Part Two: THE BODY IN HISTORY
9. FIVE HISTORICAL EPOCHS
The Emergence StruggleWell into Paleolithic times the natural signal sources for dispersal/aggregation were coupled to the day/night cycle. The signals to disperse came in the morning. The aggregation came at night. The choreography moved the group as a whole.
The taming of fire 400,000 years ago had made the hearth a powerful aggregation signal.1 The technological expression of warmth with all its drawing power probably influenced the evolution of our thermal regulation physiology (which may intrinsically correlate fire and clothing with social life and belonging on some deep organic level). Desire and longing, jealousy, remorse and compassion may well have spiraled out from the hearth: the warmth of the woman and the safety of the hearth were early civilizers.
Close proximity brings women’s menstrual cycles into phase with each other. Pheromones waft between sexual moieties. Group sexual readiness influences mating customs and, through them, influences population biology and child rearing practices. As fertile periods moved into phase among the females, the sexual desires of the group as a whole must have played out in occasions, ritualized encounters, and festivities of all sorts. William Irwin Thompson in The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light describes this early human culture as “a menstrual world,” whose dominant sensory and emotional pulls and physical signals were female. He writes,
“For hundreds of thousands of years the culture of women and women’s mysteries had been the dominant ideology of humanity. The hominization of the primates in the shift from estrus was a female transformation. The rise of a lunar notation and the beginnings of an observed periodicity upon which all human knowledge is based was a feminine creation.” He calls women’s mysteries “the dominant ideology of humanity.”2
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy reasons that because human ovulation is hidden, women set the beat for the emergence of intimacy. She reports that,
“What strengthens the pair-bond between early human men and women was not frequency of copulations, but rather the fact that ovulations became concealed. Without estrus, the only guarantee a male would have of consorting with a female near the auspicious moment of ovulation would be to consort with her throughout the month, month after month.”3
Feminist evolutionists have described this arrangement as a sex contract: protection and meat in return for sex and vegetables. Males made themselves useful while hanging around waiting for sex.
Within the hormonal wash and the circadian and seasonal impusions, we fit our personal social and solitary needs – and our dawning consciousness of them. Individual mini-dramas of approach-separation and withdrawal-return play out. In aggregation, we explored pair bonding and friendship in new ways. In the dispersal, during furthest separations, we honed our experiences of self-conscious solitude.
One can easily imagine how, at the extremes of dispersal, when the troop members were out of sensory range of each other, withdrawal pulses drew individuals inward. Some actually experienced a new state of mind they named solitude. The inward pull became its signpost.
To continue a story we started before: Picture yourself in the primordial setting. You’re alone, out stalking game or foraging for greens, far from your fellows. You begin to experience the flow of internal sensations. Their heightened intensity, vividness and immediacy draw you in. You engage the flow of your own consciousness. Images, memories, voices and thoughts mill around you. You remember and review the day. Events from the previous weeks or months occur to you. You make odd and pleasing associations. You explore self-consciousness. The you that explores watches the phantasmagoria.
The Watcher inside you is born.
Seeing with the inward facing eye, you distinguish your memories from the events themselves. The memories belong to you; the events are common property. With this private perspective, you become aware of differences, and even recognize the conflicts between your own desires and the social expectations placed on you. But this awareness is private. These are your secrets. No one needs to know about them. With that act of concealment, you realize how alone you are. Solitude is born. A momentary terror of abandonment comes over you. You have your secret place, from which you can plot and plan and think, but at a cost, because your welfare is utterly dependent on the group, and yet you are keeping secrets from them
To counter the fear of abandonment, you recollect the faces and voices of others. From within the solitude you review your shared involvements. Through memory you prove your closeness to those who know and care for you. You recall the words of your parents, age-mates, and friends, the assured manner of the troop leader, the consoling intimacy of your mate – they comfort you. Many words and images come up that reaffirm your place in the group. You belong. But is it enough?
Unsettling images also rush in. Voices assault you. You need to counter them. You cannot shout them down. So you use the modularity of your personality to compartmentalize the scenes of the passing show. Over time, your mind gets good at modular organization. It learns to distribute memories, attitudes and motivations among part-personalities. By putting up walls, the mind keeps you in your incumbent personality. It tightens up your I-sense to prevent the mental turmoil in solitude from flinging you from one part-personality to another chaotically under the pressure of recollected voices, commands, incidents, hopes and fears. To keep steady in solitude, in the conceptual scheme we have been developing, you need to maintain clear passing rules (See # 77-81.) The movement from one memory storage area to another has to make sense. It can’t be too jumpy. Otherwise, your waking life would be as unstable and chimerical as your dreams.
As Homo sapiens emerge from embeddedness in nature they develop independent, individual approach/separation and withdrawal/return patterns, with a characteristic ability to distribute memory, attitudes, cognitive styles, knowledge and even temperament among different modules of personality. Each module carries with it a repertory of state-dependent associations, memories, and behaviors.4 These modules have doors and the doors have locks and keys. They open, first, to sensory distance information, for these reflect the basic operations of social and solitary life very directly. They open to cultural learning.
Shaken loose from our containment in the over-rhythm of dispersal/aggregation, we develop a repertory of skills that lets us play different roles at different times and distances, as needed. During these role-plays, the modules pass the I-sense to each other along the legs and stages of love and wisdom according to the passing rules so that personal identity doesn’t undergo too much slippage from one state-dependent situation to another.
As human culture develops, new sensitivities in intimacy and solitude arise. They break free from their embedded condition in daily aggregation-and-dispersal to build primary alliances with the approach-and-separation and withdrawal-return rhythms as distinct and independent pulses in human nature. Eventually these emergent patterns of behavior enter consciousness as subjects of interest, as values. We celebrate them. We seek them out. We come to understand them. We name them love and wisdom.
For the first time we find ourselves capable of individuation. We overcome the “participation mystique.”5
Musical instruments, bone flutes, sculptures, abstract designs, personal adornments, appear during this era.
You see individuation in the handprints outlined on the cave walls. In the remarkable cave art so skillfully executed, so full of close observation of nature, we detect the deep pondering of the mysteries of birth, life, change and death.
Mourners scatter flowers in graves. They inter implements, tools, jewelry, and food with the mortal remains – equipment for a journey to a realm of ancestors. Corpses lay in fetal positions as if waiting for rebirth. Ancestor worship, affiliation with the past, perhaps regret over the loss of loved ones, perhaps sorrow and expiation, emerge.
These just touch the surface of the new skills and powers, formed and fashioned in turning points of love and wisdom, that our ancestors assimilated into art and myth, and wove into cultural evolution in the changed organization of the passing rules. These developments obviously take us far beyond the old rhythms of life shaped by aggregation-dispersion.
I call this epochal process the emergence struggle. It sets the tone for Homo sapiens prehistory. Over the millennia, humans come to see themselves as conscious agents of their own destinies and, endowed with freedom, reach out in wider circles of affiliation and deeper journeys of discovery to move from species ethology to human history.6