If, indeed, human beings are scarcely different from their Paleolithic ancestors of 100,000 years ago, what are the implications of this for the object or subject of your current attention? Here are some questions for foregrounding this issue:
- Of nature: With regard to the natural object or ecosystem of your contemplation, what have you been evolved to most naturally notice about it? What might break the Paleolithic spell over your perceptions? If you were a creature of another species, what might you notice? How about if you were a cyborg?
- Of human artifacts (art, a poem, an ad, etc.): If you’re contemplating a human artifact, do you feel manipulated by it, and are these manipulations in any sense “primal” or “Paleolithic” (enticing you to greater sociality, stimulating fear, making you want to hunt, to make babies, etc.)? How do gender roles function around this object? Do you regard these as natural?
- Of the individual: How does the person you’re contemplating reflect his or her Paleolithic roots, and how do your own Paleolithic roots influence your perceptions of this individual?
- Of society: To what extent is the social system you’re bringing attention to (a family, a church, a theme park, a fast food restaurant, a state, a corporation) influenced by Paleolithic imperatives? Where in the system are Paleolithic imperatives not being attended to?
Physicist Michio Kaku (b. 1947), in his book Physics of the Future (2011), coined the term “Cave Man (or Cave Woman) Principle” to account for the persistence of certain forms of “high touch” behaviors in a “high tech” age, and to assist him in predicting future trends. Here he is laying out his thesis:
Genetic and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans, who looked like us, emerged from Africa more than 100,000 years ago, but we see no evidence that our brains and personalities have changed much since then. […] The point is: whenever there is a conflict between modern technology and the desires of our primitive ancestors, these primitive desires win each time. That’s the Cave Man Principle. For example, the caveman always demanded ‘proof of the kill.’ […] Similarly, we want hard copy whenever we deal with files. […] Likewise, our ancestors always liked face-to-face encounters. […] This is the reason cybertourism never got off the ground. It’s one thing to see a picture of the Taj Mahal, but it’s another thing to have the bragging rights of actually seeing it in person [pp. 15-16].
Evolutionary psychology, as a form of analysis, while stimulating, can also readily devolve into the telling of “just-so stories” that individually seem plausible, but may in the end have little or no evidence actually supporting them. Perhaps, for example, the “hard copy” paper file Kaku implies is natural (that is, closer to the Paleolithic condition) is little more than an artifact of environmental conditioning, not an evolutionary imperative.
Evolutionary psychological analysis, used too loosely, can actually become a substitute for thought, functioning to short-circuit analytical nuance. The devil is in the details—as were our Paleolithic ancestors.
- Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future (Anchor Books, 2011)
- Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (Penguin, 2007)