Humans’ Adaptive, Flexible Intelligence Evolved Where Climate “Change Was Dramatic, Frequent, Unpredictable and Stressful”

(p. C9) In “Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History,” astrobiologist and professor of science communication Lewis Dartnell argues that “there is a clear causal chain taking us from the politics and socio-economic conditions of today, to their roots in historical agricultural systems, and then further back to the geological tapestry of the ground beneath our feet.”

. . .

The final sentence he offers as summation—“The Earth made us”—can be read two ways, capturing the parallel themes of “Origins.”

With emphasis on “us,” it refers to the origin of the genus Homo, a clade of naked apes giving rise to our species, H. sapiens, the greatest biological superpower of all time, one so potent that all others in our genus are extinct. Why did this emergence take place in the cradle of the East African Rift and nowhere else? And why did the arrival of our genus broadly coincide with the onset of high-frequency climatic swings about two million years ago? Mr. Dartnell concludes that this recently uplifted and intricately rifted landscape created a mosaic of habitats dominated by lakes that further amplified the climatic oscillations between dry-wet and hot-cool conditions. Change was dramatic, frequent, unpredictable and stressful. Thus “intelligence” became “the evolutionary solution to the problem of an environment that shifts faster than natural selection can adapt the body . . . driving . . . ever more flexible and intelligent behavior.”

For the full review, see:

Robert M. Thorson. “The Earth and Us.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 23, 2022 [sic]): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraph, added; ellipses within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 9, 2019 [sic], and has the title “‘Origins’ Review: The Earth and Us.”)

The book under review is:

Dartnell, Lewis. Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History. New York: Basic Books, 2019.

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