Ramachandran describes the discovery of mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of monkeys the “single most important unreported story of the decade.” The importance of the neurons creates a makeup/ rule-set of the underlying principles of our mental abilities.
What about our communication skills, did they evolve from a gestural language? Ramachandran suggests that our evolution of language comes from the sophisticated vocal apparatus and the sophistication of the sounds made during courtship. Different actions set off neurons in the brain in which produce a reaction/command response. Mirror neurons can also explain the “mind reading” abilities also known as empathy. We seem to imitate the movements of others also evolving culturally and not necessarily all gene based. When we put together the ability to imitate and read someone’s intentions with our vocalization apparatus we finally have the ability to organize a conversation.
Our full brain capacity was reached about 200,000 years ago and remained idle for 150,000 years before we began to develop distinct human attributes like art, clothes, and stereotyped dwellings. Ramachandran believes that this is due to some “critical environmental trigger.” Once people started to pick up the trait others tend to follow and mirror the trait. What about monkeys though, they are exposed to the same environmental changes? Monkeys lack the ability to develop culture, when “imitation learning” and “culture” are combined there is development in the culture itself which happens and therefore a community is affected and develops together.
The next sophisticated movement would be the use of tools, fire, art and more cultural development. He compares this to the 19th century in which we produced nuclear power, automobiles and both air and space traveling. These were due to environmental circumstances. Right now our environmental circumstances have shifted enormously due to our ozone layer diminishing, we are now conscious as ever about the energy exerted and making life style changes to reflect them. Considering this are we due for another massive “big bang” in our evolution?