A social paradox / Human physical attractiveness

The pagan goddess of love: Sandro Boticelli's "Birth of Venus" remains, after 500 years, an awestruck view of the female form.

The pagan goddess of love: Sandro Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” remains, after 500 years, an awestruck view of the female form, without condemnation nor sentimentality.



Beauty, symmetry, movement, being comfortable in one’s own body, judgment of character based on physical appearance, and physical types are all facets stressed in American social survival. Of course there’s a paradox: the visual presentation of “ideal humans” is extreme and distorted, so natural examples are rare and increasingly “faked” by make up, photo-shopped images, computer distortions, cosmetic surgery and dentistry, extreme diets, work outs and applied chemistry.

And then, moral and ethical confusion enters.

People are supposed to be loved “for who they are” as opposed to how they look. A person’s behavior ought to be paramount in one’s choice of partner: immoral or criminal acts; lies, deception, and real pathology, such as abuse of others, are clear warning signs that so-and-so is not a good candidate for partnership nor parenthood. And yet, “for who they are” now includes career criminals and other dangerous people.

I’m old enough to remember a different social context in the U.S.

“Love someone for who they are” meant that a good set of values, reliability, devotion, hard work and investment in a family may be found in a person who is average looking or even “homely” and that these are qualities that lead to a good partnership. Choosing based on looks alone was insubstantial. Beauty comes “free” from ancestral genes and is not a product of character. “Beauty” whether male or female is a condition of physical chance and not a substitute for substance.

Somehow in the U.S. the idea of “love someone for who they are” has become inverted, and now means embracing substandard behavior – and there lies the point: no one is allowed to condemn personal or corporate criminal acts, whether violent or selfish. Coping with loss of human rights, including death, devastation of the environment, or negligent acts has passed to lawyers. There is no moral component left in “who someone is.” We are forced as individuals to accept ‘bad behavior” from any person or agency or corporation that touches our lives. As individuals,  combatting such calamities is nearly impossible: “justice” used to be part of the social contract, but morality has been “stolen” by religious institutions, whose members deny that any secular segment of humanity can behave morally or ethically.

Morality and ethics have been removed from the social hierarchy: people are punished for their inclusion in a mostly economic class system. True criminals are not differentiated from people merely caught up in a careless and mindless factory system that provides a sham appearance of good and evil, of  WWL – wealthy with lawyers and those who are considered “low status and vulnerable.”

This is not to say that many who are in prison don’t need to be there, to protect their families, neighborhoods and communities from devastating violence and loss. But – the inversion of “love someone for who he is” meaning having “good qualities” to “anything goes” has contributed to making criminal behavior a valid lifestyle and muddled the moral waters with “sympathy for devils.” As in other arena’s of American life, emotionality and shallow sympathy take precedence over good judgment. No judgment allowed. Without judgment we are lost.

Does this look like a balanced and healthy society?

Does this look like a balanced and healthy society?

This comparison of incarceration rates makes a lie of our insistence that the U.S. is a fair and just society and represents a light of democracy in a dark world. It does reveal an inability to distinguish true criminals from those caught up by ridiculous laws, and a belief that “crime” defines poor people, but the well-off and “upper class” are exempt.




The Asperger Label / When will it go away?

Technically the diagnosis did go away in DSM V, but not in time to reform the idea that the vague diagnosis of  “The  Asperger” as a bundle of unacceptable behaviors. The majority of symptoms concern social interaction; Asperger individuals, to put it in common language, are outsiders – geeks – nerds – unrepentant and awkward loners who are up to no good. This is a social judgment (fear of intelligence) that predates the modern technical world, a prejudice that was created by the advent of agriculture, which required a tame populace that can live in unhealthy conditions, sustained on poor food, polluted water, and who know their lowly place at the bottom of steep social hierarchies. History is rife with angry mobs attacking and murdering “The Other” “The Outsider” – that is, individuals or groups of people who don’t conform to the expectations of prevailing cultural norms.

As a young woman entering the work force, it never occurred to me that I should accept less than what I was capable of doing.

As a young woman entering the work force, it never occurred to me that I should accept less than what I was capable of doing.

What social typical people don’t see (inattentional blindness), is that while consumed with social competition (purchasing gadgets) the despised geeks and nerds who invented those gadgets took control of human destiny, for better or worse.

