Why the most successful creature on our planet isn’t a super-fast, very hostile, enormous, poisonous monster?
Why the most successful animal on our planet wasn’t the one with more hostile characteristics? In the Pleistocene many species similar¹ to the homo sapiens sapiens existed at the same time. And, of all of them, one had more success. About the success of that species, I ask: why the successful one had great cognitive skills and not so great motor skills?
Hostile skills, in fact, seem to be much more objective than some products of our highly developed cognitive apparatus. As Byrne points out, it is difficult to understand how the lack of objectivity of our cognitive apparatus may have represented any advantage. He says:
Large brain size at birth, in conjunction with a narrowed pelvis associated with efficient modern bipedalism, has the consequence of difficulties and danger to mother and child during birth. Yet, much growth is still necessary to reach the adult size, so that the human infant is unusually helpless at birth and dependent for several years on time-consuming parental care (BYRNE, 2000)².
Also, this very complex cognitive system allows us to compose a greater number of “non-hostile” skills, such as jumping from branch to branch (not flying), producing and using complex artificial tools (but we are not the faster species), writing (and not even the stronger). So why these non-hostile characteristics (like painting and etc.) were successful on the wild terrestrial life?
Our not very “direct” hostility may be a reflection of the danger that some of the great predators of the past may have presented to our ancestors in a way that they forced a certain “physical shyness” in our ancestors. After all, we are far from being the tallest, fastest, or strongest individuals on the planet. Therefore, this “shyness” may have been preserved in some of our ancestors until very hostile/dangerous species were extinct, or until they no longer presented the same danger to our ancestors.
But, again, what happened in the Pleistocene? Did we fight “giant”, intelligent, extremely violent gorillas and we won?
Some of our evolutionary cousins were certainly bigger, yes. But I believe that in the Pleistocene different characteristics (like a better cognitive system and complex skills) possibly made our ancestors win a “pedagogical race” which selected the species that could learn more (or learn fast) and, by doing so, they could also enhance their life expectancy (what would also increase the species individual numbers), and consequently making those who won this “pedagogical race” certainly selected.
¹ According to Mellars and Stringer, there are “some extinct hominids whose stone tools defined the period and, however, are now considered not to be closely related to modern humans species”. Mellars, P., Stringer, C. (1989). The human revolution: Behavioural and biological perspectives on the origins of modern humans. Princeton: Ed. Princeton University Press.
² Byrne, R. (2000). Evolution of Primate Cognition. Cognitive Science, 34(3), 543–570.