Discussion Board

Topic: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Richard Blaber
Location: Northamptonshire, England
Date: 10/14/2007

You may remember that I posted an item to this 'blog on 01/31/2004 apropos 'Darwin's Children' which mentioned research showing large numbers of Gulf War Syndrome sufferers in Oregon and their families (85%) and a smaller number of recent-onset schizophrenia sufferers (29%) had evidence of activated HERV, either in the form of antibodies to proteins, or RNA in non-cellular cerebro-spinal fluid.
My subsequent research has taken me into a number of different fields, but I want to focus on the following: there is a HERV that was once (and still is) a SERV - a Simian Endogenous Retrovirus - rhesus monkeys have it, so do all the primates - and the common ancestor of rhesus monkeys and humans lived a long time ago. Jun-Seop Kim and colleagues at the National Institute of Health, Seoul, South Korea, found it at 20 different locations on 11 different human chromosomes, including the X.
The name we have given this HERV is SZRV-1: Schizophrenia Related Retrovirus 1. Its GenBank Accession Number, for anyone interested, is AF135487, and it is 2,309 base pairs long. There are 3 other versions, but they are as rare as hen's teeth.
We all have this virus. But rhesus monkeys, orang-utans, gorillas, chimps and bonobos don't get schizophrenia, and only 45 million of us worldwide suffer from it - which is 45 million too many.
Which brings me to Julian Jaynes's theory of the origin of consciousness and his concept of the 'bicameral mind', the idea that schizophrenia and creativity may be linked - and that the former may in some way be of net evolutionary benefit, even though it's difficult for us to see how.
It also brings me to the idea of the 'Palaeolithic Revolution', an idea promulgated by the Stanford University palaeoanthropologist Richard G. Klein, namely that about 40-50,000 years ago, a cognitive revolution took place, which enabled H. sapiens to make the transition to H. sapiens sapiens, paint the Lascaux and Altamira Caves, and ultimately the Sistine Chapel; invent the wheel, make more inventive stone and wooden tools, develop pottery, and eventually develop the science and technology we have today.
In my view, the Klein and Jaynes theories dovetail perfectly. It seems to me that Klein's 'Palaeolithic Revolution' coincides with the birth of Jaynes' 'bicameral mind', the 'voices' of the brain's right hemisphere whispering or shouting to the left hemisphere and telling it what to do - this made possible because language is possible, social communication and cooperation is possible, and cohesion and control are necessary. (But I refer you to Jaynes' book for a fuller argument.)
What sparks the birth, and the Revolution? The activation of SZRV-1, the ancient Teacher of Mankind, whether he is called Prometheus, as in Greek myth, or Raven, as in the stories of the Native Americans of the Pacific NW of the USA, or spoken of in the plural as the 'Fallen Ones' of Genesis 6:4 (see also the pseudepigraphical 1 Enoch 6-8). Why do I call it that? Because I suspect that the activation was caused by early experimentation with hallucinogenic fungus and/or plant materials, such as the ubiquitous (in Eurasia) Psilocybe semilanceata or Amanita muscaria.
If you smoke dope, take ecstasy and drop acid, you are certainly increasing your risks of developing schizophrenia, especially during adolescence, a period of rapid neural re-organisation. Some of our early ancestors may have found 'magic mushrooms' to their liking, and, like many who have experienced visions in such circumstances, seen their gods (or their demons) for the first time.
At some point, some individuals in the tribe would have started 'seeing things', as well as 'hearing voices' without the need for the mushrooms, the virus having taken hold. They would have been very valuable - not shunned as mad - but a conduit to the gods, a way of communicating with them, and more importantly, of receiving communications from them - vital, when everything in your world depends on the will of the gods.
I hope you'll forgive this ultra-long posting - but, a plausible hypothesis, do you think? Is SZRV-1 the Prometheus Virus, its 2,309 base pair DNA sequence The Prometheus Code (sounds like the title of a Robert Ludlum novel!)? Prometheus created and taught mankind, and gave him fire, and rescued Deucalion from the Flood, but there was also that nasty business with Pandora's Box! What gave us the edge over the Neanderthals (if Klein is right) may have left us a horrendous legacy of mental illness.

Re: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/15/2007

Fascinating material and speculations, Richard. I tend to think culture, language, biology and DNA go hand in hand. A part that gets used more often may activate a set of genes--and over time, that set of genes may be multiplied for more efficient production of the necessary substances--proteins and what-have-you (with a more modern emphasis on "what-have-you"!). Transposons and retroviruses may contribute to that migration and duplication. But I'm relucant at this point to ascribe the "opening of the eyes" to one gene, and I suspect we know very little about mental illness in simians--certainly in the wild. Monkeys with visions are likely to be taken down by predators rather quickly, or perhaps kicked out of the group to die somewhere else. In society, predation of extreme visionaries is still a danger (from fellow humans, more often than not) but not as much of a danger. But it's still a good question: how often do simians in the wild suffer from mental illness?

