A friend of mine has launched a new blog where medical patients tell their stories. The author has been a fine medical journalist for decades and knows where to get the data. Check it out at PatientPOV.org.
Heroes often begin as simple people who pass a test like pulling a sword from a stone and then become the giants we know. Scientists have to be careful that they don't tell that kind of origins story themselves.
Stephen Jay Gould used the sneering phrase, "just-so stories," that reduced evolutionary narratives to the level of amusing children's tales penned by Rudyard Kipling. I'll ignore the fact that Kipling's tales are true gifts to literature and keep my eyes focused on the big point: narrative is suspect in a scientific context. They enable "facile verbal arguments" to sound plausible without including evidence or data.
Babies can change their destinies by simply being swtiched around at birth and being raised in a different culture and community.
There are many ways of determining dates for different elements in the origin of speech, but they all rely on circumstantial evidence. This blog has leaned toward a very old date (2 or 3 million years) for the first steps with a long evolutionary tail leading to full speech (sentences, stories, and myths), but there is an alternate interpretation that has a recent date (75 thousand years ago, plus or minus 25 thousand years). In which full speech pops up very quickly. A couple of new papers from Stony Brook's anthropologist/archaeologist John Shea provide new arguments that support the older dates.
The Inuit people are among the last surviving hunter-gatherers. They are much more modern than many anthropologists seem to have believed.
I once attended a ceremony in which a man from the Liguru tribe of eastern Tanzania was made a member of the Vindunda tribe from slightly farther west. It was a great and rare event and I was lucky to be on hand for its demonstration of how astonishingly fluid human identities can be. Of course, they should be fluid since the identity itself is invented. Linguists often dispute the extent to which language shapes human thought, but one area where it appears decisive is in matters of identity. It is hard to imagine how a person could understand himself to be Lliguru or Vidunda without language to name that identity. Apes may understand themselves to be members of a particular group, but without a name for the group there seems no way that two apes who are strangers can recognize that they share an identity. And since identities are crucial to so much of a person's behavior and thinking, this appears to be one way that language changes the way people think. Science magazine last Friday had a paper and an editorial that compares social networks among hunter-gatherer societies with ape networks and provides much food for this blog to chew.
The old television show Seinfeld had a famous episode where a girlfriend of the moment was praised for using the phrase Yada yada. At first it seems like a wonderful way to skip over the boring stuff, but eventually Seinfel's friends worry that the words are omitting things that need to be spelled out. ("You don't think she yada yada'd sex.") I mention the episode because it often seems to me that theorists yada yada more than they should, as in: so then people began using sentences and yada yada language evolved normally from there on. The tendency is especially wisespread to yada yada past cultural changes in the story of language origins, so I welcome examinations of how cultural origins and changes really work.