social rather than an individual or herd species.  Land: we are perforce territorial.  We are a territorial social species.  We hold land and its resources as a group, not as individuals; and as a group we hold our territory through time beyond the lifespan of any individual.  Our group, our land.  Group implies we and they.  Territory implies ours and yours.  Together they form a linked or nested mosaic dividing the species tribally and the land territorially, each tied to or over-laid upon the other.”

That territory and temperament are intimately connected to territory and ecology is exemplified by the temperamental differences between chimpanzees and bonobos.  They are very similar morphologically and very different temperamentally and behaviorally.  Chimpanzees, bonobos and humans are social species with similar size social groups, so the evolution of bonobos from the proto-chimpanzee/bonobo genetic stock is of interest for human evolution from the proto-chimpanzee/human genetic stock.

Occupying similar ecologies, they evolved slightly different morphologies – bonobos are smaller and more gracile – and possess significantly different temperaments and behaviors.  Chimpanzees are male dominant, aggressive, violent, and noisy.  Male sex is driven by female estrous signaling and there is no female-female or male-male sex.  Bonobos are female dominant, more tolerant, quieter, and peaceable.  Male-female sex occurs outside of female estrous signaling.  Female-female sex is common and there is male-male non-penetrant non-orgasmic non-homosexual sexual contact.

The explanation for these differences is to be found in the formation of the Zaire River about 2 million years ago which separated two populations of the proto genetic stock, and chimpanzees and bonobos evolved in significantly different directions under different ecological constraints.  Bonobos occupied the southern forest with a better food supply: survival was easier and less competitive.  It is unknown but entirely possible, that they had less predation pressure in the denser forest, particularly during the time in which they occupied the tree canopy, but also as they increasingly occupied ground level.  Chimpanzees occupy ground level during the day and the tree tops during the night, and some troops now occupy dryer savannah territories with probable higher predation levels and fewer food resources.

There is no identifiable geological barrier that divided humans from our proto-chimpanzee stock.  We can only observe the morphological, temperamental, and behavioral differences at the present time.  As we evolved, we became larger, weaker, fully bipedal and upright, with a smaller gut, hairless, flatter faced, larger brained, more intelligent, with finer control of hand muscles, etc.  Our sexual behaviors are closer to bonobos than to chimpanzees.  Our mating system is primarily serial monogamous pair bonds with occasional extra-pair copulations.  We are very much more communicative and cooperative than either the chimpanzees or bonobos.

Our current understanding is that much of our later evolution occurred on the African savannah.  I did a web search for images of savannah ecologies and saw wide vistas of grass with scattered trees.  It looked like a tough place to live.  We cannot eat grass; we are not herbivores.  We cannot eat leaves, branches or bark; we are not browsers.  We cannot digest cellulose, the most widely available ‘food’ on the savannah.  We eat fruit, but the trees were not heavy with colorful fruit inviting me to eat.14 Outside of the fruits that co-evolved with animals for seed dispersals, plants do not advertise.15

Some of the pictures show dangerous carnivorous predators, best to avoid them.  Other pictures show large herbivores, they look like good food, but a hunt is not always successful, and hunting risks injury or death.  Best to eat mostly plants and occasional meat.  But where is that food?  Nuts and berries are visible but seasonal; nuts need to be stored and carried, and berries have low ‘shelf life.’  Some plants developed fleshy roots, bulbs and corms rich in sugars and starches as their food and water sources during the dry season.  Storage is plants conquest of seasonality and mobility is the animal’s response to seasonality.  Our mobility allows us to prey upon these plant’s storage survival strategies.

These high calory foods, on the one hand, allow for smaller territories, with less time and risk to acquire food.  On the other hand, these foods are patchy, low density and scattered, and those factors necessitate larger territories and greater time and risk.  And we have to dig for them with consequent opportunity costs – digging takes time that could be expended ranging farther for foods easier to procure.

Plants are not obligate food sources for animals.  Outside of some of their fruits, they did not evolve to feed animals.  Indeed, plants may evolve tough skins to deter, spines to injure, and toxins to poison the animals ‘preying’ on them.  A question we must ask of any prospective food is “will it poison me?”  Who will test the prospective food?  Who will eat the berry?  Lives may well have been lost learning what not to eat.  In the process of evaluating new foods, we watch carefully for ‘I ate this and I got sick,’ one trial cause and effect learning.  There is an underlying food fear, basic and intrinsic, in our temperaments.

Cooking destroys some toxins and kills parasites thus making food safer.  It pre-digests food, decreasing digestion time and increasing caloric availability.  Our lower guts are smaller and shorter than the other great apes which eat browse.  We do not eat for hours and digest for even more hours.  The time and energy saved from digestion can be repurposed to other survival activities including exploring, gathering, hunting, transporting, and cooking.  Fire extended our active day into the night and we developed activities to absorb the time: story telling, partying, dancing, wrestling and other competitive activities: play – another temperament.16

We are then, the restless ape.  Predators may be extremely lazy and herbivores need downtime to digest tough vegetation.  But humans are neither lazy predators nor digesting ruminants.  We are instead restless – exploring, and foraging for patchy seasonal resources.  In a circular cause-effect we need a lot of calories to support our brain, the ecology in which we evolve requires a lot of effort to acquire those calories, and we have a physiology and temperament suited to those requirements.

Hairlessness allows for higher metabolic heat rejection than other animals and we can employ persistence (cursorial) hunting techniques, which takes time and energy.17  Hunting provides additional protein and energy which is needed to fuel our greedy brains.  That single organ consumes about 20% of our caloric intake.

The question of how much did early humans hunt has vexed anthropologists for a long time.  The necessity of maintaining our salt balance may suggest an answer.  I have not found any references in the anthropological literature to relict foraging hunter gatherers locating salt.  Salt deficiency disease (hyponatremia) may have been a problem for foraging hunter gatherers on the savannah unless they were successful hunters.

“Early humans may have been particularly prone to sodium depletion as they primarily lived in arid environments that were bereft of sodium and a majority of their diet consisted of plant matter. These environmental conditions provided the selection pressure for the development of a set of physiological mechanisms that would help maintain and replenish sodium stores in humans. ….  It is important to realize that the sensitization of sodium appetite can be conceived of as an adaptive form of simple, non-associative learning that aids animals in maintaining sodium balance when faced with environmental conditions and challenges that threaten body sodium content. When body sodium content is repeatedly depleted it is adaptive for an animal to seek out and ingest greater amounts of salt to help restore sodium balance and to protect against future sodium loss. For example, humans working in hot environments can lose significant quantities of sodium through sweat, and it would be ideal for these individuals to develop a propensity to ingest salty foods to protect and restore sodium balance. However, a negative consequence of sodium appetite sensitization is that it could promote pathological salt intake that may contribute to the development of many disorders including cardiovascular disease.”18

The need for sodium may drive foraging hunter gatherers who depend upon meat and blood for sodium to an increased desire to hunt (or to scavenge).  Herbivores utilize two sodium strategies.  They obtain it from plants, which do not need sodium, but uptake and concentrate it in their structures.  Herbivores eat large quantities of herbage and browse, and they may derive sufficient sodium from plants.  We cannot eat and digest enough plant material to maintain our sodium levels and hunting would be our major strategy.  In a circular cause and effect, cursorial hunting on the hot savannah increases sodium loss due to sweating and this would increase the need for obtaining sodium via hunting.  Herbivores would have been our most common prey, thus passing some of their sodium to us.  Plants growing in low sodium soils may not provide sufficient salt and herbivores locate salt licks to maintain their sodium levels as their secondary strategy.  If salt licks were in our territory, we may have followed them and procured it for ourselves as our secondary strategy also.19  Hunting would remain as our primary sodium strategy, for it simultaneously provides high quality food to fuel our voracious brains.  Carnivory solves two problems at one bite.  Territory and its ecological constraints may drive physiology and temperaments which control behavior.

Humans are, as noted above, a fission-fusion social species.  Diurnal fission for foraging and hunting or just exploring, requires a territory sufficiently rich that journeys for most resources can be performed within the day.  Women gather most of the calories and are frequently burdened with children, so their range may be less.  If they leave infants in the care of another woman, they must return during the day. We return to a temporary base camp with its friends, shelter, and most important, fire.  The base camp is the locus of our group sociality, eating, grooming, telling stories: establishing and maintaining social bonds.  As resources here are depleted, we will move camp to go there, so our overall and seasonal territory is larger than our diurnal territory.

For this, we require navigation, mapping, sense of time and season, alertness to signals of dangers from predators, etc. and activation of appropriate responses.  We were, and still are, ground dwellers, and ground is more dangerous than high in the trees.  From danger are derived courage, adventurousness, and risk tolerance which are individually variable and may be considered to be temperaments.  I have, in the essay on the sentinel, posited that overwatch behaviors – sentinel and warrior – are temperaments, which are individually variable and vary with age.  Older individuals who may no longer be active warriors become sentinels, descrying and calling out danger.

Territory, land and its possession, is a primal value for it holds everything necessary for survival.  Fortunately, our most necessary resource, air, is everywhere and requires no effort to acquire.  Learning the land and mastering its riches, seasons, and dangers requires exploration and experimentation, time and effort.  How to locate and extract its resources is shared and passed through time via the collective memory of the social group, thus increasing our storage capacity and its reliability by distribution among individuals.  Learning what is already known from peers is easier than discovering it oneself and may well be more reliable as collective knowledge is improved over time.  Territory and sociality are thus linked.  Membership in a social group is survival.  The group holds territory.  Territory is survival.  Humans are a social, tribal, and territorial species with mental abilities and temperaments suitable for survival therein.  The potentials and constraints of different ecologies and climates selected for various temperaments and consequent behaviors required to survive.20

Functional Temperament

“…temperament, is a relatively fixed set of mental and emotional attributes that define major elements of personality.  Temperament is an over-all, large scale pattern or tendency such as curious or fearful, credulous or suspicious, wild eyed or reasonable. …. The roots of individual psychology are deep within the sociology of a social species … and temperament, while personal, is sociologically functional – that is, personality in some respects subsumes under sociology – the needs of a social group.  Temperament, while basically individual, is more fundamentally sociological for it governs to a large extent how an individual functions within its group. … Perception of the needs of the group will develop aspects of individual temperament.

“There are functions that must be performed for the survival of a social group, specifically, but not limited to the sentinel descrying danger, the warrior protecting, the artisan making and the story teller explaining.  These and other temperaments, in particular mothering, are positively selected for.”

