Volume 15, Issue 7/8, 2005
Fourth European Congress of Dialogue and Universalism Warsaw University, July 23–30, 2005
The Human in the Light of Contemporary Biology as a Subject of Universal Civilization
Homo sapiens is a mammal of the order Primates. What most distinguishes primates from other mammals is their ability to cerebrate. Cerebration developed fastest among the Anthropoidea primates (monkeys, apes), and subsequently the hominids (Hominidae). The increase in brain mass only by Homo sapiens—and only over the past 10,000 years—possess superior Darwinian fitness: for the preceding 30 million years primates had played a rather marginal role in the world’s biological system.
Homo sapiens’ success as the creator of developed civilization was possible only thanks to his special adaptation capabilities, shaped by natural selection at the dawn of his existence.
Primates first appeared in the Oligocene about 30 million years ago, and the first two-legged anthropoid, Australopithecus, about 6.5–5.7 million years ago. The transition from Australopithecus to the species we call Homo was in many ways an evolutionary milestone. Australopithecus was exclusively herbivorous and formed neither organized communities nor settlements. His successor, Homo erectus, on the other hand, possessed heretofore unknown skills like hunting and gathering, which considerably influenced both his lifestyle and his diet—he increasingly ate meat from cadavers or animals he had killed himself. Fossil remains of Homo erectus dating back two million years have been unearthed throughout Africa, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Middle East, and Europe.
Homo sapiens derives from the rather small Homo erectus population in East Africa and has been the earth’s only hominid for a relatively short time about 10,000 years ago before he still shared his world with Neanderthal man (Homo neanderthalensis) and the diminutive Homo floresiensis.
Despite racial differences there is surprisingly little variation in the human genome. We are all 99 percent genetically alike, moreover genome variations do not correlate to skin color.
Homo sapiens’ hunter-gatherer lifestyle led him to seek solutions which today find application only in human communities. In time his biological capabilities were enriched by the skill of speech, this in turn helping to develop creativity, self-awareness, a sense of dignity, and group, ethnic and national loyalty, eventually leading to the emergence of religion as a path to life’s fundamental truths and an antidote to the everpresent fear of death.
The Neolithic Revolution began about 10,000 years ago. Several thousand years later the evolution of farming and breeding led to the emergence of the first civilizations. The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture changed radically not only economic and social structures but, as speech developed, helped form civilizations and cultures.
Over the past 2000 years humanity has changed the global environment but has itself remained unchanged in heritability. The awareness that despite all racial, ethnic, cultural, or linguistic differences we belong to an exceptionally homogeneous species, can be an inspiration for humanity to strive towards a universal civilization in which all these differences could be contained.