Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Wolves are the Missing Link
What was the most important development in evolution?
Some would say learning to make fire. Others would say distance weapons such as throwing spears.
The Neanderthals had all this stuff and they went the way of BetaMax.
Because they didn’t have dogs.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Homo S 2.0) had dogs – well, eventually - starting with a partnership with wolves. Keep in mind that dogs and wolves are the same species and all dogs are tweaked wolves. Ultimately, wolves gave human beings the edge in ecological versatility over other hominid species.
The word “partnership” is very important here for a number of reasons--but especially since it signals a quantum leap in cognitive ability.
The Flintstone View
Flintstonians, of course, will tell you that we “domesticated” wolves, and “bred” them to create poodles and the like.
From here ….
What is more likely is that wolves and human beings simply cooperated.
"Domestication", as it is generally understood – breeding an animal for human use – really took place later as we entered the Holocene and the Neolithic Age began, along with agriculture, animal husbandry and static communities. Just 7000 years ago, give or take a millenium or two.
35000 years ago, we didn’t’ domesticate anything--except ourselves. Wolves, dogs, humans and bonobos are all to some extent “self-domesticated” as a result of neotenous development.
Yup, there are TWO kinds of “domestication”. The kind most people think of--and now SELF domestication, keeping in mind that you cannot have a “self” without a community.
Here’s the Wikipedia definition, which is based on Richard Wrangham’s work, which is in turn based on his studies of chimpanzees.
Self-domestication is the process of adaptation of wild animals to cohabiting with humans, without direct human selective breeding of the animals. Dogs and cats have undergone this kind of self-domestication. Self-domestication also refers to the evolution of hominids, particularly humans and bonobos, toward collaborative, docile behavior. As described by British biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham, self-domestication involves being in an environment that favors reduction in aggression, including interspecific and intraspecific antagonism, for survival. Spandrels, or evolutionary byproducts, also accompany self-domestication, including depigmentation, arrested development, and reduced sexual dimorphism.
As usual, Wikipedia gives us the “mainstream” narrative. In fact the concept of “self” or “auto” domesticated was not pioneered by Wrangham but by zoologist and primatologist Franz de Waal, on the basis of his studies of bonobos and then extended by Stanford neuroendocrinolgist Robert Sapololsky.
Wrangham is very much in the Pinker camp, projecting modern conceptions of human behavior since the Neolithic onto our Pleistocene ancestors—as well as onto chimpanzees. His 1996 book Demonic Violence: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence was really the basis for Pinker nonsense like The Blank Slate.
Despite what Wikipedia says, “spandrels” are not necessarily evolutionary “by-products”: that is really just Pinker’s as usual uninformed opinion and sloppy research. “Spandrels are evolutionary characteristics whose utility cannot be immediately understood, which doesn’t meant that they are not important—just that we don’t fully understand evolutionary development as a whole--not yet.
“Arrested development” for example is not “arrested" at all –rather, in human beings it is "extended" --we take longer to mature because that longer developmental period confers significant evolutionary advantages for a prosocial species – as, in fact, our reduced sexual dimorphism, our juvenescent physicality, does.
Pinker also considers music a spandrel, which is peculiar--since one of his many academic hats is that of a “psycholinguist”, an area in which his research is revealed to be very “selective”. Only human beings have a "beat" or "rhythm" reflex" at birth as well harmonic discrimination, both of which are essential to the development and flexibility of human language. So our musical capability is a big thing.You're never too young to rock and roll!
If only Pinker and Wrangham would domesticate themselves.
The Friendly Wolf
Self-domestication works best with prosocial species that are inherently pacific and cooperative within their groups
Wolves are among the most social of species; therefore both neotenous and self-domesticated to some degree that they survive in collectivities – which we call “packs” -- a word which tends to call up associations of rabid ravening beasts.
Nope. Wolves don’t have “packs” like this. They have families. WE live in “packs”.
The “alpha” is not the biggest and strongest, and does not achieve his position through brute force-- except in the case of wolves in captivity under artificial conditions, where their freedom of movement is restricted and they are forced to form relationships in zoological communities of strangers.
The very existence of this myth just shows our tendency to project the assumptions of our greedy, dog-eat-dog neoliberal society onto…well…everything.
In some sense, our cities are human zoos and we live too in societies of strangers. We do not have friends--- we have keepers and audiences.
Wolves, by the way, do not fight over food. Puppies feed first.
As for “dog-eat-dog”, when was the last time you saw a poodle eating another poodle, by the way?
