Olduvai Man and The Cradle of Mankind Controversy

Trying to dig up controversial claims on the origins of mankind is akin to opening a can of worms. At stake is our own history and there are 3 ferociously opposing views.

The Story of Oldoway Man

Lets take the case of the discovery of Olduvai Man (also known as Oldoway man), in 1913, by Prof. Hans Gottfried Reck who was a German volcanologist and paleontologist. The discovery was made in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. He had discovered and excavated a modern human buried in ancient bedrock. From the circumstantial evidence he estimated the age at 150,000 years. The one difference it has comparing to modern humans is 34 teeth as opposed to 36.  This he thought was a sign of some primitivity and perhaps it made this site the cradle of mankind.

Such a date was against the prevailing narrative of the time and was off by around 50,000 years. This made it controversial and Reck knew this so he tried to look at alternative explanations. He couldn’t find any evidence of the overlying strata being disturbed, which would have indicated a recent burial. And after careful analysis he could not find any other explanations either.

World war 1 was just around the corner and this site soon fell from German to British hands. Reck was taken prisoner for some time. Unfortunately, all his notes got destroyed as well. The British weren’t interested in finding the cradle of mankind in Africa and were looking for a European origin. They had already found it in the Piltdown man (which would turned out to be an embarrassing stain on the integrity of archaeology – but that’s a story for another post).

In 1931, Reck revisited the site in a joint expedition with Louis Leaky (famous Archaeologist and Paleoanthropolgist). Leaky had initially been skeptical and this was the reason for his interest, his own estimate had placed the fossil at roughly 20,000 years old based on the evidence he himself had been gathering at a nearby site.

However, after their joint study of the site, Leaky came to accept Reck’s claim of it’s antiquity. In fact, the bedrock was even more ancient than Reck had thought. Both of these scientists and Arthur Hopwood, another paleontologist, sent a letter to Nature stating that they had confirmed the fossils to be 500,000 years old !

At the time, the Olduvai man was being kept in Munich, Germany. Unfortunately during bombings in World war 2 most of the bones except a skull were destroyed.

The Cradle of Mankind Controversy

There seem to be 2 vehemently opposing sides in the argument as well as one relatively cautious side.

It perhaps wouldn’t have been that much of a controversy. Now that mainstream science has put modern human origins back to 200,000 – 300,000 years. However, that wasn’t the accepted scientific position at the time of this discovery (although 0.5 million does not fit the bill even today).

One side of this argument is people who believe in ancient human origins and forbidden archaeology. Most of them are creationists who in some form or another deny evolution and see such finds (this one is only the tip of that iceberg) as evidence  that humans existed alongside the hominids. That humans existed as far back as other animals so they couldn’t have evolved from them. There is a group of fundamental Christian creationists and also one of fundamental Hindu creationists. Some of these Hindus creationists believe in human devolution as opposed to evolution and their estimates go well beyond (in the 100s of million to billions of years) what mainstream archaeology purposes. This view is contradictory to the Christian creationist view. However, both seem to use similar arguments to make their case.

The cautionary group also falls towards this side of the argument but they don’t deny evolution. They don’t endorse any particular views either. This group is only skeptical of a ‘scientific dogma’ or ‘orthodox view’ in the formulation of these theories.

The other side is some scientists and skeptics who deny there is any controversy at all. They claim that this is a resolved matter and the conspiracy theorists haven’t been doing their research properly. Yet, looking at the arguments from the other side, the matter doesn’t seem to have been conclusively resolved.

So, is Olduvai man the cradle of mankind?

Here’s what each side has to say:

Scientists and Skeptics
Forbidden Archeologists
1. Later investigation revealed that it was in-fact an intrusive burial from a higher layer, making it a much younger specimen. Reck and later Leaky were serious scientists and experts. Reck had made an effort to look at whether there was any evidence indicative of an intrusive burial but he found the overlying strata undisturbed.
2. It is very rare to find a complete skeleton from that time  as was the case with this one, especially with it being deposited in water. It is rare but not impossible. It could actually have been an ancient burial which would make it normal to find the complete skeleton.
3. At the time the researchers were unable to appreciate archaeological stratigraphy. That is untrue and contradicts their original report.  Archaeological stratigraphy was well established by that time and the researchers were experts in doing that analysis.
4.  later geological analysis of the sediment surrounding the skeleton showed that it contained red pebbles and limestone chips which were not otherwise found in the bedrock and were from a higher layer, hence it got there due to a geological fault. The archaeologist who conducted the latter analysis was biased because he was writing a book which this find totally contradicted. Reck and Leaky did not find these red pebbles and limestone chips in their original analysis and report.

