Monday, November 28, 2011

A War for Hearts and Minds?

Human evolution fascinates me.  The lack of acceptance of evolutionary theory in regards to human development astounds and horrifies me.

I designed this piece to express what I thought was a clear view on evolution.  Basically, the image depicts the evolutionary lineage leading to Homo sapiens, starting with Au. afarensis at the bottom.  Au. boisei is the skull that is placed off to the left and represents an off shoot of the hominin lineage that branches away from the human lineage on a different evolutionary trajectory, eventually becoming extinct.  The skulls that continue up the torso are Homo erectus, followed by archaic Homo sapiens, then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.  In this depiction, Neanderthals are considered to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens, rather than a separate species, which is still a hotly debated topic amongst paleoanthropologists.

Originally, many were convinced that Neanderthals and humans were biologically distinct species that did not interbreed due to the lack of admixture in mitochondrial DNA sequences of modern humans.  But more recent studies comparing nuclear DNA mixture, suggest the possibility that admixture may have indeed been occurring as modern humans and neanderthals appear to have genetic overlap.

The hand in the upper left corner of the picture is holding an apple, which the girl is reaching for.  In my original interpretation the girl represents modern humans, and evolutionary lineage of hominins is indelibly imprinted fundamental structure of her existence and physical morphology.  The hand represents an unknown omnipotent deity, extending the "fruit of knowledge," although the gesture can be seen as a taunt since there is no way for the girl to actually reach the information.

After finishing the design I quickly, and a bit glibly or maybe snarkily wrote up this description of the piece:

"even with all the evidence supporting an evolutionary path of human origins, the search for supernatural explanations continues with answers danging, forever, just out of reach (2011/Sept. 12)"

It has been several months since I finished the piece and since then I have had found myself re-evaluating my initial description of the work and even the very thought process behind it.  While I still agree with my original plan for the girl depicting human evolution, the relationship between the girl and the hand has bothered me.  Rather than depicting a negative view of God, the hand could instead be culture as a whole including a human drive to understand existence in terms of a divine presence, or even another human passing cultural knowledge on to the next generation.  While some cultural learning may be incorrect or illogical, the adaptation of culture is uniquely human.  

Since most of my training is in biology I sometimes forget the importance of recognizing the importance of culture as an adaptation for humans.  It is easy to criticize what we don't fully understand.  Rather than invoking the imagery of a war between evolution and religion, this piece can simultaneously represent the dual forces of cultural knowledge and biological adaptation that contribute to the modern understanding of the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  If I were asked to describe the piece today I think I would choose this description instead:

"anthropology: a multi-faceted approach to understanding and connecting hearts, minds and morphological origins (2011/Nov. 28)"

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