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Modern man in potential: human evolution as viewed from a new perspective.

An article on human evolution was originally submitted as a thesis in January, 1965, to the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, during the close of my senior year there. It was very well received by the physical anthropologist, W. Howells. The article was revised slightly ten years later with the intention of submitting it for publication.

The main theme of the article (Lieber, 1965) was to demonstrate that modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens, would not have come to be under the harsh glacial conditions of Western Europe present thousands of years ago, or under any harsh environmental situation, for that matter. Such harsh, glacial conditions, it was also argued, resulted in the extinction of the Neanderthals, Homo sapiens neanderthaleasus, as they, under such conditions, could not evolve and maturate higher mental faculties fast enough to enable them to adapt effectively to such conditions through the creation of innovative technologies. In fact, Finlayson proposed in 2004 "that Neanderthals became extinct because their world changed faster than they could cope with ..."

For the evolution of modern man to come to pass, it was argued, a mild environment was required. Such an environment or niche, with its features of mild climate, abundant fresh water, plentiful food sources and generally, easy-to-obtain resources, enabled the evolution and establishment, upon maturity, of much higher, though longer developing mental faculties during maturation, and thereby, the existence of such highly adaptive faculties during subsequent human evolution. Early man's cultural interaction with a mild environment permitted the necessary survival time for such long-term maturation, in contrast to what would have occurred under harsh conditions, and thereby precluded the extinction of such through premature death. Once such faculties were established through a completed maturation, and thus available to and maintained by subsequent generations of progeny, the evolved Homo sapiens sapiens could readily create innovative cultural systems, involving innovative technologies, that would eventually enable modern man's spread and effective accommodation to harsh, restrictive environmental conditions after having evolved in a mild environment.

In the original thesis, it was proposed, based on fossil evidence, that modern man (or humans) first evolved in the Near East. At the time of this evolution, the Middle East had a very temperate climate, ample rainfall, lush vegetation and plentiful game, enabling the creation of cultural systems in such a situation highly protective of long-term maturating, high-level mental faculties. By virtue of this protection or support, such mental faculties had ample time to be established or completely developed, to be adaptively effective, enabling the accelerated evolution and stabilization, through time, of modern man in the Middle East.

Current views of human evolution, based on additional fossil evidence and geological data, do not dispute this. In fact, evidence suggests that modern humans evolved from archaic Homo sapiens independently in varied regions of mild environments, some warm and tropical, lasting thousands of years. (Finlayson, 2004; Maslin et al., 2005; Shang et al., 2007; Barker et al. 2007; Guyot, 2007; and online article, 2006). These regions were in Africa, Southwest Asia, the Far East, in what is today, China, and likely in South East Asia. Though there is significant support for this former view, there is also evidence to suggest that modern humans only evolved within south and east Africa, within such areas in which there were niches of mild, lush environments, some tropical, containing lakes and rivers, and areas along the sea coast, rich in shellfish, a plentiful and readily available source of protein, needed especially for complete brain development. (Op. cit.) From these niches, according to this Out of Africa Theory, modern man spread throughout the world, replacing other earlier hominid species, such as the Neanderthals. Whatever view becomes the final one through the discovery of additional fossil evidence, the evidence would, nevertheless, suggest that modern man first evolved and stabilized within mild though varied, environments or niches of ample resources, and hence of mild stress. One could still argue that such environments, as opposed to harsh ones of extreme stress and limited resources, enabled or even induced such an evolution to take place.

As one reads the article that I wrote more than 40 years ago, one will grasp more comprehensively the reason for accepting this or at least the plausibility of this hypothesis. One will see that modern humans are beings of infinite, potential capabilities, and, if humans allow themselves, they can evolve into beings far greater than the ones they are, further transcending, through the application of mind, and hence reason, any environmental restriction, the ultimate adaptation. They did not, and do not, require for this evolution, past and future, the "tooth and claw of existence", as one reviewer put it in response to reading the unpublished article, but a situation that enables and promotes the further evolution and sustenance of higher and higher, though longer developing, mental processes within a mild environment of increasing resources, technologically determined or defined, where the so-called "selection process" becomes unnecessary or moot. And, with humanity's further evolution, such resources would become unlimited, as the evolving mind would be able to overcome all limits through innovative, pragmatic imagination and reason.

If I were to revise the article, I would emphasize epigenetic processes being involved in bringing about--from an infinite or prime-potential inherent in genomic-environmental interaction--the secondary potential, the genetic information, of any genome. Furthermore, I would illustrate how these processes are also involved in the contingent development or unfolding of the phenotype from such a secondary potential of a genome. As one would point out, this would include the processes of genetic assimilation and canalization which involve environmental stresses, epigenetic, developmental processes thought to be involved in evolution and first described by C.H. Waddington (see Waddington, 1956; Stewart, 2000). Doing such would only serve to strengthen or give more credibility to the article's main, underlying theme of the human species' capacity--through the directed, accommodating, and developmental interplay of genomic-environmental stresses of low degree--to unfold evolutionarily infinite avenues towards its infinite betterment.


Barker, G. et al.[2007], The 'Human Revolution' in Lowland Tropical Southeast Asia: The Antiquity and Behavior of Anatomically Modern Humans at Niah Cave. Journal of Human Evolution 52: 243-261.

Finlayson, C. [2004], Neanderthals and Modern Humans: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Gilbert, S. [2000], Diachronic Biology Meets Evo-Devo: C. H. Waddinton's Approach to Evolutionary Developmental Biology. American Zoologist 40: 729-737.

Guyot, J. [2007], ASU Team Detects Earliest Modern Humans. ASU News.

Lieber, M. M. [1965], Modern Man in Potential: Human Evolution As Viewed from a New Perspective, []

Maslin, M. et al. [2005], A Changing Climate for Human Evolution. Geotimes.

Shang, H. et al. [2007], An Early Modern Human from Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, China. PNAS 104: 6573-6578.

Waddington, C.H. [1956], Principles of Embryology. Cambridge University Press.

Early Modern Homo sapiens, http: // sciences/lifesciences/physicalanthropology/ humangenetics (2006)

Michael M. Lieber

Genadyne Consulting

1619 Hopkins St. #101

Berkeley, CA 94707
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Author:Lieber, Michael M.
Publication:Frontier Perspectives
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4E0WE
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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