The contemporary conceptualization within individualistic large-scale civilized – city dwelling – societies is that sociology – social structure – is the summation of individual temperaments, placing the individual at the center.  For small-scale foraging hunter-gatherer social groups, I have inverted the relationships and placed sociology ahead of individual psychology.  The social and survival needs of the group determine the range of individual temperaments and behaviors expressed within it.  Over our long evolutionary social history, I do not think it could be any other way.

The African savannah shaped us as we in turn shaped it.  The requirements of living and functioning in social groups within the demographic dimensions of the Magic Numbers shaped us.  Our morphology and physiology, in particular our lack of both defensive and offensive weapons, hairlessness and large brains, drove or allowed, (whichever evolutionary viewpoint appears to provide the best explanation,) the range of temperaments and consequent behaviors available in the human toolkit.21


I failed to find a good place above for this sentence, so here it is: “Patchy resources select for sharing temperaments.”  And then I had to write a paragraph:

Some time ago I did a web search on chimpanzee food sharing and among the images were the outstretched hand begging for shared food: chimpanzees begging for food – Google Search.  Begging for food, sharing it, and appraising fairness are integral elements in social groups.  If the analysis above of the different ecological conditions of chimpanzees and bonobos is correct, one possible hypothesis is that chimpanzees on the savannah should express more begging and sharing than those who are able to successfully forage independently in richer territories.  We beg and share.  We offer to share.  And we appraise the fairness of sharing.  These are essential social temperaments, of which more in the next essay.

I summarized the evolution of the divergent morphology and temperaments of chimpanzees and bonobos with: “The potentials and constraints of different ecologies and climates selected for various temperaments and consequent behaviors required to survive.”  This sentence expresses conventional evolutionary concepts: the sculptural power of differential survival to select attributes to be forwarded into the future from the variety of those available.  Straight forward evolutionary causation.

 Our evolution is within a web or mesh of factors and the connections between them.  Establishing causality between these factors requires an accurate time line, this has to happen before that for this to cause that.  Temperaments and behaviors do not fossilize, nor do the elements of our physiology and morphology of interest to this story, so we cannot determine a time line for such elements as the loss of ability to synthesize vitamin C, and our loss of hair and increase in sweat glands.  Further, our verbal story telling brains can only do one thing at a time and cannot think or write meshes.  Words in sentences, sentences in paragraphs, and paragraphs in essays are linear, making them good tools for expressing linear causality and poor tools for the study of a mesh of evolutionary factors.  So, I do not assert causality among most of the operative factors, only connections.

Meshes reduce the possibility of straight forward evolutionary ‘survival’ and ‘fitness’ arguments.  Our inability to synthesize vitamin C, an essential vitamin, is an evolutionary puzzle.  Several hypotheses have been advanced, most of them based upon our ability to forage for it rather than, like almost other animals, to make it for themselves.  So far, it does not appear to be a fitness advantage, indeed, it may be a fitness disadvantage depending on the resources of the territory.  I suggest that it was a genetic change of unknown cause for which we are able to compensate.  Not everything in our evolutionary history can be construed in terms of fitness and survival.  Some factors may indeed tend to decrease fitness and survival, but we have adapted to them over time, and in the case of vitamin C, by a technological rather than a biological adaptation.  We learned to eat more of certain foods and eventually to synthesize vitamin C.  Scurvy in the Western world is now virtually unknown.  We have survived despite fitness and survival disadvantages.

The problem of salt physiology on the African savannah is an example of a mesh.  The more research I did, the more complex it became.  These resources are suggested:

The web search: how do herbivores get salt – Google Search

And these sources:

The seventh macronutrient: how sodium shortfall ramifies through populations, food webs and ecosystems – Kaspari – 2020 – Ecology Letters – Wiley Online Library

Carnivores — WHAT THE HEALTH (

I’ll suggest this interesting SWAG: salt licks would be used by any and all herbivores, and would have been contaminated with urine and feces.  Disgust is a major human temperament.  If we were to be disgusted at the sanitary conditions at a salt lick, would we have shunned the strategy of obtaining salt for ourselves from this source and thus depend primarily or even exclusively on hunting?

The choice of where in our evolutionary mesh to begin this essay was then a matter of some consideration.   I have assumed that territory and climate are constant and that we have at least a reasonable adaptation to them.  This essay has set out, upon those constant factors, our baseline demographics, social group size, and relevant temperaments.  The next essay will continue to develop baseline social temperaments, and after that all hell breaks loose as those constant factors change dramatically.

I posted the first essay on social theory three years ago, and I have returned to the topic several times over those years.  These essays are mind prints leaving tracks of where I have been and pointing to where I am going.  They are sorta like chapters published intermittently and not yet finished.  I cannot expect a reader to remember what I wrote so long ago, so here are the links to the most important social system essays:

What is a Social Species? – Carl Wilson (

How to Make a Social Species – Carl Wilson (

Tribe and Territory – Carl Wilson (

The Sentinel, the Warrior, and the Social Group – Carl Wilson (

Functional Social System Sociology – Carl Wilson (

Functional Social System Sociology, Part 2 – Carl Wilson (

The four Evolutionary Morality essays:

From Utilitarianism to an Evolutionary Morality: We Were Moral Before We Were Civilized – Carl Wilson (

Evolutionary Sexual Morality: From Sex Drive to the Pair Bond – Carl Wilson (

Are Humans a Monogamous Species? – Carl Wilson (

Into the Ring of Fire – Carl Wilson (

Robin Dunbar’s paper on the social brain hypothesis:

Social Brain Hypothesis and Human Evolution | Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology

I found this source after I had completed this essay.  I extract from it this statement of the relationship between our risk of predation and the exigencies of foraging, and our social brain:

”…primates solve the predation problem indirectly by first solving the problem of creating coherent, stable, coordinated social groups. The issue (of brain size and complexity, ed.) thus comes down to the task demands of foraging versus social coordination.”

A social group has friends to provide extra hands for gathering and hunting during the day, alloparents for child care and eyes and ears during the night.  We communicate and cooperate, sharing knowledge, food, and personal and group bonds among those friends.  Specific temperaments and behaviors are required to build, maintain and behave within our “…coherent, stable, coordinated social groups.

  1. Brian Fagan, anthropologist, and author. 

  2. See links at the end of Afterwords, below. 

  3. Unattributed quotes are from previous essays.  I have listed the essays in the Afterwords. 

  4. Current political events, circa late 2020 and early 2021, display the danger sentinel and warrior protective social temperaments and behaviors consequent to the telling of fear stories. 

  5. At least up to now.  How far into the future remains unknown. 

  6. While we now flock into cities, we are not a flocking animal. 

  7. Dunbar’s number – Wikipedia 

  8. Specifically the size of the neo-cortex for which I have used the term ‘neo-brain’ in previous essays. 

  9. Dunbar did not attach his name to the upper limit.  That was conferred upon him by his peers in honor of his explication of the number. 

  10. Burden is a technical term from electro-mechanical control systems.  Each device consumes a specific amount of electrical power – its burden.  This concept, ‘ported over’ to human brain function, means that different activities require more or less brain processing power and time. 

  11. In recent years management theory has used these numbers to develop guidelines for the number of individuals on a specific project.  Computer game designers have also considered these numbers in the design of interactive games. 

  12. Minimum viable population – Wikipedia 

  13. There is male transfer, but it is generally because the male failed to fit in and left voluntarily, or was forced out. 

  14. Plants Can’t Talk. But Some Fruits Say ‘Eat Me’ to Animals. – The New York Times (  

  15. Except to pollinators. 

  16. This would be a fine place to divagate into neotony and play, but with an effort I resist the impulse.  Compared to other animals we retain elements of infancy and youth into age such as play, curiosity, adventure, goofing around, imagination, etc.  We are the neotonic ape. 

  17. Which is not available to chimpanzees, bonobos, and in particular to gorillas. 

  18. The biopsychology of salt hunger and sodium deficiency ( 

  19. Cf. ‘Salt licks’ in the Afterwords for an interesting speculation on human temperaments. 

  20. Cf. Afterwords, below for a review of this sentence. 

  21. The selection of best explanation is frequently a function of individual’s temperament and training. 

Human Nature in the Garden of Eden

Humans are a social animal” (Aristotle)

A beguilingly simple statement of observation of our human nature, and underneath that apparent simplicity lies the entire subject of evolutionary sociology.  We are social, and being social implies a complex web of temperaments and behaviors necessary to form a social group out of individual humans.  Our individual survival and reproduction occur within the ambit of the social group and this elevates sociality and mutuality to a critical level.  We must simultaneously meet individual and social needs and this imposes a set of behavioral constraints or controls upon members.  These two words, social and animal, undergird our understanding of our human nature.  Further, social elevates sociology over psychology and I find social rather than individually psychological explanations.  Aristotle’s second sentence, “society precedes the individual” is a concise statement of  the human social system.

Prologue: The Garden of Eden

We are, as all animals are, totally dependent upon plants as primary producers of foods, and other animals as secondary producers of meat.1  We have to locate resources such as food, water, and salt, acquire them, process them as needed, and consume and digest them.  These dependencies elevate territory – where the resources are – to another critical level and imposes a set of temperaments.  We have to explore, navigate, and experiment.  We must be vigilant and communicate danger.  We must be defensive or offensive as required.

In the previous essay, Demographics, Territory and Temperament, I developed the setting – the territory – for the evolution of our human nature: the African savannah with its resources and dangers, and some of the temperaments necessary to survive and reproduce thereupon.  I made some assumptions about the setting: that its resources were sufficient to our needs and that we were not stressed by our ecology.  That its dangers were manageable and not overwhelming.  That our demographics was within our upper bound (Dunbar’s Number) so that we were not compressed either within our social group or between social groups, and thus not stressed by our demographics.  This was our first Garden of Eden,2 not the Biblical garden, that came much later and under very different territorial, ecological and social conditions.  But our needs were amply met and the witness to this is our inexorable population increase and consequent territorial dispersal.

In this essay, I will begin to bring the set of characters into focus: how does a human social group work?  It is comprised of individuals of both sexes, all ages, with different abilities, disabilities, and motivations, yet continues through time beyond the lifetime of any individual.  A social group provides friends, extra hands for gathering and hunting during the day, alloparents for child care, and eyes and ears during the night.  We communicate and cooperate, sharing knowledge and food.  Specific temperaments and behaviors are required to build, maintain and behave within our “…coherent, stable, coordinated social groups.”3

I would add one word to Dunbar’s summary description of human social groups: ‘…coherent, stable, and mutually coordinated social groups.”  Foraging hunter gatherer social groups are not typically command coordinated structures requiring obedience.  They are mutually coordinated by group decision based upon exchange of individual information derived from experience and learning by communication.  Command, obedience and coercion appear in two milieus: complex intra-group conflict and sedentism, after the loss of our Garden(s) of Eden.  This will be fully developed in due time.