Leaky faced a hostile peer review if he did not accept the later studies.

One article also claimed that later carbon dating revealed the age to be around 19,000 years old. However, I could not find their source for that claim and it does not appear to be present in the other more authentic skeptical arguments. If that is true it would be quite conclusive. But I do suspect from looking at other similar disputes the forbidden archaeologist would probably respond by saying that the time lapse between the find and carbon dating taking place means the sample is likely to have been contaminated with new carbon 14 and the results of carbon dating would thus be unreliable.

Summary

What we see in this argument is a clash of world views. Neither side is contending that Olduvai man has something to do with the origins of mankind. Although this is exactly what the initial controversy was about. That debate was among scientists who were working in the field. The debate now is different.

The forbidden archaeologist’s allegation is that there is an unconscious bias in archaeological science. They are making this case as only one example (out of many more) to show that power structures (i.e. peer review and influence of certain eminent scientists) coupled with orthodox views means some evidence is being suppressed and hence the truth continues to be illusive for the mainstream.

Then there are some who go one step ahead (fundamental Christians and Hindus) and use this doubt to support their own view. That step ahead is completely unjustified. Firstly, it does not make any logical sense and secondly, they are rejecting all the other evidence (from better documented cases) which contradicts their own view and which has been accepted by most scientists in the field.

What the skeptics are arguing is that there is no controversy at all and that everything is crystal clear. They allegate that the forbidden archaeologist are heavily biased because of their prior belief system. They are making things up from nothing. However, this does not seem to be true either. There does appear to be some substance here and just because people on the other side may take things a step too far does not automatically make their original argument completely invalid.

From my point of view there are 4 perspectives here:

  1. The pure scientist – They are working in their own very specialized areas, are up-to date on new data in their area of expertise. They may recognize the nuances, the plethora of various opinions and may be able to weigh up the pros and cons of each of those views in their particular area. There must usually be opposing views which they would be aware of.
  2. The skeptic – Some of these can also be scientists in the field. However, their skeptical world view is more broadly based than their own specialized fields. Their worldview is basically of scientific orthodoxy and consistency. This view is formulated mostly on looking at what the apparent majority opinion is among different fields. However, when the scientist also becomes a skeptic this view becomes self propagating (as explained in the next view).
  3. The metascientist (for lack of a better term) – Claims that due to systemic and humanistic issues there is an orthodox bias in archaeology. They feel prior views mean some evidence gets harsher treatment than others. As a result those observation which do not fit into the emerging theme of the day are more likely to be rejected than those which do fit into it. Such a process is also self propagating as this results in more and more evidence accumulating for particular themes as opposed to others. This makes it increasingly difficult to reject or question the validity of those themes.
  4. The religious – They have a prior world view. They seem to be using this and any other examples they find to indirectly support that existing view. A lot of them may have conflicting world views to each other but are still using this same example to justify how ‘science is wrong’. This line of argument seems totally unjustified. The argument is being made on empirical evidence so there should be no room to ignore other empirical evidence which goes against their world view. Taken the previous position, at best it claims that there is room for humans to be more objective and flexible. However, science as a framework seems perfectly valid and useful nonetheless.

What do you think? Are there more sides and what stance would you take?


