Coded gray.

Monday 14 August 2000


Pic of the day: Screenshot from Dogz II, the virtual dog simulator. The care and breeding of dogs is still a major pleasure for humans. But what about ourselves? The truth is out there!

Of men and dogs

I thought I had the topic for today's entry when I woke up to the news about the Democratic Party's choice of election campaign song. But later in the day, corresponding with E-pal sent me in another direction. There may be a connection, though. You be the judge on that ...

We were as usual corresponding about the differences between men and women. She being female and I being male, the opposite sex is a source of constant intrigue and amazement for us both, not to mention the conspiracy theories. And so I remembered a theory that has been gaining support among paleosociobiologists lately. (Some call these people "evolutionary psychologists", which is even more misleading I guess.)


Basically, the theory goes like this: The rapid development of the human species is not typical of how evolution works. (There is actually much dispute about this, as many people now accept the "punctuated equilibrium" theory of evolution, in which whole ecological niches collapse and rebuild in a geologically short time. The mechanisms for this are still heavily discussed.) The gradual growth of the human brain was suddenly replaced by a growth spurt just before the emergence of modern humans, less than a million years ago. The new idea is that man was domesticated. You know, like dogs.

Wait, don't go! I'm not saying that man was domesticated by aliens from outer space. Rather evidence points to another even more unfathomable and incomprehensible presence: The women.

When the species was young, or so say the paleo-types, we lived partly off plant food collected mostly by the women, whereas men hunted in packs or (less heroically) laid claim to carcasses of dead or dying animals, which they then protected from competing scavengers, by wielding clubs and throwing stones at them. This concerted pack action demanded some brains, but not nearly enough to explain our present brain size.

During our prehistory sometime, there came to be an alliance between two hunter/scavengers: Man and the ancestor of today's dogs. Man provided the strategy while the ur-dog supplied teeth and claws. As the dog followed us home, the women was presented with a quandery: How to tame the beast so that it would do minimal damage at home, while still serving well as a strong protector and hunter. Luckily this was something the women had experience with - they had just done the same with the men.


The change in dogs, compared to their wild ancestors, is a development towards a partly infantile form. The dog has a larger head and face relative to body, generally more puppyish proportions, and above all a more infantile behavior. Dogs remain playful long after other canines have grown up, in fact to some extent it lasts for life. They are also very devoted to the caretakers and always hungry for signs of affection.

Intriguingly, the most striking difference between humans and apes is that we are more childlike. An ape baby is disturbingly similar to a human baby, and indeed to a grown human. We retain the large heads and playful attitude for life. It is a well known fact that childhood in humans last much longer than in comparable species, and in men even longer than in women: The female skull is closed at 18, but the male at 21. (This is no great loss to the women, since they have had a lead from babyhoood onward. Girls tie their shoelaces on average half a year before the boys. Putting boys and girls of the same age in the same classes is an injustice against them both. But enough of that for now.)

So the theory goes: The females chose the juvenile trait that was most easily combined with retaining their physical strength: Playfulness. The playful man with a child's mind in a grown body. This was of course a moving target, as each generation of women too inherited some of the same traits. Eventually nature put a stop as it was no longer possible to give birth to babies with larger heads. A prolonged babyhood followed: All human children are prematurely born, compared to other placental mammals. (Ironically, we might have progressed further this way if we were marsupials.) But eventually the process stopped by itself, with a human brain slightly larger than the norm today.


Dogs entered the human family later, but have the "benefit" of shorter life cycles. The domestication of dogs therefore go faster than of men, in some respects. Perhaps, then, the dog is an indication of the way human males will be in the future: Playful, emotionally dependent, fiercely loyal to their owner. Puppy love.

(Of course, you could avoid this by being created in God's image, which I dare say is very different. In fact, one might say, quite the opposite. Hmm.)

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