This essay will set out some of the individual temperaments and behaviors necessary for membership in social groups.  As our survival is within the ambit of the social group, it must survive even at the cost of individual death.  The individual temperaments and behaviors must promote both individual and group survival, mine and yours: a dual survival strategy with the group survival being primal.  This elevates sociology above psychology, the group above the individual, and mutualism above individualism.4 

Our Physical State of Nature

Upon that ancient African savannah, there strode a most unprepossessing animal: Homo sapiens.  Nearly naked, weak and defenseless, and without sharp teeth or claws, physically more prey than predator.  The big cats said “Look at that, would yah!  Big head on a small upright torso and all balanced on two feet with no hooves or claws.  Slow, no need to chase ‘em.  All we have to do is push them over and they are helpless.  They look like they might taste good but they’re too small for us.  Hardly enough meat on those bones to be worth the effort.”  The hyenas chimed in “Yeah, those bones are small – easy to crack.  Look like good food for us.”  The canines said “Look at that funny face, no snout for smelling.  How do they find anything to eat?  No claws.  How do they expect to catch anything?”

The chimpanzees, our nearest relatives, are mostly herbivorous and say, “They have small guts, so they cannot subsist on plants and must hunt, yet while they are larger than us, they are weaker.  To hunt they should be stronger.5  What went wrong in their evolution?”

And the vultures, clinging to a branch, said “We’ll wait for the leftovers.”

What was there to be afraid of?  Our unusual physical nature, of course:

The humans smile and say “We are taller than most of youse guys so we see farther, and with binocular tricolor vision, more accurately.  While we are not as fast as many of you, we have more endurance than any of you.  We don’t have impressive muscles but we can throw accurately and can catch.  We gave up claws and gained finger dexterity.  We don’t have to sit around and wait for food to digest so we have time to run, throw, catch, touch, and make.  What was subtracted from our bodies was added to our brains.  We can observe fine detail in your tracks and follow you until are exhausted.  Watch us.”

Hairlessness allows for higher metabolic heat rejection than other animals and we can employ persistence (cursorial) hunting techniques.  This together with bipedalism allows humans incredible endurance – 200 miles and more6 – compared to any other animal.  We run our prey into heat exhaustion, and water and sodium depletion.  James Suzman describes a persistence hunt of an eland in his recent book Work: A Deep History.  In the end, the eland stands motionless, emotionless, and submissive, awaiting its fate.  I have read several accounts of herbivores, at some point ceasing to struggle against their predator as if their minds turned off or went into an altered state.

We became the top predator and the herbivores became food for us.  The other animals respect us.  We do not prey upon the other top predators, the large cats and hyenas, but oddly even they may be afraid of us.7  Suzman, in his prior book …, tells an astonishing story of modern relict hunters commanding a pride of lions to abandon their lunch and leave it to the hunters.

The canines – wolves – joined with us, or we joined with them in mutual domestication; that story can be read both ways, so it is an example of two social animals, cross-species bonding to our mutual advantage.

The vultures have nothing to fear. They remain unperturbed.

What else is there to be afraid of?  Our unusual social state of nature, powered by our unusual and powerful brains, of course.

Our Social State of Nature

We are a social species.  Humans have evolved genes, hormones, neurotransmitters and receivers; and out of those biochemicals we developed temperaments and behaviors to coalesce individuals into a social group able to hold territory, extract its resources, enable individuals to survive to reproduce, and to successfully raise offspring.  We have a bonding agent that glues these individuals into a social group.8  To be a member of the group requires specific temperaments and behaviors, and being a member enmeshes the individual a web of social behavior controls.  Human temperaments lie at the intersection of sociology, ecology and reproduction, and function to fit the individual into the constraints and requirements of these factors.  Individuals are the units of reproduction.  The social group is the locus of survival.  Reproduction and ‘fitness – reproductive success’ is both individual and social, to the point that a major portion of individual ‘fitness’ is conferred upon the individual by membership in the social group.

I have, from the beginning, used the phrase ‘social group’ to denote a tightly emotionally and functionally bonded set of individuals, within the demographics of the Magic Numbers, of all ages and both sexes, for the purpose of individual survival, reproduction, and raising of offspring.  I have deliberately not used the anthropological terms clan, tribe or troop because I intended ‘social group’ to be a portmanteau concept into which I can place specific sub-concepts.

In the previous essay I noted that “our evolution is within a web or mesh of factors and the connections between them.”  Likewise, our behavior is within a web or mesh of factors which do not unravel, for there are no loose ends upon which to pull.  The more I look, the greater the number of connections I see, and the more complexity between those factors.  Individuals are woven into the web of interactions in a social group and it is this web, invisible and incorporeal, that is the foundation, the locus, of individual survival, reproduction and child care.  The web, the social group, is more valuable than the individual even though it has no physical reality and is composed solely of relationships, connections, and interactions.  Aristotle’s second sentence: “society precedes the individual.”

A social group only metaphorically survives and reproduces.  It cannot experience, learn, communicate, and know.  Individuals are the units of survival and reproduction, and of experience, learning and knowledge.  Individuals can operate independently; a social group can only function cooperatively.  Yet all the individual functions occur or are performed in the context of the group or its sub-groups9   Extensive behavior controls operate to endure the survival of the individual via the survival of the group.  Humans will risk their lives to save the lives of others in the group.  This is graphically seen in the ‘fall on the grenade’ behavior in military combat.  Humans will also risk their life to rescue individuals that they do not know, even other animals.

Membership and Significance

A social group is like a wave in a gene pool.  A wave in the ocean has no physical existence, it is only energy lifting billions of water molecules up and setting them down as it moves forward through space and time.  The molecules are part of the wave for only a short time.  A social group is a sub-set of the human gene pool moving forward through space and time.  An individual is a sub-set of the social group likewise moving forward through space and time.  Unlike the wave, individuals are real things.

The individual’s set of genes contains the information required to collect and assemble a variety of molecules into a functional thing that, unlike the wave, can maintain thingness through time by continuously collecting and expending energy to maintain the assembly.  Further, that thing can export the information needed to make a new similar thing by passing copies of the original genes to the new thing.  Genes are relentlessly copying and mixing, coalescing into new subsets of genes, making new things, testing the survival and reproductive value of the subsets, and in the grand finale disassembling and vanishing into the dirt.  In the Biblical words, we are dust and to dust must return.  The individual is then temporary, provisional, and experimental, and is a member of the social group, and of the species, for a short time.  It is the group, its set of genes and those it acquires through exogamy, that passes through longer time. It is the species, a subset of all of the biochemicals that likewise extends through deep time.

There are but two ways of an individual becoming a member of our putative social group on the ancient African savannah: birthright membership and transfer.10  The sex that does not transfer, males, will form the backbone of the social group.  The sex that transfers, females, will import new genes and there will be mechanisms to incorporate incoming individuals into the social group.  Also, the transferee must be equipped with temperaments and behaviors suitable for incorporation and bonding into the new group.  These will have been inherited, developed, learned, and reinforced, in her natal group, priming her for amalgamation into her new group by the formation of new bonds.

Our transferee is an inter-group carrier of genes, diseases, parasites, and immunities; of temperaments, behaviors, and knowledge.  The major purpose of transfer is exogamy – the movement of genes – immunities come along for the ride.  These functions are necessary.  The transfer of temperaments, behaviors and knowledge is useful.  The sex that transfers confers novelty.  The sex that does not transfer provides stability.

I have emphasized transfer.  Most anthropologists omit a discussion of transfer or give it little notice.  What information is available is conflicting, but most agree that female humans transfer.  At some point in her sexual development, the female will develop an intense attraction to a different group, leave her natal group and join another.  There is another mechanism that backs up transfer: the Kibbutz or Westermarck Effect.11  Individuals who are raised in close proximity from birth to about 6 or 8 years old will not develop sexual attraction at puberty.  This would be a typical scenario in a small-scale hunter gatherer social group: there is no sexual attraction here and high attraction there, so transfer there.  One or both sexes must then transfer to reproduce.   These two mechanisms will also affect the optimum spacing of the territories of social groups – don’t go too far away – stay close enough for transfer to occur.12

There is one more mechanism that may underlie the logic of males remaining in their natal group.  Two major functions of males are provisioning by hunting and group protection from predation, conspecific or cross-specific.  This incurs danger and injury, and it would be an advantage for males to possess a tight bond to the social group via a web of individual bonds developed from propinquity from birth.  Our inexorable population increase due to becoming an apex predator and lacking any internal or external controls on rate of reproduction – our dearth of death – must surely have made intra-group fission and inter-group conflict more common.  This would drive the evolution of specific male temperaments which are best provided by bonds generated very early in life and developed through adolescence into adulthood.  Males would not be expected to transfer.

The logic of female transfer is based upon the common experience of maternity.13  In my four-generation extended family comprised of full genetic relations plus half and step relationships, I see adult female to child bonding across those types of relationships.14  For females, bairn bonds – a neat portmanteau neologism containing the entire variety of bonds between adults and children regardless of genetic relationships – will be a major function of her life.  In many cases the bairn bond will transcend the pair bond that created her children.  Bairn bonds may be more durable than pair bonds.15

The obvious way for a transferring female to gain membership into the social group is to generate significance and social capital via alloparenting children in the social group thus first developing bairn bonds.  It is then no accident that most grammar school teachers are women – teaching, and mentoring, is modern form of alloparenting.16  Females will then bond over their common bairn bonds.   The second route would be via grooming and Robin Dunbar posits that “speech is grooming on the cheap.”  It is no surprise then that females are more socially aware and verbally fluent.  A third route might be helping to forage and gather food.  Her knowledge of ways of preparing foods may be unique and their introduction to the cuisine would be most welcome.  Finally, she may become sexual available to male(s) in the group.  All routes may be taken and at this point the incoming transferee begins to gain membership by becoming significant to the existing member of the group.

Membership, significance and bonding are mutually synergistic – one developing the other in a dance of emotional and functional significance and bonds.  Significance and the ensuing bonds may be emotional or functional, or any combination thereof.  Functional bonds will generate emotional significance and bonds.  The development of one type may develop the other.

Membership via transfer is entirely underpinned by temperaments – predispositions for behaviors – as is maintenance of birthright membership.  Temperaments are then inherent controls on behaviors and are comprised of genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and experiential (learned) influences.  Temperaments are individually and socially functional, and their purpose is the amalgamation of the individual into social bonds enhancing the survival and reproduction of the individual members via communication and cooperation.

