My collaborators and I propose the establishment of a new discipline:
paleo-bio-socio-psychology or "paleopsychology" for short. Each of us
has already taken initial steps toward creating a corpus of paleopsychological
knowledge. We welcome those who would like to join us.
Standard paleontology has done a magnificent job of recreating the morphology
of creatures ranging from the first life forms 3.85 billion years ago
to the early humans of comparatively recent times. In the case of the
majority of pre-historic species, however, paleontology has left us
with a considerable problem. How did these creatures behave? What, if
any, were their social patterns? What cognitive and problem-solving
abilities did they possess? What was the bio-evolutionary sequence which
led to learning, imitation, herding, information sharing, and to what
John Tyler Bonner has called animal culture?
Primate fossil evidence has often been looked at with an eye to inferring
the origins of campsites, tools, migratory patterns, "mental modules,"
and some of the subject matter of which paleopsychology is made. Similarly,
dinosaur remains have been scrutinized for signs of maternal nurturance
and other indicators of social attachment and of the ability to tell
one conspecific from another. But what of the social interactions and
reactive powers of the earliest bacteria, the first eukaryotes, the
recently-discovered Precambrian clams, and the Cambrian profusion of
phyletic representatives--from trilobites to eurypterids?
What about the first insects of 350 mya--were they initially solitary,
as E.O. Wilson and numerous others assume, or were they social, as one
of us suspects? Was individuality or sociality the original state of
living beings? If the latter, how did the anomaly of solitary existence
emerge? If the former, where does sociality begin in the fossil record,
The tools with which these questions can be probed are few today, but
will surely expand as more minds join the quest. Mass- behavior-specialist
Howard Bloom has used data on bacterial social behavior along with fossil
evidence to postulate that the cyanobacteria of 3.5 billion years ago
were not only extraordinarily social, but that their colonies exhibited
what physicist-turned-microbiologist Eshel ben Jacob calls a collective
"creative" intelligence. Extrapolating from the work of Sorin Sonea
and Maurice Panisset (1983), Bloom has gone on to make the case that
the Pre-cambrian system of prokaryotic information exchange was literally
worldwide. In addition, Bloom has penned four papers for Germany's Telepolis
tracing the history of the cooperative impulse and of cognitive development
from the first 10(-32) second of the Big Bang to 35 million b.p. Combined
with the data of Ben Jacob and of the University of Chicago's James
Shapiro, Bloom's published views call into question fundamental axioms
of neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory.
Invertebrate zoologist Kerry B. Clark, creator of the definitive teaching
CD-ROM Metazoa, has applied the rules of his field to the fossil record,
tentatively recreating Cambrian social behavior. Among other things,
he hypothesizes that Anomalocaris canadensis swam in feeding herds.
"The largest animals in most ecosystems are typically herding herbivores,"
he notes, "and I see nothing about Anomalocaris that precludes this."
Paleontologist Kevin Brett, who spent five years working at the Burgess
Shale for the Royal Ontario Museum and National Geographic Magazine,
disagrees about Anomalocaris, but cites evidence that trilobites may
well have been sexually dimorphic, and that many trilobites were, in
his words, "quite ornate." Brett also points to the well-known observation
that, "Trilobites are often found in mass associations of mono-specific
gatherings of complete individuals. This suggests mating and/or moulting
gatherings such as those observed in modern marine arthropods such as
Limulus (Horseshoe crabs). Evidence has been found for multispecific
gatherings as well as physical processes such as wave and current transport."
From this and the positioning of trilobites in fossil beds, he proposes
that trilobite sexual gatherings may not have been entirely promiscuous.
Modern "toads," he points out, "will mate with just about anything--so
they don't necessarily recognize members of even their own species."
Brett suspects that Cambrian arthropods were more discerning.
Entomologist Christine Nalepa cites an understudied source of data,
trace fossils. From fecal remains in chambers carved in dead Carboniferous
tree ferns, she infers that the earliest proto- cockroaches (Cryptocercidae-like
insects) may have shown active social behavior 300 million years ago--over
160 million years before even the most extreme dates hypothesized for
the emergence of eusociality.
As Brett points out, "All animals are social. We have the opportunity
to trace the degrees of sociality in the fossil record using burrow
and hive traces, mass associations, nests, etc." Adds Clark, "The chemical
transmitters in the most advanced organisms have their precursors in
the simple biochemically-mediated behavioral responses of bacteria and
protists, indicating a continuity of mechanisms between these extremes.
"The basic organizational features of the most advanced nervous systems
-- ganglionation, condensation of diffuse sensors into discrete organs,
and interneuronal processing -- that we associate with intelligent behavior,
are expressed in all but the simplest animals, and it is reasonable
to look for, and expect, some expression of intelligent behaviors in
'lower' animals. Social behaviors, by assembling superorganisms, facilitate
'emergent properties' that can assemble intelligent behaviors not found
in solitary forms, optimizing exploitation of their environments, and
may or may not be associated with fossil evidence of the superorganism.
The two prime correlates of intelligence, organism size and complexity,
can arise both in big, complex individuals and in smaller organisms
that communally form large, complex units of biomass. Our knowledge
and recognition of such social interactions is still at an early stage."
Bloom, Clark, Brett and Nalepa are all members of our group. But we
have illustrious forebears. Charles Darwin hinted at a psychology of
the creatures which preceded us in his Expression of Emotions in Man
and Animals (1872). With Darwin's blessings, George Romanes took the
query a step further in his 1884 Mental Evolution In Animals. Lynn Margulis
has done a masterful job of reconstructing the lives of what she calls
"microbial communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons." Margulis
credits as other predecessors Schimper (in his work of 1833), Famintzyn
(1891), Mereschkovsky (1909), Portier (1918) and Wallin (1927)--all
concerned, as is Margulis, with evolutionary cell biology. In addition,
B. Moore has worked recently on reconstructing the evolution of imitative
Yet the area explored by these pioneers has often been forgotten once
the researchers responsible have gone. It is time to end this periodic
amnesia. The tools exist. The evidence exists. And the need to know
is there. The evolution of behavior, sociality, and the physiology of
proto-mentation finally deserve a discipline of their own.
If you wish more information on paleopsychology, or would like to join
us in our quest, please e-mail or phone:
705 President Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215
phone 718 622 2278
fax 718 398 2551
For further data on the participants and a taste of their accomplishments,
see: www.bookworld.com/lucifer (re Howard Bloom); http://users.aol.com/kbclark/cambrian
(Dr. Kerry B. Clark); www.ualberta.ca/~kbrett/Trilobites.html
(re Kevin Brett); and Nalepa, Christine (1994), "Nourishment and the
Origin of Termite Eusociality," in Nourishment and Evolution in Insect
Societies, edited by James H. Hunt and Christine A. Nalepa, 1994, Boulder,
Colorado: Westview Press: 57-96.