“Betas” follow Mommy and Daddy Wolf because even grown up, they are still pups.“Omegas” are the most juvenile—for them, it’s play, play, play – and they are constantly bullied--but also looked after --until they inevitably wander off – no doubt looking for fun -- and find a partner and start their own pack.
Of course, any pack member can leave a pack. There are personalities and disagreements, just as with human beings.
In the movies, early humans discover wolf pups and raise them.
But, as anyone familiar with wolves knows, wolves do not train well.
As a teenager, I had a wolf hybrid. He was a clever animal. Say “come” and he knew what that meant. He would usually just cock his head as in “For what? What’s in it for me? No reward? I got stuff to do” Wolves are libertarians. Dogs are registered democrats.
Wolf puppies hunt cooperatively – they learn to do this by imitating their parents and through play as well as out of sheer necessity.
Since it could not be trained, and would lack the lessons learned through play with parents and siblings, a “pet” wolf would be pretty useless in following human direction in hunting and would almost always run off to mate or join a real wolf pack. My hybrid was impossible to keep in. He learned to open locks. He climbed. He dug. And would disappear for days.
Human beings are opportunistic omnivores. Wolves are opportunistic carnivores. We are always looking for an easy meal. The Pleistocene version of MacDonalds was a dead mammoth that fell off a cliff. Human beings and wolves likely first competed for meat from kills from large animals who had been killed by apex predators or died from misadventure.
With more than enough meat to gorge on or take home to pups and children respectively, it would have been easier not to fight over gourmet cuts.
Human beings had weapons. Pleistocene wolves were huge animals, twice the size of a German Shepherd, with jaws 10 times as powerful as any modern pit-bull. A single bite from a wolf could main and lead to death.
As I said, wolves hunt cooperatively. Human beings, too. Together, they could bring down animals they couldn’t before.
High IQ, low EQ.
But Neanderthals didn’t form these partnerships.
Neanderthals matured faster and were less juvenescent and dimorphic. They were prosocial like us but not to the same extent. Their brains were bigger, but their cerebellums at the base of the brain, which coordinate all cognitive functions, especially empathy and altruism and imagination and creativity were smaller and arguably less neurologically dense.
Wolves who formed productive partnerships with human beings ate better, lived longer and thrived. Over time, wolf packs got more and more used to human beings and human beings to them.
The most neotenous members of wolf packs – the omegas—would likely have approach human camps for handouts or to play just as the famous Alaska wolf Romeo did, although, in his case, he mostly wanted to play with dogs and a few chosen humans. When they mated, these sociable wolves had sociable pups. All of whom thrived through their partnership with humans. Over time, the omegas self-domesticated—just as Romeo did.
While Romeo was killed by an idiot hunter, he still lived much longer than many wolves do in the wild.
Human beings who hunted with wolves no doubt lived longer, too. And, living longer, were able to produce more children who survived, out-multiplying the Neanderthals.
Our open-minded sociality and somewhat promiscuous nature also led to interbreeding with the Neanderthals, at least in Europe.
We didn’t replace the other Hominids because we were smarter. But because we were nicer. And to be “nice” you have to see other sentient beings – not just human beings—as cognate selves. Your dog is not just a dog—he’s a friend. Your cat thinks you are a parent. A wolf thinks of you as another wolf.
The Russian Lesson
In Russia, the Russians bred ordinary foxes for sociability, choosing the most sociable ones for reproduction. After about 40 generations, these foxes showed juvenescent characteristics even at maturity. They loved to play: some even had floppy ears. Different color . All had shorter, weaker jaws. They remained very puppy-like.
"We always assume that intelligence is responsible for our success," says Hare. "That humans became smarter, which… allowed us to invent wheels and agriculture and iPhones. But what if that wasn't what happened?"
Hare suspects that,
"like the foxes, and like dogs, we became friendlier first, and then got smarter by accident. This would mean that our prosocial skills, the skills that allow for cooperation and friendliness, were what made us successful."
These foxes were bred by simply choosing the friendliest ones to breed. The lupine Romeo omegas of the Pleistocene thrived in their partnership with human beings, and, as the most paedomorphic wolves, their pups were progressively more so. The process took a lot longer than with the Russian experiment, perhaps a thousand years. But in the end, we had dogs. "Dogs" are self-bred.
However, to this day, the most wolf-like dogs are the least trainable and most independent.
Thanks to peddogowner.com
But every dog is still a wolf. Just as you are that 35000 year old kid.
The missing link in human evolution series :