Membership is not granted for merely showing up with a hopeful smiling face.  It is earned by interactions that demonstrate the individual’s temperaments and behaviors, by becoming significant to others, and by developing social bonds.  It is granted by the fitness of the individual to be a member of the social group.

The Social Bond

What is the coherence, what is the glue – the bonds – that forms individuals into members of a social groups?  Not all primates have this glue, many species are solitary, so it is an evolutionary story and because hormones, neurotransmitters and behaviors do not fossilize, the story will have to be told largely in retrospect: looking at today and trying to figure out yesterday.  I assume that, even though we are evolutionary labile, modern humans have remained relatively constant, with one exception17, over our 300,000-year history – an evolutionary short time.  This allows me to work out our paleo-sociology from our neo-sociology and physiology, and to check my conclusions by the known behaviors of modern relict foraging hunter gatherer social groups.  There are great difficulties in interpreting those behaviors, because they are indicative rather than definitive.  Modern relict foraging hunter gatherers are under intense ecological/territorial and demographic compression and their neo-sociology may only resemble their paleo-sociology.  I suspect that many anthropologists make the assumption that their neo-sociology and morality are identical to their paleo-sociology and morality.  I question this assumption and posit that there may be significant differences.

 Bonding is a major survival mechanism and part of our inherent behaviors.  Our brains are equipped with various hormones, neurotransmitters, and receptors for these biochemicals.  The individual is built to attach, to form bonds, to be social.  Bonds are emotional and functional at both the individual and group levels.  We give ourselves brain rewards for successful bonding and brain punishment for failure to bond.  The inception of a new bond may be most exciting and the end of a bond can be extra-ordinarily painful.  Bonds provide manifold benefits beyond the emotional.  They are functional, generating the power of cooperation and altruism.  Bonds on the whole benefit the individual more than their cost.  The qualification ‘on the whole’ is necessary because there are and will be times when bonds cost and sacrifices are made.We are wired both as infants and as adults to form a variety of bonds of varying types, strengths, and durations for a number of reasons.  My third great-grandson was determined to bond with me.  He was less than a year old when he and his parents moved into the house next door before I had finished remodeling their bathroom.  I was rushed and tired, walking past him repeatedly, paying him little to no attention.  His eyes followed me every time I passed him begging for attention: pick me up and pay attention.  One day after he learned to crawl, we were in his back yard and as I rushed past him to get a tool from my shop, he crawled furiously after me, howling in apparent distress, but really signaling pick me up, pay me attention, and bond with me.  I laughed, stopped, turned around and picked him up.  We bonded.  A year or so later he will follow me around whenever possible and howls when I go through a gate and leave him behind.  His legs are a lot shorter and he trots determinedly behind me.  If I go into the shop he will walk around, trying every knob, switch, and drawer, and his head tilts back trying to take in everything in sight.

He is an active, avid, explorer of his back yard at two years of age.  I watched him select dirt clods, carry them to the irrigation valve box, pry the cover off and hid the clods inside.  He replaced the cover and stomped on it to make sure it was secured properly.  That was his hidey hole.  None of this was learned behavior, no one taught him to do this, and he was not imitating anyone.  He was displaying exploration, and intention.  He cannot yet open the door to a storage shed and when I open it, he comes running to see what is inside – curiosity.  He saw me use a battery drill and when I put it down, he picked it up and knew exactly how to turn it on – imitation.  These are not learned temperaments.  They are inherent in human nature.18

He displays bonding, attachment, curiosity, exploration, and imitation, and manipulation of objects and most important, manipulation of other humans including begging.  Begging, the outstretched hand, is common in chimpanzees and bonobos.  It is common in humans also, usually in the low-key form of asking for help.  By generating my bond with him, he has successfully rewired my brain to support his development and survival.  These are not learned temperaments and behaviors.  He has the temperaments and expresses the behaviors.  We may call these temperaments instinctive, developmental, or inherent, but that begs the question of how they develop.  The neuro-chemicals that mediate these behaviors are built upon his genes, but how those peptides and proteins develop behaviors is, as yet, unknown.19

In this example of a birthright bond20, I have descried a range of temperaments and behaviors, both social and territorial that I posit are universal and timeless.  These bonds will be functional promoting his survival, and durable maintaining his membership in our social group.  I turn next to a very different bond – modern, military and exaggerated – to illustrate a female transfer problem, for they must become members of a social group under very different conditions than birthright.  I chose this and the subsequent example of bond formation in military ‘social’ groups because while reading of them I developed several of my ideas on how social groups function – a path dependency in the evolution of my thinking.

I began this series of essays on evolutionary morality with the rape of Neryl Joyce while on duty as a contract soldier in Baghdad, Iraq.21.  Neryl was an officer in the Australian Army.  She resigned to take a contract job as a mercenary soldier in Baghdad.  The photo of Neryl Joyce on the cover of her book shows her dressed as a soldier complete with uniform, rifle, helmet and accouterments – inherent signals of personal quality.  She intended her daily behavior to signal a military competence equal to or even greater than the male members of her platoon: hoping, by competence and friendliness, to gain membership in the squad, a small-scale social group characterized by care and brotherhood.  She wanted to be, in her own words, “a formidable member of a formidable team.”

She expected to be treated as one of the guys.  She was a female transferee into an all-male group that had its incorporation methods and rituals for incoming males, but zero experience with the incorporation of incoming female soldiers.  She failed to become a member of the group for several reasons, some her fault and some the fault of the squad, but largely because there are few protocols for cross-sex bonding in any social group except sex and a pair bond – friendship and dominance structures of humans are largely unisexual.

The formation of a team of warriors out of individual soldiers is both absolutely necessary and inevitable for they are mutually dependent upon each other for survival.  A common maxim is that “there are no atheists in a foxhole.”  That may or may not be true but so is “there are no strangers in a foxhole.”  Combat forms friendships and bonds.  Special Forces teams are regularly in membership flux, and both their formal training and informal recreation function to test the qualities of a prospective team member.  Hazing and initiating a newbie are rituals intended to measure his suitability.

This is one of the problems faced by Neryl Joyce.  How does a male team measure and initiate a female member?  Can they trust her or is she a know-it-all whose only experience was peace-time playing war games in a sandbox now telling them how to do their jobs in actual combat situations?  How do they know that they can depend upon her even at the cost of her life?  Would she fall on the grenade to save her teammates?  The expected temperaments and behaviors of males and females is sufficiently different that they had cause to question her value to the team.

Equally instructive is the formation of social bonds out of individually competitive fighter pilots.  Their combat is single pilot to pilot, although many pilots also had a weapons system operator on board to handle the technology leaving the pilot to perform the intricate three-dimensional dance of aerial combat.  John Darrell Sherwood captured the experiences of air crew in his book Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience:

Roger Lerseth (weapons system operator and navigator)22 was shot down over North Vietnam and seriously injured.  He was captured and placed into solitary confinement without treatment of his injuries.  Fellow POWs made extra-ordinary efforts to let him know that they were nearby, concerned about and supportive of him.  It was a Sunday morning.  Roger was alone in his cell after a lengthy interrogation when he heard the other prisoners singing gospel songs.  Then they began singing, to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down, “new prisoner what’s your name, what’s your name.  New prisoner, what’s your name, tell us please.”  “’ That was one of the happiest days of my life – just knowing that the other guys knew that I was there.’ When separated from their machines, even individualistic types like Lerseth can become group oriented very quickly.”  In a few moments, in a simple vocalization, Roger became significant, a member, and a recipient of care without ever seeing a fellow prisoner.  All this was communicated to him by singing in unison, a synchronized social activity.

The POW experience showed that air crew “… could, and did, adhere to the basic military tenets of organization, discipline, and the interests of the group over the self.”  Aerial combat is physically and emotionally stressful, and air crew don’t go to ‘shrinks’ to resolve their issues.  They have few ways of dealing with it other than alcohol and toughing it out.  “Loyalty to the squadron took precedence over personal concerns.”  “There are a lot worse things than dying.  Living with dishonor is one of them.”

These three stories are modern but they illustrate that underneath our individualistic personas lie an ancient social morality.  They are ‘microscopes into our social morality.’  Many lessons and concepts may be found in these examples: membership, communication, bonding, significance, responsibility, care, trust, loyalty, honor and dishonor, pride and shame: our paleo male social morality in the midst of combat in civilization.  Dishonor, the betrayal of trust and honor, loss of membership in a social group for cause, destruction of bonds of friendship and significance, loss of social capital and care, and becoming nothing of value: driven off with tail between the legs, is worse than death.  Fear of dishonor and shame is a social control on behavior and is generated spontaneously in the squadron room and the prisoner of war cells.  Shame is the universal control and honor is an intensified control.  I will return to both of these in another essay.23

The social group is founded upon bonding between individuals who may or may not be genetically related.  Bonding is surrounded by the penumbra of significance which works in two ways.  Bonding grants significance to another individual.  The logic of bonding and significance also operates in the reverse direction: they function bi-directionally.  Becoming significant to another individual by shared activities, by ‘breaking a sweat together,’ by helping, may generate bonding.  It may also generate contempt and a refusal to bond.  I will posit that in small-scale foraging hunter gatherer social groups, the social controls of individual behavior are sufficiently effective that individual interactions are positive.  Generation of contempt and a refusal to bond will appear later in sedentism and civilization when the ancient social controls of mutualism have been replaced with individualism and legalization.


Serendipity has provided a superb example of the critical role bonding may play in human survival. Kiery and Brielle were born 12 weeks early and placed in separate incubators.  Kiery thrived.  Brielle nearly died.  She was given all possible medical intervention but her heart rate was unstable and she was anoxic due to poor breathing.  In desperation a nurse put Kiery into the same incubator with her sister, side by side, skin to skin and both face down.  Kiery reached out with her left arm and cuddled her sister.  Immediately Brielle’s breathing eased and her heart rate stabilized.  She had been individualized by being placed alone in the incubator and medicalized by the rules of separate incubators – that was all that was wrong with her.  Being socialized by being reunited with her sister revitalized the intense bond between them.  Bonding and the continued experience of bonding may be critical to human survival.

What I find astounding is that Kiery ‘knew’ to hug her sister.  While side by side skin to skin touch would probably been sufficient to restore Brielle’s physiology, it is the hug that resonates with viewers.  But that raises an unanswerable question: was her hug to increase her own level of touch or, understanding her sister’s distress, to comfort her?  Both are possible and probable.  I find it difficult to not use the word ‘instinctive’ for the hug.

