If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support

Human Uniqueness: A General Theory

Paul M. Bingham
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Vol. 74, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 133-169
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2665093
Page Count: 37
  • Download PDF
  • Cite this Item

You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:

login

Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support
Human Uniqueness: A General Theory
Preview not available

Abstract

The extensive, persistent ecological dominance of humans is unprecedented. We display a highly derived social adaptation involving uniquely extensive cooperation among nonclose kin. Further, humans possess adaptive capabilities, including language, high cognitive function, and technological virtuosity not previously seen on this planet. Moreover, this suite of properties emerged and was refined very rapidly on a geological time scale. These diverse features of humans present what is referred to as the "human uniqueness problem." A theoretical interpretation of these phenomena is one of the largest remaining challenges to the scientific enterprise. While many interpretations have been proposed-several containing important individual insights-none has yet proven robust or complete. A straightforward resolution of the human uniqueness problem is proposed. It is argued that coalitional enforcement is necessary and sufficient to allow extensive nonkin cooperation, leading to all major elements of human uniqueness. Coalitional enforcement arose uniquely in humans when the animals that founded the Homo clade acquired the ability to kill or injure conspecifics from a substantial distance. This resulted from the evolution of hominid virtuosity at accurate, high-momentum throwing and clubbing, previously supposed to be adaptations for hunting, predator defense or individual aggression. No previous animal could reliably kill or injure conspecifics remotely. This ability dramatically reduced the individual cost of punishing noncooperative behavior by allowing these costs to be distributed among multiple cooperators. The capacity for coalitional enforcement drove the evolution of a cooperative social adaptation stably and autocatalytically from the origin of incipient Homo about 2 million years ago through to the present moment-including socially supported, ultimately spectacular, refinements in weaponry and social monitoring, with attendant increases in efficiency of coalitional enforcement and thus in the extent of human cooperation. Its details rendered this evolutionary process very rapid. This theory is believed to be robust and relatively complete. For example, coalitional enforcement is necessary and sufficient to allow for the evolution of language in an ape. Further, given the likely functional organization of the ancestral vertebrate mind, the coalitional enforcement hypothesis predicts, in addition to genetic information, the emergence of a second stream of design information in Homo, susceptible to Darwinian selection. A novel source of design information has long been suspected on empirical and intuitive grounds to be responsible for the uniquely high level of human adaptive sophistication. The unprecedented cognitive power of human minds is also predicted by these implications of the theory. Lastly, the "cognitive explosion" associated with the relatively recent appearance of behaviorally modern humans is predicted by the theory, as is the increasing size of human political units. The coalitional enforcement hypothesis and its immediate implications now enable the formerly elusive unification of diverse fields of study, including human biology, psychology, linguistics, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, history, and economics.

Page Thumbnails

  • Thumbnail: Page 
133
    133
  • Thumbnail: Page 
134
    134
  • Thumbnail: Page 
135
    135
  • Thumbnail: Page 
136
    136
  • Thumbnail: Page 
137
    137
  • Thumbnail: Page 
138
    138
  • Thumbnail: Page 
139
    139
  • Thumbnail: Page 
140
    140
  • Thumbnail: Page 
141
    141
  • Thumbnail: Page 
142
    142
  • Thumbnail: Page 
143
    143
  • Thumbnail: Page 
144
    144
  • Thumbnail: Page 
145
    145
  • Thumbnail: Page 
146
    146
  • Thumbnail: Page 
147
    147
  • Thumbnail: Page 
148
    148
  • Thumbnail: Page 
149
    149
  • Thumbnail: Page 
150
    150
  • Thumbnail: Page 
151
    151
  • Thumbnail: Page 
152
    152
  • Thumbnail: Page 
153
    153
  • Thumbnail: Page 
154
    154
  • Thumbnail: Page 
155
    155
  • Thumbnail: Page 
156
    156
  • Thumbnail: Page 
157
    157
  • Thumbnail: Page 
158
    158
  • Thumbnail: Page 
159
    159
  • Thumbnail: Page 
160
    160
  • Thumbnail: Page 
161
    161
  • Thumbnail: Page 
162
    162
  • Thumbnail: Page 
163
    163
  • Thumbnail: Page 
164
    164
  • Thumbnail: Page 
165
    165
  • Thumbnail: Page 
166
    166
  • Thumbnail: Page 
167
    167
  • Thumbnail: Page 
168
    168
  • Thumbnail: Page 
169
    169