Sunday February 5, 2006

The Ancestor’s Tale takes us to look at 40 points heading back along the historical path of evolution. I am still with the humans. Dawkins is dealing with the very interesting question of how far back in time we have to go to find the earliest shared ancestor of all modern people — Adam or Eve, if you will. In the course of this, he brings up many intriguing points, because that is how he rolls (I took this phrase from my sons; if it means something obnoxious, I apologize and assure you that I didn’t know it.) But the one that has stayed with me for contemplation is the fact that, about 40,000 years ago, art and music appeared.

Prior to that time, people, or the folks whose descendants would be people, made tools and useful items, but they didn’t decorate things. They didn’t have musical instruments. They didn’t make beautiful spear points and dishes. Then, very much in an all-of-a-sudden way, art appeared. Bone flutes, cave paintings, sculpture, utilitarian objects with aesthetic features — all at once, there begin to be evidences of art. Dawkins suggests that this is evidence of change in the brain. He points to Russian experiments in the domestication of foxes — within 20 years, the experimenters were able to breed tame foxes, who liked people. The amazing thing is that they looked like dogs. They had cute floppy ears and happy faces and soft fur. Dawkins does not suggest that the researchers unwittingly selected breeding animals for cuteness, but it seems possible to me. After all, choosing for tameness must have been rather subjective, and looking cute might have made the foxes seem more tame. Dawkins, however, suggests that there are side-effects of natural selection.

Just as some humans have been domesticated into lactose tolerance by extended contact with milk-producing animals, he suggests, art might have been a side-effect of the development of language or agriculture or something. Part, that is, of our becoming cute. Um, okay, I am paraphrasing. Still, it is an interesting idea. He points out that the big difference between us and dogs, when it comes to domestication, is that we have a different word for wolves, the wild creatures, and for dogs, the cute tame ones. For ourselves, we do not have a word distinguishing the wild hunter-gatherers from the domesticated artistic ones.

At another point, he says that “Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes moved west across England from Europe, stopping rather abruptly at the Welsh border. It is not hard to imagine reasons why.”  He then goes on to discuss how Viking Y chromosomes are well-traveled. All I can say is that it is hard for me to imagine reasons why. And I can imagine quite a lot. As a member of Team Wales, I feel that I should try to unearth the meaning of this. Suggestions invited.

Here is Erin, with the blue part completed and the return to its other colors underway. (Erin, from Alice Starmore’s Celtic Collection, in Highland Wool). The cat is assisting me in determining the fate of the blue band. Granted that it is bright, I still think I will keep it. It adds a spring-like air to the whole thing, and we are having a nice false spring here. Confused plants are leafing and budding and generally behaving as though it were spring, and maybe they are right. Perhaps we will just have a nice long spring. It is still cold, but we who have shivered at Easter sunrise services know that spring is often cold around here.

Shortly before reaching this point in the sweater, I had an odd e-mail message. It was a fellow I dated in college (I think), saying “I have never forgotten you and never will forget you.” He went on to tell me about his wife and children, and he lives far away, so I am not alarmed by this, but I am also not quite sure that I remember him. I rather think he was an anthropology student who had been a fruitarian till his thesis committee told him he had to eat or be cast out of the program. If I am thinking of the right person, he may well be harboring a grudge and intending to hunt me down. I was not the best-behaved person at my college, I am afraid. I have since then become more domesticated and tame, though, if significantly less cute.


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8 responses to “Sunday February 5, 2006”

  1. Leonidas Avatar

    Will have to give the book a closer look again…

  2. chanthaboune Avatar

    That part about us becoming more cute was verr funni. I laughed out loud.

    As for weirdo boyfriends contacting you with things like, “I’ll never forget you” while they are married… I would be remotely alarmed, but there it is. I have a history of weirdo boyfriends.

    I think the blue band looks like you leaned up against a counter with blue paint on it. Nadia agrees. She wont touch it, in case it is, indeed, still wet.

    And… how weird talking about The Well Traveled Y Chromosome. It would make a good science porn title. If there were such a thing.

  3. chanthaboune Avatar

    Let it be here written in this laudable tome of Xanga, that any man I drive to the brink of insanity is the product of my gene structure passed down from the women on both sides.

  4. lostarts Avatar

    As I read your post, the first thought I had was that there was a sudden spurt of evolution or something–that human brains had changed somehow.

    But immediately, I also thought that the change might have been due to technology.

    When I lived in France, there was a guy who lived down the road from me. He had a farm, and it didn’t matter if I went by at 7:30 am or 11 pm, or anytime in between, he and his horse were out there plowing, sowing harrowing, etc, etc. I’d never actually seen someone plow with a horse before, but I can tell you he was working as hard as the horse.

    It’s possible that the creative impulses were there, but nobody had enough leisure to indulge them.

    Besides, although he’s saying there was no art or music before then, what is accurate is that there is no EVIDENCE of art or music. People can sing, whistle or hum and leave no evidence. I know that only small scraps of fabric survive from the middle ages, and they’re almost universally brown from being buried. Clothing from 40,000 years ago might have been dyed or decorated, but haven’t survived.

    Then I realized that there may have been some other factor that everyone is completely unaware of. Or a series of disasters that occured in various places at any time between then and recent times that destroyed all previous evidence.

    You should take all this with a grain of salt.

  5. craftymommavt Avatar

    Wow! I really like the way the blue works into Erin. I am glad you stuck with it to get it bordered on both ends by the other colors…it really helps to see how the blue fits in.  I have really been enjoying watching Erin coming along. Thanks for sharing your progress.

  6. yvonnesa Avatar

    I have dropped by your blog a few times and am amazed at your talent. I think every life needs to have a creative side. I love the blue in the Erin my friend comes from a Scotish family of nine and her mum used to knit jumpers for all the kids as they were not well off. Her fairisle knitting was something to behold. Your knitting reminds me of it. So clever.

    I also bought some Yorkshire tea (I love Twinings English breakfast) I think the tea I bought was old as it just tastes odd. I looked at the bottom of the container and it should have been used over a year ago. It might make a difference. Happy knitting.

  7. TheWaterJar Avatar

    I was just thinking about art and aesthetics. Is it merely an embellishment of reality? My lofty ideals about art have, as of late, been wavering, unfortunately. Keep it copasetic.

  8. Kali_Mama Avatar

    I would think there were plenty of lords of Anglo-Saxon descent in Wales, spreading their genes around carelessly. Hmmm.

    Eric did the genographic database thing, and he is descended from “Eurasian Adam,” like EVERY OTHER WHITE MALE IN THE WORLD. But so are a lot of black, African men. Which made me point out, “See? There’s no such thing as race.”