Nurse put the healthy Baby next to her dying twin and a real miracle Happened! – YouTube

The hug that helped change medicine – YouTube

I’ve used the concept ‘inherent’ in three places in the main body: ‘inherent controls on behaviors,’ ‘inherent behaviors,’ and ‘inherent in human nature.  I deliberately did not use “instinctive” because of the difficult connotation left over from psychological behaviorism of the mid-twentieth century which asseverated that were nearly no human instincts.  It was all learned or conditioned, and with the sub-text that the academics knew how to create new and better human natures.  So, I used the word ‘inherent.’  But that begs the question of how does inherence generate human temperaments and behaviors.

The conversion of genes to neurochemicals to behavior is a serious problem.  The type case that illustrates this problem is the Monarch butterfly24 that reproduces several times during its northward migration in the spring.  The butterflies that arrive in their northern range are not the ones that left the southern winter refuge. There will be 3 to 4 generations between the butterfly that left the southern over-wintering site and the butterfly that arrives in the north.  Each generation interrupts its northern migration to reproduce, and the next generation continues the migration.  The final generation, the super-generation, will do something very different.  It reverses the direction of migration.  Environmental cues will begin its southward migration, and this is accomplished in its entirety by one generation which overwinters and begins but does not complete the new northern migration.  How does each new generation know their direction and destination?  How do they know north from south, east or west?  How does the super-generation live so much longer?  How they accomplish this, how the necessary information is encoded in their genes and the development of migratory and reproductive behavior from those genes is unknown.

But that lacunae of knowledge does not vitiate the many observations of inherent, and most certainly instinctive, human temperaments and behaviors.

The Internet is replete with examples of cross-species attachment and bonding, even between nominally predator and prey.  A cat and a crow play together, and a lioness adopts an antelope calf in this short video: Unlikely Animal Pairs Defy Laws of Nature – YouTube  Perhaps the contrast between the title of the video and the animal pairs portrayed therein is evidence that humans have, over a long time, misread nature’s laws.  While these are very unusual examples, they may point to something quite important about life that we do not yet understand.  If we look at predator and prey, as many nature films and videos do, and as evolutionary theory of the 20th century did, we see nature red in tooth and claw.  If we look the other way, we see a fundamental cooperation overlain with the exigencies of the animal nature – we must eat other life.  There is clear evidence of both plant cooperation and competition and likewise of animal cooperation, competition and predation.

This unusual cross-species pair illustrates a high level of bonding: Suryia & Roscoe: The Original Story – Orangutan Adopts Dog – YouTube.   Suryia’s parents had recently died and she was suffering the loss of her bonds with them.  There were no other orangs or other primates in the compound.  Roscoe, a starving stray dog, just showed up one day.  Suryia, riding on an elephant, climbed down from her ‘vehicle’ and wrapped her arm around Roscoe.  It is no surprise that Suryia, a female, made the overture of friendship and bonding and that it was a lioness who adopted the antelope calf.  Maternal care is not calculated solely on kinship, but also enacted on propinquity and perception of need.

I was doing the final editing and realized that while I had nattered about bonding based upon some interesting examples, I had not given a succinct statement of the types of bonds I had descried.  Bonding by its very nature will not be specifiable by solid definitions, rather by indicative and suggestive concepts derived from examples.  The more I think I about bonding, the more I tie it together with significance in a complex bilateral relationship: interpersonal bonding generates significance and the development of significance generates bonding.  With that in mind, I’ll try this list to get going: first, falling in love – an emotional bond.  Love creates an intense significance of the other.  Then, propinquity – closeness – and the type case for this is the love developed between non-kin care relationships such as adoption and other alloparenting.  Propinquity underpins the wider web of bonds in a small-scale social group.  Next is the pair bond which develops in the context of the social group.  The pair bond is a highly sexual bond, but sexual bonds may occur in other social bonds.  The function of the pair bond is reproduction and this develops the bairn bonds – parent/child – maternal and paternal – and child/child.  Bairn bonds, in particular maternal, may be more durable than pair bonds and bairn bonds may develop out of propinquity and alloparenting.  Bairn bonds may extend to subsequent generations and the longer life spans of individuals in civilization will make grandparent and great-grandparent bonds possible.  All of these bonds generate interpersonal significance.

It was a hot summer afternoon during my apprenticeship.  We were modifying a traffic signal.  Heat was radiating from the asphalt and concrete.  Cars passing by filling the air with exhaust fumes – this was years before effective smog controls.  The journeyman, Ed, turned to me and said “come on kid, let’s go get an ice cream.”  I bonded, attached, with him: instantaneous, uncontrolled, and uncalculated.  Later that year he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and I sat beside him in the shop through his radiation treatment.  He would open his shirt to show the skin burns and how a finger touch would depress the dead flesh.  Ed did not last long.  Everyone but me went to his funeral.  I could not go.  I sat in the shop and cried.

Ed taught me a lot.  Not so much about the trade, but about how to live and have a bit of fun, and how to die with dignity.  He also taught me about care.  His wife broke both of her collarbones in a fall.  Both of her arms were tightly secured in slings.  He had to dress and undress her, feed her and wipe her butt.  He did this cheerfully.  He became significant to me because he bought me an ice cream on a very hot day, and beyond that because he had temperaments that I admired and intended have for myself.  Tears fill my eyes as I write.  So long Ed, and thanks.

I have not thought of Ed for many years.  There are many pathways to bonding and significance and I offer this as an example of how easily a bond may be formed and how durable it may be.  A social group may be conceptualized as a web of bonds that generates Dunbar’s “…coherent, stable, coordinated social groups” out of individuals.

Membership, temperament, significance and bonding: a mélange of concepts that inform my understanding of social groups.  They also inform my understanding of individual behaviors, many of which may be interpreted as intended and functioning to gain, maintain, or increase social bonds.  I offer a single example: I share email humor with about six other people.  This maintains bonds and significance saying I am here and I care enough about you to take time to send to you and to in turn read what you send.

I’ve been thinking about temperament for at least two year and over the span of several essays I have gone to some length to lay out the case that many temperaments were inherent or instinctive.  Temperaments are “…a relatively fixed set of mental and emotional attributes that define major elements of personality.  Temperament is an over-all, large scale pattern or tendency such as curious or fearful, credulous or suspicious, wild eyed or reasonable.25  I also posited that temperaments are functional with respect to the needs of both the individual and of the social group withing which the individual is embedded: “…temperament, while personal, is sociologically functional – that is, personality in some respects subsumes under sociology – the needs of a social group.  Temperament, while basically individual, is more fundamentally sociological for it governs to a large extent how an individual functions within its group.  I am willing to go one step farther to suggest that perception of the needs of the group will develop aspects of individual temperament.”  Further, I posit that selection for a pair bond, formed within the social group, may be founded upon temperamental pairing and this confers reproductive success.  I will divagate upon temperament within the pair bond in the next essay.

Roger Lerseth and the warrior temperament: I introduced the warrior temperament in The Sentinel, the Warrior, and the Social Group – Carl Wilson (  Christopher Scaife summed his 24 years in the British army:

“Being in the army is a strange life, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  In the army you work together, you live together, you grieve together, you celebrate together.  The army was my family.”  That was where he found his bonds, significance, social capital, and family.

The military historian, John Keegan opined “I am tempted, after a lifetime’s acquaintance with the British army, to argue that some men can be nothing but soldiers.”  I’ve read accounts of Special Forces soldiers, in the middle of a hot fire fight, being aware that they are exactly where they should be and doing what they should do.  I take all of this at face value and that raises the question ‘why is there such a specific temperament?’  I do not have it.  Most men do not have it.

Honor and dishonor are quintessential warrior moral values: “There are a lot worse things than dying.  Living with dishonor is one of them.”((Sherwood, op cit.)  Dishonor and its cognate, honor, are both personal and social values.  Why are there warriors and why would dishonor be worse than death to them?  Why is shame such a powerful emotion for the rest of us?  That is the story I wish to tell in this series of essays.

Conclusion and Thesis Statement

A social group must go in the same direction at the same time and for the same purpose.  Humans have evolved hormones, temperaments and behaviors to coalesce individuals into a social group able to hold territory, extract its resources, enable individuals to survive to reproduce, and to successfully raise offspring.  We have a bonding agent that glues these individuals into a social group.  To be a member of the group requires a specific temperaments and behaviors, and being a member enmeshes the individual in a web of social behavior controls.  Human social temperaments lie at the intersection of sociology, ecology and reproduction, and function to fit the individual into the constraints and requirements of these factors.    


Suggested reading on bonding or attachment: Attachment theory – Wikipedia, Harry Harlow – Wikipedia, and Abraham Maslow – Wikipedia.  Also a web search for a wider range of articles on attachment: attachment theory – Google Search.

  1. I omit fungi, mushrooms and the like, as they are minor food sources. 

  2. Garden of Eden – Wikipedia 

  3. Robin Dunbar 

  4. Suggested reading: this essay builds upon my first sociological essay What is a Social Species? – Carl Wilson (, published about three years ago.  Time flies and memory fades so I cannot expect a reader to recall that material.  It is short, about 1800 words and worth a re-reading.  I defined a social species and posited that there exists a social bond that ties an individual member to a specific group and introduced a neologism, carinance, to express that bond.  In this essay, I will develop the group bonds in more detail, making a few changes as I have learned a lot in the interim. 

  5. Humans, while larger are weaker than chimpanzees, both proportionally and absolutely. 

  6. This distance is for modern competitive hyper-marathoners and is much longer than that employed by ancient hunters 

  7. Humans Are the Scariest Predator – The Atlantic 

  8. That bonding agent is, at our current state of understanding, two neuro-chemicals, oxytocin and vasopressin which interact and produce unusual and unexpected results.  I defer consideration of these until later. 

  9. Sub-groups refers to fission-fusion group behaviors.  Cf. previous essay. 

  10. I omit any discussion of the formation of a new group by fission – a topic for later. 

  11. Westermarck effect – Wikipedia 

  12. An example of too far away is to be found in the survivors of the Bounty Mutiny on Pitcairn Island.  Pitcairn Islands – Wikipedia 

  13. I am on shaky ground here and am frankly making it up as I go. 

  14. A step-son has two step-daughters who themselves are members of our extended family.  One of these daughters lives close enough to have a bond with her step-brother’s young child. 

