Posted on May 8, 2019 by Diana Roberts
**(NOTE: quotation marks in the story are direct quotes of text taken from Oren Harman’s outstanding book; Evolutions: Fifteen Myths That Explain Our World.)
In a time when the President is the most prolific and persistent liar in the American public, not that many other public figures haven’t lied, an inquiring evolutionary mind wonders when lying began? How did it begin? Why did it begin?
I can almost see it. My creative mind pictures the character. We will call him “Homo erectus.” But if Homo erectus learned to talk, obviously he did, and language was the method for lying, what was the evolution to that Point? Fire! It had to be fire. Before fire and even at the beginning, there was no grouping or very little. It was fire that brought generations of Homo erectus together in order to cook and warm and build a little band for protection and hunting and gathering.
Homo erectus at large still had no language, but they could communicate. “They could use their eyes, with all their expressions. They could reveal teeth, raise hairs on their backs, or perform a dance. They could point when it was time for sexual reproduction. There were chemicals to mobilize, odors to marshal and poses to strike that had great meaning. At some point symbols aided in communication to mean something specific. And, of course, there were also the sounds: the buzz, the click, the shriek, the howl, the croak, the bellow, the bleat, the hiss, the bark, the moo, the oink, the roar, the whine, the yap, the bray, the honk, the purr, the screech, the cluck, the crow, the chirp, the creak, the bell, the coo, the growl, the whistle, the hum, the chirrup, the tweet, the twitter, the trumpet.”
Regardless of how many centuries this evolvement took for Homo erectus to communicate, they could not lie. There was no communal relationship and language was not likely to occur until they were “upright.” It would take fire to develop community and language to create a lie, but all of the animals could use, and get across a message.
I can visualize a single Homo erectus looking out over the plains of the Pleistocene from a limestone overhang entrance to a cave where his small band gathered around a modest fire. The taming of fire had come in his lifetime, and its benefits had caused the Homo erectus to gather in small bands. Tribes were yet to develop, but the initial comfort of the small band was there.
By cooking his food now, he had accomplished a major breakthrough allowing food to become more digestible, allowing his jaws and teeth and guts to shrink, as he gained more calories to fuel his brain and intellect. It was the fire that became the communal background and the idea of sharing began, and the brain of Homo erectus expanded within its cranium. Over time, association and experience sharing and co-dependence was invented, and such a thing as table manners and decorum. Gradually, the unshared life was abandoned, and the lure and grasp of its savage ways were disavowed.
As time and familiarity progressed, remaining in the band became more important. Homo erectus became dependent on his fellow band members – for sustenance, and protection, and a certain feeling of comfort came with it. It was during this time that sharing for the benefit of all developed, instruction in tool use, cooperative hunting, and collective forage. Certain empathetic needs evolved, shared parenting or care, care for the infirmed, and more. To develop bonding of the group to more easily occur, rituals were contrived, so that the band had a common identity. The sense of emotion and feeling had been evolving, and art was produced, an appreciation for beauty was cultivated.
There was no sudden epiphany, no revolutionary discovery, just campfire and coming together.
“It is true, an ape could follow a fellow ape’s gaze, attributing beliefs and desires, plotting stratagems. But as Homo erectus sat cooking beside the fire, something strange happened, for the first time, to animals: their survival became dependent on peering into each other’s eyes. Now it was suddenly worthwhile to take the time to wonder, deliberately: What is it that you really think? How do you feel? And Why? It was the deep gaze, not the fleeting glance, that would make all the difference –the mutual quest for understanding, not the hustle for the private edge. This would hasten the great tearing-away of the hominins, their gradual departure from the wild.”
As familiarity became more common, Homo erectus learned to read his neighbor, to catch him or her blushing, notice the lip curl or furrowed brow. In time, they came to know each other more intimately, less brutish, showing affection and empathy. The sense of feeling developed from elation to something good happening to sorrow for loss or something bad being experienced.
The coming together and evolving of this primitive society, of growing social consciousness, whether individually realized or not, created a new need for a social tool – language. “But despite the various tweets and howls and roars and yaps and grunts and purrs and diffusions – despite all these and many other memoranda, messages on Earth had been linked to direct experience, exclusively. Then came Homo erectus and forged another track.”
While the mind through the evolution of language developed the ability to follow the imagination of another, there came a duality. There was the inner experience, private and subjective and the social outlook, that of helping individuals to become part of their group.
“Language brought Truth, but also its corollary. For, thanks to symbols, there was far greater opportunity to depart from the facts than to represent them – just one meager reality to delineate, but an infinitude to imagine. Thus, while the other animals merely deceived each other in piddling, petty ways, Homo erectus began distinguishing Truth from Falsehood. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, but often they are sorely mistaken. For the Lie did not appear to solve a private or communal problem, at least not originally. Having arrived, instead, it was put to use.”
We know from what we experience today and see in the public forum and private relationship that once the Lie came into being, it could not be constrained. “… in many different ways it was superior to reality. Thus, the white lie, the exaggeration, the half-truth, the fib, the perjury, the promise, the myth were all invented and the brains that would willingly or unwilling be deceived. On the wings of imagination, fiction was born, in all its duplicitous splendor…”
Today, we listen to these prevarications from a president on a daily offering. Whether it helps or not, it may help understanding that his sole background is in business, i.e. trade, the art of the deal. “Trade” by its very definition is competitive. For Homo erectus it might have been swapping for something pretty like shells or beads, or perhaps even more complex, trading for needed food. But in the trading competition always the underlying goal is to come away with one up, to receive more than you gave up. How better to do that than with a little lie here and there. Yes, the Lie is here and here to stay, right along with its counter-position, the Truth.
(Other books by Oren Harman and recommended by Twogaa are Evolution: In Four Dimensions and The Price of Altruism.)