Re: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Richard Blaber
Location: Northamptonshire, England
Date: 10/15/2007

I am extremely doubtful that any non-human primates suffer, or have ever suffered from, any form of mental illness. I refer you to a report in ABC News' 'News in Science' by Jennifer Viegas of Discovery News, 'Neanderthal brain spared schizophrenia' (Wednesday, 06/13/07), describing findings by Dr Lee Seldon of Monash University, Australia, and Professor Timothy Crow of Oxford University.
I quote from the report:

'[n]eanderthals probably did not possess the cognitive complexities of modern humans so did not suffer from schizophrenia and certain other mental disorders, according to a new theory.
The theory proposes that language, creativity and many mental diseases are linked, due to the fact that they may originate in the neocortex, as well as the densely cell-packed cortex, located towards the top of the brain.
These brain regions appear to mature and develop more slowly than other areas.
Although there are conflicting claims about possible Neanderthal creative abilities, no direct evidence supports that this extinct human species or subspecies possessed fully fledged grammatical language'.

I believe, although I am not yet in a position to prove, that you cannot be mentally ill without a 'fully fledged grammatical language', and without the possibilities of creativity that are opened up by having the ability to think and communicate using one.
This, for me, is the very essence of Richard G. Klein's 'Paleolithic Revolution', and what Julian Jaynes was getting at talking about the birth of the 'bicameral mind'. You need grammatico-syntactical language for that, whether we're talking about Nostratic or Proto-Indo-European or whatever. And it didn't happen until 40-50,000 years ago, with the arrival of William Golding's 'Inheritors' in late Pleistocene Europe - the Cro Magnons, after which we have Lascaux, Altamira, the Venus of Willendorf... and so on to the Pyramids, the Parthenon, and everything that followed.
SZRV-1 is not, of course, a gene, but a HERV - a piece of so-called 'junk DNA'. Only today I suddenly thought of an analogy for it - it's a bit like the Black Monolith in '2001: A Space Odyssey', with the magic mushroom-eating Cro Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic substituting for Arthur C. Clarke's chimp-like hominids.
As for the aliens - they don't come from _outer_ space, but from _inner_ space, and anyone can see them and indeed converse with them (so I'm told, I haven't tried it yet) if they are prepared to partake of certain substances, some of which are legal in the USA. I think that includes Salvia divinorum, but I'm not sure (the active ingredient is Salvinorin A, the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogen). Do take care if and when doing so!

Re: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Terran
Location: Winter Park, FL
Date: 10/16/2007

Those are fascinating ideas, Richard!

Re: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/16/2007

Clearly, Jane Goodall's murdering mother chimp--she enlisted her daughter to kill and eat the group's babies--was what most people would call psychopathic. A theory that is a string of unproven suppositions--Neanderthals did not have language, language is linked to mental illness, therefore Neaderthals could not have been mentally ill--is dubious at best. Never having met a Neanderthal, I leave that question open. I remind us Cro Magnon types that Neanderthals apparently had brains at least as large as our own, and sometimes larger. (Though brain/body size ratio would make Marmosets the smartest!)

Re: Darwin's Radio and The Prometheus Myth.

From: Richard Blaber
Location: Northamptonshire, England
Date: 10/17/2007

OK, let me simplify the argument down to a couple of presuppositions, rather than a whole set of them. To be mentally ill, you need to have a mind, and specifically, what Julian Jaynes would call a unicameral, or conscious, mind. Non-members of the sub-species homo sapiens sapiens do not (and did not), if I am right, have minds. Therefore non-humans cannot be mentally ill. (Or only humans can be mentally ill, if you want to put it that way.)
Gorillas, chimps and bonobos, for example, all have brains, and as you point out, H. neanderthalensis had a larger average brain c.c. than we do. But corvids are remarkably clever in spite of their tiny brain size (they weigh about 10g). But having a brain is not the same thing as having a mind, and brain dysfunction is not the same thing as mental illness. Nor, I would contend, is cognitive or behavioural dysfunction, per se - which would rule out Jane Goodall's 'psychopathic' mother chimpanzee. Human psychopaths aren't mentally ill either, btw, in the judgement of many psychiatrists, which is why when they kill we put them in prison (or execute them, if they're in the US) rather than in psychiatric hospitals.
No, the cognitive-behavioural dysfunction has to be coupled with a third ingredient if it is to count as mental illness, and that is consciousness. As Julian Jaynes argues, most of what the brain does is unconscious - it is no more conscious than a computer is. It is the small amount that is that's important here, that constitutes the experience of the ego, the conscious self. It's when cognitive-behavioural dysfunction implicates him or her that you have mental illness, be it schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, or whatever.
But I suspect we will just have to agree to disagree on this issue, because we have a fundamental philosophical disagreement about physical reality. I think there is more to reality than matter, energy, space and time - the things described by the laws of physics and the language of mathematics. After all, where did the laws of physics come from?
At any rate, you have my very best wishes, and I look forward to reading 'Quantico'. I'm sure it will be an exciting and enjoyable experience.

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