  15. Cf. my essay on the pair bond Are Humans a Monogamous Species? – Carl Wilson ( 

  16. Meet the Alloparents | Natural History Magazine 

  17. And yet another essay 

  18. I deliberately did not use “instinctive” to describe his behaviors. 

  19. More in the Afterwords. 

  20. It is really a propinquity bond because he is genetically unrelated to me.  Of propinquity bonds, more later. 

  21. Evolutionary Sexual Morality: From Sex Drive to the Pair Bond – Carl Wilson (  

  22. Veteran Tributes 

  23. These examples and my construction of social controls are from the male viewpoint.  I do not have comparable examples from the female viewpoint and wish I did.  I made a Scientific Wild Assed Guess about female paleo-morality based upon maternity above. 

  24. Monarch butterfly migration – Wikipedia 

  25. Explanation: Conspiracy Stories and Theory of Mind – Carl Wilson ( 

Human Nature: There Are Weeds in the Garden of Eden


“Humans are a social animal,” and, “Society precedes the individual.” (Aristotle)

‘Social animal’ is a portmanteau concept.  Open it, and a complete consistent model of human nature, temperaments and behaviors may be extracted.  The exigencies of social living have generated inherent temperaments: bonding, care, empathy, cooperation, and altruism in individuals.  Society precedes, produces and protects the individual.


A social group must go in the same direction at the same time at the same speed for the same purpose and avoid conflict.  We have a bonding agent that glues individuals into a social group.  Humans have evolved hormones, temperaments and behaviors to coalesce individuals into a social group able to hold territory, extract its resources; and to enable individuals to survive to reproduce, and successfully raise offspring.  To be a member of the group requires specific temperaments and behaviors, and being a member enmeshes the individual in a web of responsibilities and social behavior controls.  Human social temperaments lie at the intersection of sociology, ecology and reproduction, and function to fit the individual into the constraints and requirements of these factors.

The original source for the first sentence of the thesis is of interest.  I clicked on a video of a murmuration of starlings – the fantastic flights of large numbers of the birds in the twilight as they twist and weave together in the air.  I was fascinated and did some research on how their movements are coordinated.  I discovered that three simple rules are sufficient for a basic description of their astonishing flights: Go in the same direction at the same time and speed, and avoid collisions.1  From those three rules I wrote my thesis statement.  While interesting and useful in developing my thesis statement, murmuration may not be a survival behavior for starlings.  The thesis is a statement of human survival behavior and is a portmanteau implying a range of sub-statements.

Individualism & Selfishness :: Mutualism & Altruism – A Dynamic Tension

Humans are a social animal, but “a social group is not a Pollyanic nirvana of happiness.  It is riven with the multiple dynamics of the entire corpus of social interactions from care to sociopathy, from heroic sacrifice to selfishness, and faithfulness to deception.  An individual member of a social species has, in addition to its basic survival and reproductive needs, a set of social survival needs.  Social animals live within a complex nexus of self and social needs.  There will be behaviors that favor the self and those that favor the group, and a complex set of motivations that release those behaviors.”

This is an early statement of behavioral dissonance, our individual behaviors can be dissonant, either selfish or social, with significant impact on our survival.2

My great-grandson, J, is a bit older than two years.  At a family dinner, his grandfather picked up a BBQ pork rib from his plate to cut some meat off of the bone, and J grabbed it back with “MY!”  My occurs early in child development, and precedes and underlies the development of yours, our, and fair which occurs about over 2 to 10 years later.3

That was all I needed to make a new Scientific Wild Assed Guess: a new meta-story, a hypothesis, an evolutionary story that would explain why, in a highly social species, children develop my earlier than our?  A first order guess would be that selfishness is easier to develop than mutualism.  A second order guess is that selfishness is a more primitive temperament appearing earlier in evolutionary time and that sociality and mutualism appeared later.  Together these hypotheses constitute a variety of ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ argument: that the development of temperaments in children occurs in (approximately?) the same order as their evolutionary development in the species.

As we evolved from a substrate of presumably non or low sociality to a highly social primate, we may expect some relict temperaments, that is, evolution has overlain my with mutualism and altruism rather than completely replacing it.  Individualism and selfishness are then primitive, and sociality and mutualism are secondary accretions or additions.  In the previous essay, I used Paul McLean’s triune brain hypothesis as an illustrative construct.  The human brain has evolved primarily on accretion, layering new primary social behaviors upon old primitive selfish behaviors.  I hasten to suggest that the presence of primitive behaviors does not imply that they are primary.  Social behavior – mutualism – has become primary in humans and individualism secondary in our paleo-morality.

We are then behaviorally dissonant, able to be both selfish and social: a dynamic tension leading to new and unexpected results.4   This is a useful concept and it is worth noting that a similar behavioral dissonance occurs in our mating system as well as our mating and reproductive system exhibits extra-pair copulations in an ostensibly monogamous pair bonding much to the distress of many.5

In From Utilitarianism to an Evolutionary Morality: We Were Moral Before We Were Civilized – Carl Wilson ( I argued that we were, in our state of nature as small-scale foraging hunter gatherers, inherently moral and in the above paragraph I posited that within that paleo-morality lies a behavioral dissonance: humans may be both selfish and social.  I appear to have a cognitive dissonance derived from a chance observation of a young child.  Avoid conflict – interpersonal conflict – is part of my thesis statement of human sociality.  Quite unexpectedly, I’ve descried intra-personal conflict in the individual which impacts the requirement to avoid interpersonal conflict.  This is a newly observed level of complexity in human behavior.6

Transgression, Measurement, Punishment, and Redemption

Peter Drake was a ‘sparky,’ a maritime radio operator responsible for communications with shore stations and other ships, in the days of Morse code sent via a manually operated switch, the ‘key,’ whose contacts sparked slightly as contact was made and unmade.  In the early days, the range of radios was limited, so ship’s radio operators acted as repeater stations.  They did not receive or transmit at random times.  Rather, they were on a schedule and ‘meeting the sched’ to retransmit all new and repeated messages was a responsibility.  Messages awaiting retransmission were said to ‘be on the hook,’ and they were transmitted before new messages thus first ‘clearing the hook.’

Sailors who previously were entirely on their own on the high seas, could now receive weather information that would make it possible to avoid or mitigate damage due to high winds and waves.  More important, radio made it possible to request help and rescue from nearby ships.  In the case of an emergency, it was Sparky’s responsibility to send the SOS and ship’s position, then ‘clear the hook’ if possible, and to lock down the key before evacuating the ship.  Locking down the key sent a continuous signal aiding another ship to use direction finding to proceed to the location.  The code of ethics of a radio operator required these responsibilities to be discharged even at the cost of his death.

Drake’s ship, an oil tanker, exploded and began sinking.  He sent the SOS and position, but neglected to ‘clear the hook’ and lock down the key before evacuating.  Messages on the hook were lost.  That was perhaps excusable.7  What was un-excusable was his failure to lock down the key.  The transmitted position was erroneous and his failure prevented a nearby ship from quickly determining the true location.  Five injured crewmen died in the thirteen hours before rescue.

Drake, alive and well in the life boat and knowing that he had failed in his duty, suffered the death of each fellow seaman.  He once had pride in his skill, “I never had to give my call (sign).  The minute I opened up, the whole damn ocean knew who it was.”8  Now he was a castaway from his ship and his own trade. “I lost my ticket.  No inspector took it away from me.  I took it away from myself….The first time Johnnie moaned, I knew that I had lost my ticket.”  Drake had measured himself against his code of honor and come up short.  Filled with dishonor, he shipped for 20 years as an ordinary seaman, and took to alcohol to ease the pain.

He was on a freighter in the North East Pacific when it hit a floating mine.  He took over the radio shack, made up broken connections, installed an old-style key that he had made in the ship’s shop, and cleared the air of traffic pounding out SOS and position.  Drake died at his key, and nearby vessels made the rescue in three hours.  Only one injured seaman died.  He at last lived up to his own code of honor and redeemed his transgression by discharging his responsibility.

“The Ransom of Peter Drake” by Jacland Marmur,9 is a fiction story of membership, skill, pride, significance, honor, and responsibility.  And in a moment of panic, it becomes a story of a failure to discharge responsibility, a story of selfishness, of transgression of a code of ethics, of self-measurement, of self-imposed dishonor, and excommunication.  It is a story of social pain, depression and self-medication.  In the end it is a story of redemption, wiping out twenty years of dishonor by self-sacrifice, saving the lives of other sailors at the cost of his own, living up to the code of honor of his trade, radio operator upon the high seas.  Redemption: buying back honor and membership.  Drake went down with the ship, “but he first cleared his hook.  He went back after twenty years and cleared his hook at last.  He’s got his ticket back.”

The conceptual schema of membership, responsibility, transgression, measurement, punishment, loss of membership, social pain, and redemption is essentially a Christian schema, minus a God.  But the source of that schema is the ancient social morality of the small-scale foraging hunter social group, which ab initio did not have a coercive God.  That arrives with the development of agency meta-stories with angry and punitive gods.  Christianity simply borrowed, codified, and institutionalized what was already there.

The behavioral dissonances between individual and social, selfish and altruistic, competitive and cooperative will inform Western psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology for millennia.


Maritime codes of honor and ethics are of interest.  Approximately a century before the Peter Drake story, HMS Birkenhead, a troopship carrying a number of women and children, was wrecked on an uncharted rock off the coast of South Africa.  The soldiers aboard stood fast to ensure that women and children were first into the lifeboats.  Most of the soldier died for lack of enough lifeboats.  Women and children first, the Birkenhead Drill, became an unofficial code of maritime ethics.10  The male role of small-scale social group protection was extended to the protection of an ad hoc group of unrelated women and children, the future of a species.  The code of honor of the radio operator and the Birkenhead drill, both unofficial, evolved out of social and survival needs.

Further, formal codes of honor such as that of the United States Marine Corps11 instill the inherent code of honor of small-scale foraging hunter gatherer groups.  They are intended and designed to inculcate the same behaviors in a larger-scale ad hoc social group, behaviors which tend to be absent in an individualistic competitive society.

While writing about temperamental and behavioral dissonance, I got enthused about conflicting paleo and neo-morality as a moral dissonance based upon a brain dissonance and wrote the this:

There is an older model of evolutionary brain development that is of interest at this point: Paul McLean’s triune brain.  I prefer the phrase ‘tripartite’ brain because it appears that the ostensible three major parts of the brain are not unified but are in some conflict.  In the essay Into the Ring of Fire – Carl Wilson ( I set out the hypothesis of paleo and neo-morality which I can now conceptualize as a functional brain dissonance.  I find this to be sufficiently interesting and important to quote myself extensively here:

“Paul McLean propounded the triune brain in the 1960’s.  His thesis was that there were three basic functional parts or levels in the human brain: the reptilian brain with its aggression, dominance and territoriality; the paleo-mammalian brain responsible for, among other things, reproduction and sexual behavior; and the neo-mammalian brain with its language, abstraction, planning, and decision – each built upon the structure of the next lower brain(s).

