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Get to Know Us. When it comes to large groups, says Dunbar, touch has two disadvantages: you can only groom one person at a time; and the level of intimacy touch requires restricts it to close relationships. Dunbar calculates that this cap limits group size to fewer than 70 members, which is significantly less than the group capacities of modern humans, at about The problem, then, was to find a way to trigger social bonding without touching.
Laughter and music were good solutions, which Dunbar says create the same endorphin-producing effects as grooming by imposing stress on muscles. Language works, too, a theory Dunbar has explored at length in his book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Because these effects can be achieved sans touch, social bonding can happen on a much larger scale.
View image of Credit: Getty Image. One ritual Dunbar says was involved in shamanistic religions — the earliest types of doctrine-less religion — was trance dance, which Dunbar says was about restoring social equilibrium. In effect, he says, the same pharmacological effect of grooming is achieved: many individuals feel powerfully bonded together, at the same time. How is it I feel good after these? Then after that maybe you have a few Einstein theologians who can make sense of it.
But these sporadic dances only worked until our ancestors began to settle down. Once hunter-gatherers began to form more permanent settlements, around 12, years ago, something more robust was needed to encourage populations to behave prosocially towards each other. Especially given the enormous newfound stress that comes with living in such large and inescapable groups. Trance dances could happen in these larger communities with some regularity — say, monthly — but what is needed are more regularised rituals to encourage social cohesion.
The formation of permanent settlements corresponds with the advent of farming.
The agricultural, or Neolithic, revolution, began in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, which is sometimes referred to as the Cradle of Civilisation. First examined in the s, the site was excavated from by a team led by German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt. It is estimated to date to about 10, BCE. As population growth surged, mega-settlements saw increased social complexity, and large-scale political, economic, and military networks, says Christian.
The result of this ranking was the concept of specialisation, which led to different the stratification of classes. Some were rulers, some were merchants, some were priests. Eventually that association came to be challenged in what some have called the Axial Age. The concept of axiality, as Jaspers framed it, is controversial. Still, Bellah thinks the concept is worth holding onto, albeit with qualifications.
So what was axial about the axial age? First, all of the so-called axial breakthroughs occurred outside imperial centres. Axial figures were able to criticise the centre from the margin. In India, the Buddha was the one who gave up his claim to kingly succession. In short, Bellah argues, axiality consists in the ability to imagine new models of reality as preferential alternatives to the ones already in place.
The key to this transition to criticism was the capacity for graphic invention and external memory, without which a bridge from Neolithic to modern humans might never have emerged, according to Bellah. Without the ability to store information outside the human brain, humans would not have been able to develop second-order thinking.
And without that, we would never have been able to codify our religious experiences into elaborate theologies. Surely there were theory and analysis before writing, as Bellah admits. Nor should we overlook the fact that orality and literacy overlap in ways that make it difficult to say that something is only the effect of literary culture.
The kind of thinking that he sees emerging in the Axial Age is theory about theory , thinking about thinking. In short, what makes the Axial Age axial is that it is still with us today.
Of course these religions and philosophies have undergone some changes, but they represent the something from which all of our contemporary institutionalised religions emerge. Our bodies can feel and act and be in religious ways because the embodiment that eventually became our embodiment was responding to environmental pressures biological and cultural to flourish. Many of these developments occurred as nature pressured our ape line to become more social, and the unprecedented numbers of members living together in close proximity.
Social cohesion had to be maintained and promoted, but the tried-and-true method of grooming was no longer possible because it was time-prohibitive.
Certain rituals, like dancing, were capable of producing the same pharmacological effects in its practitioners, and hunter-gatherers eventually began to practice them with more regularity, especially as their group sizes grew. Eventually hunter-gatherers set down roots in permanent settlements, which required even more prosocial behaviour management to alleviate the stresses of group living.
These seeds became institutionalised throughout the Neolithic Revolution, which laid the groundwork for the so-called Axial Age to occur. The major ideas of this period — from Confucianism to Judaism and Ancient Greek philosophy — are still with us today. There are others, and perhaps some of these get the story more correct.
Human knowledge — especially about our past — is constantly evolving, and therefore our theories are constantly being confirmed, fine-tuned, or left behind. Better to leave it to science and rationality to help us forge our way ahead. But this perspective is shortsighted. For one thing, science itself is not neutral, and it has facilitated some of the worst modern phenomena, including eugenics, the atomic bomb, and drone warfare.
Yet Pinker argues that, even while we retain our base and bloody impulses, historical trends such as stronger governments, increased prosperity, literacy, education, trade and the empowerment of women have allowed us to effectively tame them. Other services, such as PubMed Commons and PubPeer, offer public platforms to comment on published works facilitating post-publication peer review. A modular approach simplifies the process of iterative updating of those materials. Share on LinkedIn. In the present period of the anti-Japanese war, the Kuomintang stands in contradiction to Japanese imperialism and wants co-operation with the Communist Party, without however relaxing its struggle against the Communist Party and the people or its oppression of them. As I argued in the first part of this series , morality predates religion, which certainly makes sense given what we know about the very old origins of empathy and play. His team identified mutations related to antibiotic resistance, metabolism and evasion of immune responses that may have contributed to the success of the Beijing lineage.
Should we also leave science behind because of its checkered history? Of course not. None of us should deny either the ugliness or nobility found in the deep history of religion. Instead, we should acquaint ourselves with that history, appreciate it where can, interrogate it where we ought, and, with both eyes open, trek on toward the future opening up before us.
Whatever that future ends up being, at the moment it looks like humans will be there, at least in some form. Religion is so bound up with everything we know about our species that it seems near impossible to imagine a future human without any religious sensibilities. Maybe it can be replaced by something better, but it cannot disappear. One of the better somethings, for many people, seems to be religion sans doctrine or hierarchy. Some have referred to the SBNR trend as yet another example of DIY culture: practice whatever helps you achieve a sense of union with the transcendent.
Which means even those who participate in traditional religions may go about it non-traditionally. Without a doubt, these syncretistic trends attest to the processes of globalisation. Paul Tillich, one of the most famous 20th Century theologians, developed a theology of correlation: the answers religion has to offer should correspond to the questions that a culture is asking. If it fails at this endeavour, then it becomes irrelevant.
Much of the loudest theology preached by the loudest practitioners of religion seems to have failed in precisely this way. So many people have decided to take their questions elsewhere. But the questions remain.
He lives in Delaware. This is the second of a two-part special examining the evolutionary roots of religion.