References
  1. Oldoway man: a Middle Pleistocene Homo sapiens? (badarchaeology.com)
  2.  An Examination of the Research of Creationist Walter Brown (ncse.com)
  3. Oldoway Man – Abstract (nature.com)
  4. Leakey, L. S. B; Reck, H.; Boswell, P. G. H.; Hopwood, A. T.; and Solomon, J. D. 1933. “The Oldoway Human Skeleton.” Nature. (March 18) 131:397-398.
  5. Reck, H. 1931. “The Oldoway Skeleton from Tanganyika Territory.” Man (January) 31:10-11.
  6. Boswell, P. G. H. 1932. “The Oldoway Human Skeleton.” Nature (August 13) 130:237-238.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Reck
  8. Forbidden Archeology’s Impact – By Michael A. Cremo
  9. Atlantis Rising Magazine – 120 November/December 2016 – By J. Douglas Kenyon
  10. Creationism: The Hindu View – A Review of Forbidden Archeology, by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson. Badger, CA: Govardhan Hill Publishing. 1994. ISBN 0-9635309-8-4 (talkorigins.org)
  11. Oldoway Man, a false start for Africa. (steemkr.com/science/)

Olduvai Gorge Finger – Questioning Human Origins

Researchers recently discovered of a >1.8 million-year-old little finger. They published their findings in the prestigious Nature Communications Journal. Interestingly, on extensive analysis and comparisons with known species, this bone was found to fall within the Homo Sapiens (modern man) category.

However, as the bone is dated to be >1.8 million years old in their discussion, the researchers exclude it from being placed in the Homo Sapiens category:

Collectively, these results lead to the conclusion that OH 86 represents a hominin species different from the taxon represented by OH 7, and whose closest form affinities are to modern H. sapiens (Fig. 3). However, the geological age of OH 86 obviously precludes its assignment to H. sapiens..

In the spirit of science, the discovers have left the final conclusions open to further evidence. However, others claim this finding is another drop in a growing body of evidence which challenges the conventionally accepted theories of human origins.

Even in accepted archaeological science the date for when we ‘anatomically moderns’ first came into existence has seen a constant push to earlier and earlier times. Current estimates are around 200,000 years edging closer towards 300,000 years (or even earlier). However, some archaeological evidence doesn’t seem to fit the prevailing narrative. These types of finds hint at human (modern) origins  which go back millions of years as opposed to hundreds of thousands.

 

Reference:

Domínguez-Rodrigo, M., Pickering, T., Almécija, S., Heaton, J., Baquedano, E., Mabulla, A. and Uribelarrea, D. (2015). Earliest modern human-like hand bone from a new >1.84-million-year-old site at Olduvai in Tanzania. [online] https://www.nature.com/ncomms. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms8987

Gaia Theory – in a Nutshell

Gaia from Greek mythology is the primordial earth goddess. In some, interpretations she is the earth itself or a spiritual representation of it. She gave rise to all life on earth.

What is Gaia Theory

According to Gaia theory, the earth is a place where life can flourish not just because it happened to be in the right place (from the sun) and the right time (4 billion years ago). Rather life itself has shaped the planet to be more sustainable. Much like a living organism the earth maintains a degree of equilibrium over time and when this is disturbed it has buffer systems that can bring it back. This whole process is achieved through the interaction between the earth’s natural cycles and living organisms all of which are working symbiotically.

Science and criticisms of Gaia Theory

Gaia theory was developed by Dr. James Lovelock in 1965 whilst he was working for NASA researching methods to detect life on other planets, specifically on Mars. It has been received skeptically by mainstream science to this day and is only considered a hypothesis by most. Yet others claim it to be totally unscientific.

According to Dr. Lovelock, Gaia has been a successful theory and has made no less than 10 predictions which have been observed to be true. A few of the processes which it claims to have a say in explaining are (i) how ocean salinity is kept at low levels for life, (ii) Regulation of global temperatures, (iii) Regulation of oxygen in the atmosphere and the processing of CO2 etc.

One could see how Gaia theory can give us a sense of comfort and even have a spiritual dimension. Mother earth takes care of life and is able to protect and heal itself. We are a natural part of this larger organism and through us, the earth has been able to look at the universe in which it was born. (As an example, global warming due to human misadventures could also be taken care of by Gaia. Increased cloud formation, which would reflect more of the sun’s energy, controlling the global warming.)

It is precisely this sense of comfort and also as Dr. Lovelock claims the name of the Theory ‘Gaia’ (representing something supernatural) which might have caused it to garner so much criticism. A lot of criticism comes from scientists who feel the theory is ‘teleological‘ (having a sense of purpose) and against the concepts of evolution by natural selection. Dr. Richard Dawkins states “for organisms to act in concert would require foresight and planning, which is contrary to the current scientific understanding of evolution”.