“This model is no longer viable – brain imaging and comparative anatomy has shown that it is too simplistic.  That being said, the model may provide useful images and concepts.  The paleo-and neo-mammalian brains may be subsumed into this rubric: The paleo-brain tells the neo-brain what to do, when to do it, and how to justify and explain it.  The paleo-brain: the Ring of Fire, the drive and compulsion, the need and desire, and the hurricane.  The neo- brain measuring, calculating, evaluating and on that basis attempting to control the paleo-brain and the overall behavior.  And doing that with mixed success, variable in an individual and between individuals.  It is likely that the paleo-brain controls the neo-brain in many engagements, as some guys ruefully comment, “my little head (of my penis) was thinking for my big head.”

“With the concepts of paleo- and neo-brains, I have a useful heuristic that makes it easier to think about emotion, morality, immorality, and behavior controls.  It is a broad picture rather than detailed brain science.  It is a way of knowing, of managing data, of arranging stories in an order, a platform upon which to build new and better stories.”

Eric Coates is a schizophrenic who wrote about his disorder and I quoted him:

“’As I considered the voice I heard talking to me in my own head, it suddenly occurred to me that what was happening was, more or less, a later development of the brain talking to a more basic and earlier level of consciousness, one which was not verbal itself but which was capable of understanding ideas that either did or didn’t use a verbal form, and which was, in fact, the actual seat and locus of my real awareness. In other words: the prefrontal cortex was like a separate being….’”

“Eric Coates, while describing his schizophrenia, nailed my conscious verbal mind and its unconscious substrate.  I have read and reread that quote, and marvel at how well he describes what I have been writing about.  While trying to understand schizophrenia, he clearly perceived the cross-connections between the word-conscious and the pre-word-conscious animal minds: a later development of the brain talking to a more basic and earlier level of consciousness.’”

The idea of behavioral dissonances is brand new right here in this essay.  It ‘sparked’ the idea of a wide variety of dissonances in human behavioral.  Here is what popped into my head:

Paleo-brain :: neo-brain or early :: late brain

Paleo-morality :: neo-morality

Chemo-morality :: cultural morality

Higher nature :: Lower nature  and higher man :: lower man

Slow :: fast systems12

Pair bond :: cheating/EPC’s

Individual :: Social

Selfish :: Altruistic

Reptilian :: paleo-mammalian :: neo-mammalian

My :: our

Self :: social group

Kant’s ‘crooked timber :: straight and true timber

Humans are a neurologically, endocrinologically, and behaviorally complex, even dissonant, species.  From that derives much of our sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, religion, law, literature, and advice columnists.  There are the weeds of individualism and selfishness, fundamental and primitive behavioral dissonances in the social Garden of Eden.

  1. Swarm behaviour – Wikipedia and Flocking (behavior) – Wikipedia  Swarm or flocking behavior is most interesting and I recommend reading these articles for insights into human behavior.  Several explanations have been advanced for these behaviors but none of them singly account for the murmuration of starlings.  I suggest sheer joy, delight, fun, and play and those factors are part of our behavioral repertoire also. 

  2. About three years ago, in What is a Social Species? – Carl Wilson ( 

  3. Do Kids Have a Fundamental Sense of Fairness? – Scientific American Blog Network & The developmental origins of fairness: the knowledge–behavior gap ( 

  4. A riff on cognitive dissonance: holding conflicting meta-stories at the same time. 

  5. EPCs may be described as paleo-mammalian selfish sexual behavior.  Cf. the discussion of the tripartite brain thesis in the Afterwords below for ‘paleo-mammalian.’ 

  6. Well, that is not really true.  This observation has been made by many before.  I’ve only re-conceptualized it in terms of intra-personal conflict and behavioral dissonance.  Abstract concepts are portmanteaus encapsulating a range of sub-concepts. 

  7. The author may have exaggerated the importance of clearing the hook as a story-telling device, a mnemonic for an action entailing high responsibility. 

  8. A telegrapher could be recognized by his ‘fist,’ his style which was individually idiosyncratic and characteristic. 

  9. Anthologized in The Saturday Evening Post Reader of Sea Stories, 1962 

  10. HMS Birkenhead (1845) – Wikipedia 

  11. What are the Marine Corps Values ( 

  12. Thinking, Fast and Slow – Wikipedia 

My Life With a Circadian Rhythm Disorder and Micro-Sleeps

Black-outs, Gray-outs, Micro-sleeps and Naps

I awoke suddenly.  I hurt worse than I had ever been hurt before.  Blood was running from my right hand where the saw blade had cut deeply into my ring finger and ripped the ball of my thumb off.  I grabbed a shop towel, wrapped it around my hand, turned the saw off, and headed into the house dripping blood.  I later cleaned the spots off the floor in the house but the spots on the shop floor remain as memoranda.  Eventually my footsteps will wear them off.

After getting patched up in the emergency room, I returned to the shop to figure out what happened.  I had no memory of the accident.  Only of the sudden pain and the instantaneous awareness.  I told the emergency room nurses that I had blanked out.  I had to reconstruct the accident from what I was doing and what was left on the saw.  I was cutting a number of identical pieces of ½” plywood to width to make a set of drawers.  The stock was stacked on my right side and as each cut was made that piece was stacked on the left side.  At the end of each cut, I picked the scrap up with my left hand and threw it in the trash can.  No problem.  But I picked up the cut piece with my right hand and in moving it to the left my hand passed over the blade.  After setting the piece down on the left and returning to the right, it passed over the blade again.  My hand always went at least 10-12” above the blade.  No problem.  I had done this for about 55 years.  So, what happened?

The scrap was in the trash and the cut piece was on the stack on the left.  There was no wood in the cutting area so I had completed the cut, tossed the scrap and stacked the finished piece.  I have no memory of placing the cut piece on the stack.  Sometime between completing the cut, which I remember, and moving the cut piece, I blanked out.  No hearing.  No vision.  I remained standing.  While moving my hand back to the right, I lost muscular control and my hand dropped onto the running saw blade.  As they say, the rest is history.  The ring finger recovered completely.  The thumb has reduced dexterity and is sensitive to pressure.  Doctors say 6 months to a year before I’ll know the extent of its recovery.

What happened?  I went to sleep for a short time – a micro-sleep.  The cause of micro-sleeps?  A circadian rhythm disorder.  Once I had these hypotheses, I could make sense of the entire history of my life.  My father most certainly was sleepy and it is probable that it was also a circadian rhythm disorder.  Narcolepsy was considered as a diagnosis, but as he did not present the full narcoleptic tetrad, that hypothesis was abandoned.  He was sleepy and had trouble hearing although his hearing tested normal.  I present the same symptoms.  There is, then, a likely genetic component to my disorder and while I display the excessive daytime sleepiness, I do not display cataplexy and do not assume to be a narcoleptic.  He was hard of hearing and from an early age I remember him wrapping his hand over an ear and asking “how’z that?”  His hearing tests were normal for his age.  Unexplained at the time, it is now diagnostic, pointing toward excessive daytime sleepiness and his sense of hearing turning off.  Hearing aids did not improve his hearing.  I present the same symptoms.

Daytime sleepiness problems were apparent early.  Mother said that before I went to school, I never stopped napping.  About the sixth grade, my father observed that I was groggy.  I remember back then the difficulty of being hereI was a long way away and it took an effort of will to be here.  There were two times when here went farther away. On two evenings a year apart, when I had to remain active beyond my bedtime, my eyesight dwindled and darkened as if my vision had receded through a tunnel and left me behind.  My hearing diminished, and voices and background noise were far away.  I of the mind was far away from me of the body.  My consciousness was trying to turn off but I had to stay awake.  I wasn’t here and I wasn’t quite there but some dark groggy interim place.  I was alone and helpless, terrified, without words to tell of it and no one to tell it to.  I was 10 and 11.  I now call those events gray-outs and there have been more.

As time went on, I could feel that darkness takeover my life, varying somewhat throughout the day as the ratio of awake and asleep changed.  By my sophomore year of high school, I knew that I was in trouble.  I could not read for a length of time and could not remember what I had just read.  While I could not complain about my mental state, I could complain about exhaustion.  I was tired all the time.  The docs could not find anything wrong.  The thyroid supplement they prescribed just in case had no effect.

I tried college but dropped out as many times as I enrolled.  My first year of college was residential but the dorms were some distance from the classrooms so I would be at the campus from breakfast through dinner.  Classes were in the mornings and afternoons were study.  I recall trying to read Moby Dick during those afternoons as my mind grayed out, attempting to go to sleep.  I had not yet re-discovered napping and I was in a public area, so I suffered intensely through the afternoons.  Insomnia, both sleep onset and late-night awakenings, became a serious problem and on top of excessive daytime sleepiness, a double whammy.

Of the next 3 years the less said the better.  But I got lucky.  In 1964 I began my electrical apprenticeship.  By then my diurnal pattern was one of initial sorta awake after breakfast decreasing steadily through the day.  Afternoons were, and still are, torture.  One afternoon I was the street-side ‘grunt’ for my journeyman working in a manhole.  My job was to supply him with tools or materials that he needed.  I was sitting on the manhole guard, barely conscious, vision diminished, hearing almost completely turned off, and I said to myself “I need this job.  I gotta get this under control.”  I still do not quite know how I do it.  I can sorta keep myself awake or at least wake myself up for a period of time by some kind of mental effort.  Even better is continuous reasonably active physical work.  So long as I have something to do, I keep moving, and moving helps me stay somewhat awake.  One younger buck once said “that old man never stops moving!”

Sometime in the late 1950’s Life magazine published an article on medical schools and the working conditions of interns in the teaching hospitals.  There was a photograph of an exhausted intern leaning against a corridor wall taking a break.   I live that all day every day of my life.

To interact with family and friends, I have to wake up a bit and my brain is never fully alert.  My hearing is partly to mostly turned off and I spend a lot of time mentally reconstructing what I think I heard you say.  If I am engaged in a known conversation I can usually either turn my hearing on or immediately reconstruct what I hear.  If you are saying something that I do not expect, I cannot either anticipate or reconstruct your meaning.  Sometimes I am unable to turn my hearing on at all and it is all noise.  Hearing aids only amplify the noise.  I have immense difficulty picking out one conversation out of several, so I am unresponsive at such things as family dinners.  Movies are a challenge.  I finally quite asking my wife “what did they say?” and just sit there.

