I just have to speculate...
that is what imagination is for, right?
If I hadn’t had a cousin 14 years older than I, probably I would not remember this story, though I do remember having imaginary friends that could fit in my shirt pocket. And Uncle Cecil brought me a “dog” named Camouflage when he came back from the war. At the Chicken Shack after people at another table called the manager because I was feeding my bones to Camouflage under the table, Uncle C persuaded me that the dog had died and we buried it. I don’t know if it was before or after that event when my imaginary chickens got loose on the bus as we were ready to get off and my cousin was apparently mortified that everyone helped me catch them so we could depart. I say all this to make the point that I have a cherished history with imagination.
That being said, I am going to speculate what our ancient ancestors went through and how they might have thought about the world as they evolved to stand upright, enjoy a wide range of vision, have the gift of logic, and speak to one another in human language. I have no doubt they also enjoyed their share of imagination which would have been invaluable in making sense of their world. Let me ask you to imagine that world. However they spent their day, when the sun went down, which we now know is due to the earth turning on its axis at some distance while the moon orbited our planet every 28 days or so, their world except during the full moon would have been profoundly dark and the firmament would have been sprinkled with stars. When I would drive to Oklahoma and points west, often at night I would pull off the road when there was no traffic and get out of the car just to bask in the dark and quiet and marvel at the panoply of star patterns… and imagine what the ancestors must have thought as their night passed before they had been gifted/discovered/created fire, heat and light to brighten those nights and remove some of the danger and possibly fear. However, let me not burden them with our modern fear of the dark. They evolved in that world and were no doubt adapted to it and had come up with some kind of explanation for what they observed during the diurnal cycle. But, with my 20th century lifestyle, I cannot imagine they did not have fears of wild critters who might eat them, so I must immediately admit to a modernity bias/perspective.
Certainly they anticipated the dark and prepared for it and may well have snuggled up and quickly slept until daybreak and then jumped up and did all the same things we do first thing in the morning and then forage for breakfast. I doubt not that long before they had language, they had survival habits that included hygiene, nutrition, hydration, sleep, safety, and mating/child rearing, all reminiscent of our primate cousins whose behaviors have been so well described by Jane Goodall . I have to give you a glimpse of that article: She had observed a chimp pull off a branch, strip it of leaves, and stick it into a termite mound and pull out a kebab of termites, from which he scraped a nourishing bite. Louis Leakey (1903-1972) said of that observation of tool making: “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human.” I have no doubt our early humans could accomplish everything our primate cousins could and then some. They probably had better memories and better foresight as well as clever adaptations to their environment that included tools for procuring food, etc. The humans too were social animals.
Probably the early humans roamed their territory in hierarchically organized groups monitoring and establishing boundaries, expelling intruders, aggressive toward outsiders, cooperative within their communities. They may have competed for mates or had some established rituals for creating pair bonds, which continue to vary between groups, just as different types of birds and four-legged mammals have distinctive mating rituals.
A further word on language development: did you notice in the article on Jane Goodall’s research on chimpanzees that their body and sign language is like human body and sign language? Primates also vocalize with oral messages, the precursors to spoken language. Combinations of gestures, facial expressions and body language are associated with particular environmental contexts and had meaning within their groups as they show clear behavioral consequences. I’m imagining these communicative gestures were evidence of evolution toward spoken language.
I predict that as our hominid ancestors got clever enough to be certain of where they could be safe, sated, thirst slaked and sure everything they needed would be available for the next day, they began to look around and wonder why everything was as it was, how it all came to be. And I have no doubt that some imaginative person attempted to answer that question, posed a theory, if you will, which may have led to experiments to test the theory and some kind of evidence it was correct, and the idea became a teleology/philosophy/mythology/world view. Such theories would naturally have become elements of tribal lore passed down through griots with awesome memories.
Mythologies around the world have been studied and compared, and there are similarities within areas that experienced common history, and there are similar mythologies in very disparate parts of the world that have no common ancient history. The giant flood myth, for example, has appeared in many cultures and languages often with similar details and outcomes, but not always. There is definitely archeological data that support such a great flood in Mesopotamia, which could have been the event described in various Great Flood stories that have been described in diverse religions in that part of the world. A rather different flood story was told in China, and archeologists have found evidence of such a massive flood. Surely such momentous events would have been described in the oral histories of the descendants of the survivors and have persisted until they could become part of written histories, world views, and religions.
Probably they could also imagine what might be over the next hill or river… and the next mountain or ocean, and the diasporas began. As they traveled further and encountered different environments, weather, animals, food and water sources, challenges and comforts, their languages evolved to take advantage of the opportunities and meet the demands placed on their survival by the environmental contexts in which they found themselves. I imagine their intelligences developed as well as their vocabularies and imaginations. Their cultures would have varied with the resources available to them
What we know of all human groups now is that within each there is greater variability within the group than there are average differences between them from physical to mental and emotional variables. These similarities allow us to experience the world in much the same way, think with similar cognitive faculties, share the fundamental emotions and facial expressions, and need virtually the same amenities for our survival. These similarities give me hope we can all get along eventually.
As individuals we vary in all those traits as well as our personalities and preferences, which can tend us toward cooperation or competition. The greatest cross-group difference is apparently whether we are more collectivist or individualist, more inclined to function as a group, a collective, and pay close attention to the words and advice of others or tend to prefer to function on our own and follow our own counsel. Intra-group and cross-group competition, disagreement and violence occur in all humans to a degree, with wide individual differences. Perhaps because hierarchical social systems are the rule in social animals, exploitation of some groups by others has been a characteristic of human groups throughout our history, leaving us with great disparity in the degree to which human needs are met in dominant and exploited groups throughout human history. This legacy of exploitation has also resulted in group differences that have exacerbated disagreements and violence throughout human history and left us with levels of violence within our culture that boggle my mind—more mass shootings this year than there have been days in this year.
I write because I despair of the violence and the disadvantage and want/need of so many. The fact of poverty impoverishes my life. I search for better explanations and solutions to these problems that seem to lie in a lack of care, caring, concern, justice, fairness hurting o so many while being to the advantage of others.
Please respond to me if you have suggestions for change toward a more equitable society.
Peace, light and love