Other’s like Dr. Peter Ward see it as a dangerous misconception. He feels it appeals to New Age nonsense, as he ridicules “only if we could return to nature the world would heal itself”. Claiming this would mean abandoning civilized and scientific progress. He gives examples of how then there would be a return of high infant mortality, disease, and suffering etc. This view mostly appears to be a misguided understanding of Gaia theory as no such claims appear to have been made.

The theory did find a staunch supporter in Dr. Lynn Margulis. She has argued against Dawkin’s claims and states Darwinian evolution is incomplete in that it has considered the environment a static arena, whereas the evidence suggests it is not. That the organisms shape the environment as the environment shapes the organisms.

Dr. Lovelock argues that actually Gaia theory is now widely accepted science, although with a different name of ‘Earth System Sciences‘.

What seems obvious is that the sense of purpose and comfort one could potentially drive from a theory like Gaia is exactly what is most abhorrent about it. The science and observations in support or against it seem less of an issue. One also wonders that there is this fear that we may lull ourselves into a false sense of security (as with global warming) if we were to cling to this. It seems we feel the need to remind ourselves that we have to take matters into our own hands. We alone have agency and there is nothing grander at work. Everything else is happenstance.

That being said the theory itself does not claim to propose any sense of purpose. It does not view humans as special either, rather the earth’s natural cycles and spheres, one of them being the biosphere, as being in symbiosis. In a sense, the homeostatic mechanisms of earth could rather well be working against humans much like the body tries to work against cancer.

Yet this disgust and fear of Gaia are certainly interesting.

Can You Know The Future? Scientific Evidence Confirms You Can!

Logical people and the scientific community have been scoffing at Psychics, Astrologers, Tarot readers, Palm readers and all other types of so called future seers, for quite some time now. As far as we know time only flows in one direction.

It would be awesome however if we were able to know the future before it happened. Imagine the possibilities and implications. Winning the lottery and investing in profiting shares would be top of the list. And what if we could know when and how we were to die (perhaps even glean beyond our death!?). We would be able to know so many of our itching curiosities like whether we are able to settle beyond earth, whether we do make contact with extraterrestrials, whether we make artificial consciousness etc. The possibilities are endless and wide reaching.

Alas, it seems to be scientifically impossible to do so. There is some possibility of traveling to the future (using high gravity or near light speed travel) but not of knowing it in the present before it happens.

But is it really Scientifically impossible to know the future?

Although that seems to be the prevailing paradigm it does not appear to be entirely justified. Much of the reason why the alternative isn’t a widely accepted concept is due to a lack interest and support from scientific ‘authorities’. Sticking to authority over evidence is not in the spirit of science but it is something we are prone to and must resist.

The evidence in favor of prophecy, precognition, and premonition:

There are decades worth of experimental pieces of evidence to support that we have an ability to know the future. The effects are not very large but they are statistically and scientifically significant nonetheless.

Dean Radin is a researcher in the field of parapsychology and a minor celebrity because of his many international talks on Psi Phenomenon. He has compiled a good list of evidence on his website.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology Daryl J. Bem is another researcher who has published articles, which are available on his website. In 2011 his research paper ‘Feeling the Future’ was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His latest research (2014) a meta-analysis of the same phenomenon appears still to be under editorial review.

I have shared a few of these research articles below (not an exhaustive list):

  • Honorton & Ferrari (1989). “Future telling”: A meta-analysis of forced-choice precognition experiments, 1935-1987 [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]

In this meta-analysis, the researchers found a significant result after compiling trials from 309 studies, collectively involving 50,000 individuals. The number of trials amounted to 2 million. The purpose was to see if individuals could significantly predict the identity of a stimulus that was going to be presented to them, a few hundred milliseconds up to a year in the future.

This experiment (similar to many others) confirmed that we become significantly aware of a stimulus before it has been presented up to a few seconds into the future.

In this study similar to the above one a visual stimulus was randomly shown to an observer and their electrodermal response measured. The twist is that the response was measured prior to seeing the stimulus. Surprisingly the results were similar to as if the observer was already seeing it! Other possible explanations such as expectation, sensory cues, and other artifacts have been ruled out.