I spend a lot of effort trying to appear to be responsive.  Effectively I am faking it while I am talking.  After a short time, I begin to tune out and the effort to continue becomes excessive.  Even if I hear, being essentially asleep, I cannot engage in a normal conversation.  I do not think of things to talk about so I rarely initiate a conversation unless there is something specific that needs to be discussed.  My audio and visual input circuits are restricted and my mental processing circuits are ineffective.

To this day I nap both regularly and episodically: thrice a day, at 9 AM, noon and 3 PM, and now and then before events such as club meetings and family dinners.  I’ll napped anywhere: at parks and in parking lots, in the back seats of cars, on picnic tables, in closets, and next to power transformers. I plan my day around meals and napping.  What’s with all this napping?  Nobody else that I know is obsessed with napping.

My life revolves around maintaining my schedule particularly nap time with auxiliary naps before events, minimizing stress, and regulating the length of time engaging with other people.  I was visiting a friend who had guests from Australia and my stay extended into my mid-day lunch and nap time.  We were in his workshop and I was asked to explain something.  I was nearly grayed out but attempted the explanation.  I was so stressed that I was shaking and my voice was trembling.  I finally had to excuse myself and go home for lunch and a nap.  I wish I could have changed those priorities, I tried, but over the span of my life naps became increasingly necessary.

I am aware of blank outs – microsleeps – as far back as the 1970’s.  My in-laws lived about 6 hours away and we visited them somewhat regularly.  several times, near the end of the trip, I observed that I had blanked out for a short time, short enough that I was still centered in the lane and at the same speed.  I had no idea what they were and fortunately they were short enough that I did not lose control of the car.  These would have been about 3 PM, the sleepiest time of the day.

More recently, I have had micro-sleeps while driving where I fail to see another vehicle.  They all happened in the afternoon, my worst time, and at a stop sign.  When they happened is important, but I did not figure the reason until after the table saw accident.  Knowing about blank outs, I realized that some near accidents were the basis for explaining all of the recent blank out events.  Our house is two story, and I am up and down the stairs often.  Occasionally I would miss the last step.  My foot would pass right over it.  The best explanation is that I was able to hold my brain awake until near the last step when it effectively said “I’m almost at the bottom, I no longer need to be so alert and wham I’m asleep.”  I blank out and lose muscular control, and the momentum of my leg and foot movement is uncontrolled.  My foot passes over the last step and I continue forward landing on floor to awaken suddenly.  I have no memory of the missed step.  I now watch my feet carefully as I descend.

That hypothesis of holding my brain awake until a “permissible” time fits the table saw accident perfectly.  My brain went to sleep just after my right hand had carried the finished piece to the left and about the time that I placed it on the finished stack.  It also fits the missed vehicle events as they were all in the afternoon and at a stop sign – a ‘permissible’ time for a micro-sleep.  These times are also dangerous times.

Gray outs go back a lot farther and some of that story has been told above.  About 2 years ago I did some repair work for a friend in the afternoon.  I replaced a circuit breaker and fixed a loose electrical outlet, done hot and both jobs needed careful attention.  I then talked with John, his wife and their caregiver for about 20 minutes.  That used up all of my alertness.  By the time I drove half a block away, I was beginning to grey out, but did not realize it.  I don’t think I drove through a red stop light but I went straight instead of turning right.  I got increasingly confused thinking I had never seen these houses before and that I was going too far.  Finally, I realized that I was totally lost and I nearly panicked.  It was one of my most awful experiences ever.  I don’t have words adequate to the emotion.  I have always known where I was and where I am going.  Being lost is terrifying.  After some time, I figured out that if I turned right twice and left once, I should get back on track.  I was more than half asleep and it was difficult to perform that decision, but I made it.  In retrospect, I should have stopped and taken a nap.

After my accident, I connected my black outs with gray outs and put them on a continuum from merely sleepy through almost completely asleep but retaining muscle control to a full micro-sleep.  With that knowledge I decided that I was no longer a safe driver.  The possibility of injuring another person is unacceptable.

I have experienced four gray outs in a vehicle since my table saw accident.  Two of the gray outs were on a city street that I had driven often for about 60 years, but I could not now recognize where I was and wrongly told my wife to not turn on this street.  The third one was a bit more dramatic.  My wife was driving and we were approaching the correct freeway exit.  I literally could not see the sign board and did not know where I was.  We ended up taking the next exit and returning to the correct one.  The fourth gray out was my poor judgment.  Because evenings after about 9 PM are my most alert times, I wrongly thought that I could drive my wife to the hospital for an emergency.  I exited the freeway correctly, but reading the sign board, I could only see the bottom line.  The top line was invisible.  What I read on the sign did not match where I was and once again, I was lost.  Fortunately, my wife was able to pull me back into ‘found’ again.

Circadian Rhythm Disorder

A coupla years ago, I was soaking in the bathtub and I noticed that in the span of a few seconds my mental state flipped and I sorta woke up and I was no longer quite so groggy.  This happened again and again, and I found that my most alert times were from about 9 to 12 PM despite being more tired.  I remembered that while working swing shift, I was more alert than working days.  So, I have gotten interested in the possibility of a circadian rhythm disorder.  A circadian rhythm disorder (CRD) is much more useful and informative than the previous diagnosis of ‘idiopathic excessive daytime sleepiness’ which is not much more than a description and an admission of ignorance.  EDS provides no connections between observations, no mechanism, and no response to the disorder.  CRD is observable and measurable by a 24-hour body core temperature test.

I have two sleep-wake cycles running simultaneously: a circadian rhythm established genetically and/or developmentally, and my learned conventional daily cycle established over many years from early childhood.  That learned cycle is now established as: wake up at 7-8 AM and go to sleep at 10-11PM.  But my brain and body want go to sleep at 12 noon to 1PM and to wake up at 8-9 PM.  My circadian rhythm normal sleep phase is approximately 10 hours advanced or 14 hours delayed.  Afternoons and early evening, my sleepiest times, are when I should be asleep.

There is an enormous difference in my mental state between 8 PM and 10 PM and the earlier part of the day.  I have used the noun ‘torture’ for my afternoons and early evenings.  I have no other word.  I feel a pressure in my head, I have to consciously focus my eyes and energize my ears, and that with difficulty.  I have recently been unable to work on my shop projects during the evenings and I have taken to reading more – and I can tell you that reading is difficult, I can read for a short period of time, about 5 – 10 minutes, and then I close both the book and my eyes, and take a break.  Don’t ask me what I just read because I cannot remember it.

For more years than I can remember, I take a walk at night about 9 PM.  I have noticed that my brain is clearer, my eyes easily take in the sights, and I am mentally relaxed.  I no longer need to exert a tremendous effort to be awake.  Instead of a beetling of my brow, I have a smile on my face.  But I have been awake since about 7:30 AM, my conventional/habitual sleep wake cycle exerts its effects and I am tired in a different way.  It is hard to describe the effects of two different sleep-wake cycle that are about 180 degrees out of phase have on me.  My hypothesis based upon these observations is that my natural cycle wakes up about 9 PM, but I go to sleep 2 to 3 hours later in my conventional/habitual sleep-wake cycle.  I wake up in the morning more tired than when I go to sleep at night.  My brain and body must be quite confused.

Sleepy people have trouble concentrating because their brain insists on being asleep. Sleepy people may have poor memories and other cognitive defects.  If they are sufficiently sleepy to be grayed out, their hearing and vision may be impaired because sleepiness turns these senses down or off.  Altogether, these factors imply that they may have difficulty or be unsafe while operating machinery and vehicles.  They may find social interactions to be difficult and tiring.

Afterwards and Afterwords

The medical workup subsequent to the injury to my hand indicated that I had not had a transient ischemic accident (stroke) and that I did not display memory loss or another dementia.  An overnight sleep study turned up a significant amount of obstructive sleep apnea and a second test has been scheduled to select a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine.  While this will not ameliorate the circadian rhythm disorder, it may reduce the added burden of sleepiness due to frequent partial awakenings due to apnea.  This Afterwords will become a continuing saga of my treatment.

My goal in writing this has been to set out a conceptual framework capable of incorporating all of the puzzling observations throughout my life.  It was catalyzed by a serious injury which yielded the concept of ‘blank outs’ or ‘micro-sleeps.’  Blank outs are more useful than micro-sleeps for they led to the concept of gray outs, puzzling events which have occurred over most of my life and had no explanation.  They also explained my increasing ‘idiopathic excessive daytime sleepiness’ and allowed me to remove ‘idiopathic’ from the descriptor: daytime sleepiness is the effect of my circadian rhythm disorder which has genetic and developmental causes.

It is my hope that publishing these notes on my experience will aid someone else in understanding theirs.  So long as I have an afterwards to the accident, I hope to add Afterwords to this essay.


T’other day I watched my brain going to sleep!  Literally!  My HMO checks my vision regularly and I was doing the Humphrey Visual Field Analyzer.  I was looking into white spherical bowl watching for brief flashes of light of varying intensity.  I noticed that my vision was gradually being obscured by a slowly moving greenish-blackish film of an abstract design.  It would vanish if I blinked or made a mental note of it, but immediately begin reforming.

I had no idea of what it was until I began my mid-day nap a coupla days later and realized that the film was a backlit version of my visual field when I close my eyes preparatory to going to sleep.  Not quite the same because of the background, and it has become apparent that my brain while going to sleep generates visual noise.  Quite probably this is related to the visual noise of dreaming for which the brain generates a story line.

The visual test was about 10:15 AM and my circadian rhythm would like to go to sleep at about noon, so this was late at ‘night’ for my brain.  I was watching my brain turn off my vision preparatory to or while going to sleep.  Making a mental note of it awakened my brain a bit for a short time.

Thanksgiving week I had two injury blank-outs.  Not serious, just adhesive bandage damage, but one of them could have been a broken finger.  What to make of these?  Are there blank-outs that are unknown?  So far most of them have been identified by awakening suddenly in pain.  However, in the ’70s I was aware of them while driving.  They were short enough that I remained in the lane at the same speed but somehow I was aware that I had slept for a brief time.  That I had two about one day apart suggests the possibility that the cause may involve more than just a circadian rhythm disorder as does the proximity in time of the serious accident micro-sleep and the four major gray-outs.  I know from my time cooking at San Jose State that grains, in particular wheat, affect my alertness.  I have reduced those as much as possible.  Other foods or combination of foods may have similar effects.  Just thinking at the keyboard.