This blog is about my upcoming book entitled, Apes, Ants, and Ancestors, A psychiatrist explores the role of group selection (and God) in human evolution. Most of the posts will be selected excerpts or concentrated extracts of the ideas from the book, and I would love some feedback. This segment from the Preface contains the general scope of the book.
During a 35 year career as a psychiatrist I slowly came to the conclusion that the major mental illnesses exist as emotional fossils that contain substantial clues about the inner emotional life of our ancestral species. Enlightened by this insight, I began to believe that the emergence of the ancestors of modern humans about 6 million years ago resulted from a rather sudden and dramatic transformation from selective forces acting only on the individual to the natural selection for small groups of extended relatives. This book presents the evidence and implications of the idea that human evolution was the result of natural selection acting at the level of the group as opposed to the individual.
The emotional aspect of this momentous shift was that the source of the motivation to survive moved from the individual to the entity of the group. So, small tribes became the selected organism. This conversion was not due to the “kin selection” of genes or individuals getting together by making “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kinds of self interested decisions.
My analysis of mental illness has led me to believe that the hominid Family had become a new form of life in a momentous change comparable to single cells transforming into unicellular creatures 500,000 years ago. Just as cells formed organisms coordinated by a nervous system, small groups of hominids formed into organisms coordinated by a new kind of communication system called language. As a result of this change, the actual location of all conscious emotional life within these groups changed from being within the individual to existing in the collective relational sphere of the groups themselves. This is a very difficult idea to grasp, but the process of group selection creates a form of life whose survival depends not on individuals acting for themselves but in concert as a group. All the controversies surrounding the issue of group selection are explored from this novel perspective.
Since retiring from practice 5 years ago and pondering the knowledge I have acquired from my clinical career, it dawned on me that the collective will that emerged as a result of 6 millions of years of this unique kind of group selection is a plausible natural explanation for a living God, Who not only established C. S. Lewis’ Moral Law but is an intimate part of the brain based process of thinking and being. Although I present a natural mechanism for the emergence of the theistic dimension of God, it is assumed that the Laws that produced Him are not only transcendent and eternal but inevitable and preordained.
Our evolutionary story then takes shape when one considers that the unique strength of this group consciousness and motivation virtually eclipsed our consciousness as individuals until our own species (Homo sapiens) arose some 200,000 years ago as the result of another shift in evolution back to the level of the individual. I deduced from the long examination of the one uniquely human mental illness, Manic Disorder, that we have evolved a peculiarly novel motivation which has been the result of natural selection at the level of the individual. This new individual willfulness and awareness, called ego, proceeded to coexist along side of the group consciousness of God that had been at the center of the evolution of pre-human hominid species for 6 million years.
I then began to view the epic struggles of recorded human history as a lengthy reconciliation between the Will of God, which has expanded into larger groups with the advent of symbolic language, culture and civilization, and this newly minted individual human will.