Another study which in 2 parts contributes some evidence and replicates other and earlier studies that the body (here specifically focusing on the heart) is able to perceive information from the future. They find that the heart gets involved before the brain in processing this information. The study also interestingly claims that females are more intuitively attuned to perceive the future compared to males.

  • Radin & Borges (2009). Intuition through time: What does the seer see? The journal of Science and Healing. July-Aug 2009, Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages: 200-211

This study is very interesting because it uses eye data prior to and during visual stimulus of different emotionality and valence. It confirms previous findings of a significant response. But it adds more depth to the findings in that it appears that the type of autonomic response significantly correlates with the emotionality and valence of the future image as well. So it appears not only that the body knows before hand that an emotionally charged image is going to be shown but also the amount and direction of this emotionality. Here again in the study, it appears females are better at perceiving the future.

  • Bem, D. J. (2011). Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425.

Yet another replication of results of presentiment studies. Here they compare results of guessing erotic images versus non-erotic images and as expected the guessing rate for erotic images was significantly more than expected by chance. The guessing rate for non-erotic images, on the other hand, was similar to what you would expect by chance.

Here Dean Radin presents a thorough analysis of 75 years worth of scientific evidence demonstrating with high levels of significance the observation that we can and do know the future.

  • Tressoldi et al (2011). Let your eyes predict: Prediction accuracy of pupillary responses to random alerting and neutral sounds

This study is different in that they compare eye response to future auditory stimuli. Again the results are statistically significant.

The results are again confirmed. Interestingly in this study the authors found that higher quality studies revealed a greater effect size compared to lower quality ones.

  • Bem et al (2015). Feeling the future: A meta-analysis of 90 experiments on the anomalous anticipation of random future events

Yet another meta-analysis which pooled results from 90 studies across 33 laboratories and 14 countries. Again yielding highly significant results in favor of precognition.

There are negative studies as well:

As with most scientific results, there are negative studies as well. Researchers are not insensitive to these. One such study (which I found from Dean Radin’s website) is the following one:

  • Galek et al (2012).  Correcting the Past: Failures to replicate psi [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]

Here the researchers were unable to replicate the results of Bem et al (2011) – Feeling the future. However, (as the researchers discuss) the replications focused on only 2 of the 9 experiments conducted by Bem and only the paradigm of retroactive recall. Based on this they suspect those experiments had a Type 1 error but they do not have any evidence to reject the other 7 experiments.

Update:

I was pointed towards this study which is another negative study similar to the one above focusing on retroactive recall.

How come no one is talking about it?

cause and effectThese are extraordinary results. Even more so than questioning whether we need the brain for consciousness (as I discussed in a previous post). The weight of evidence seems to be there to support this claim as well (at least in my humble opinion). So why isn’t it shaking up our world view?

Being suspicious I suspect that we are trying to cling on to our old ideologies. Time is one directional and so is cause and effect. To have an effect, before its cause, is a complete inversion of our foundational assumptions.

Take an example:

A sound wave that had not yet been produced, arrived into our perception, was processed and produced an autonomic effect that we were able to measure. And then it was produced!

Such notions would dramatically change how we conceive what a sound wave is, indeed how we conceive everything.

What are (or could be) the implications?

Firstly it makes the study of consciousness and perception even more mysterious than it already is. It gives a hard blow to our current direction of studying these notions. In neuroscience, we generally think that sensory data comes in, it is processed and that leads to its perception. But it seems we are already perceiving (to an extent) before the sensory data ever had the chance to get to us let alone to be processed. This seems to show our field of perception probably extends into the future.

On the note of developing artificial consciousness, we are then also faced with the huge problem of being able to ‘program’ machines whose perception also extends into the future.

Secondly, as the results show some individuals are better at feeling the future than others (e.g. females) one has to wonder if some exceptional individuals would be extreme outliers and be able to perceive the future with a greater ability hence being truly psychic (this is obviously speculative).

Thirdly could this effect be exploited and exaggerated to become more useful to us? That would be very exciting indeed.

 

So what do you think?