The future will reveal what we cannot now know: all humans have become objects, not living beings,  due to secret information collection and ultimate designs on our freedom of speech and movement. You and I are clips of data, conveniently easy targets for those who are in control of technology. The process of controlling The Masses has been ongoing ever since the first strong man declared that he would decide both the future and everyday activities of the ordinary people in a village and promoted those beliefs through conformity to language, dress, foods, religion and hatred of The Other, so it’s no surprise that people exist who want to control the beliefs and activities of everyone on the planet. It shouldn’t be difficult, now that the technology is in place; modern social humans have already accepted that ‘Globalization is a Good Thing.’

My concern at this point, is the predicament of Asperger individuals who know that they are different to modern social humans, a difference that in a sane society would come under the positive notion of diversity. Not all Asperger people are interested in computers and technology, nor “good at” math and hard sciences, and yet the popular mind often pushes Asperger individuals into a geek ghetto. Lack of employment is one of the greatest obstacles to Asperger happiness, as it is for many social typical people. I don’t think this predicament is one sided. People like to work; it’s good for sanity.

A comment I wrote in response to a thread on social anxiety on an Asperger website:

My frustration is that Asperger people continue to “obsess” about what other people MAY think about them, whether in person or online. I think this has two sources: we feel lost when trying to communicate. Our native impulse is to say what we think and expect and to have that honesty accepted as a legitimate way of communicating. Through experience we know that being direct and honest is taken as an “attack” on the person: an insult or a challenge, even though that’s not the intent. Social people have no idea how dumbfounding the rejection of facts is; how painful and mystifying.

You express difficulty in solving a problem. I see that your difficulty is due to some inaccurate assumptions. I have facts that can lead to a quick solution: the problem is not “the problem” – your misinformation is the problem. These I share with you. What’s the point of knowledge if not to share it? You become angry and insult me, and go on being distressed by “the problem” that isn’t. People like me are aggregated into a class of defective humans.  I reject this irrational and fearful arrangement. Often my choice (for self-preservation) is to simply watch people flail around, trying to build a boat from emotion, and drowning. All to protect bad information.

Society is built on a social pyramid of inequality: there are “important people” and (mostly) unimportant people. Social exchange is a serious game of status-seeking. When Asperger individuals are “caught” in these games, we feel beyond uncomfortable. Our need to be direct and honest is simply not acceptable, especially in the eyes of authority figures; people are supposed to “bow and scrape” as if that authority figure is their superior. (Social humans de facto accept this inferiority.) This is an affront against our Egalitarian view of human beings; to us it is self-evident that each person counts. This radical difference in our fundamental way of seeing human beings (equal vs. unequal) is the source of much our anxiety. If you believe in truth, justice and equality you can’t just abandon those expectations, especially when these are fundamental to the U.S. Constitution. But social typicals live in a different “mind space.” If you think that society will change someday, good luck! But, if you stop expecting highly social people to be “like us” much of your anxiety will disappear. If you stop expecting that someday you’ll be “normal” your anxiety will decrease.


This may be a bit counterintuitive and difficult to see, but I think we Aspies do a lot of rejecting of people and jobs BECAUSE they don’t suit us or interest us. And we feel more comfortable saying we’ve been rejected (which many times is true) than saying; I reject that person or job because they don’t live up to my standards. The job is boring, that person lacks honesty… We do have the right to choose what we want. Just because social typicals label us as defective or strange that doesn’t mean they get to run our lives! And we don’t have to settle for idiot jobs that we will end up sabotaging because we’re bored.

I’ve worked for myself most of my life. It’s risky: there is no one to count on but me – no security, no future, just survival today. You know what? For this Aspie that risk is far less anxiety provoking than being stuck 8-10 hours a day in a crummy office job.

Who is rigid, repetitive and boring?


Self Awareness / OMG What a Hornet’s Nest

What made me awaken this morning with the question of self awareness dancing in my head? It’s both a personal and social question and quest, and so almost impossible to think about objectively. And like so many “word concepts” there is no agreed-upon definition or meaning to actually talk about, unless it’s among religionists of certain beliefs, philosophical schools of knowledge and neurologists hunched over their arrays of technology peering like haruspices over a pile of pink meat.

My own prejudices lean toward two basic underpinnings of self-awareness:

1. it is not a “thing” but an experience.

2. Self awareness is learned, earned, created, achieved.

From a previous post that I just updated to follow this post: Co-consciousness; the product of language : “In Western cultures verbal language is inseparable from the process of creating a conscious human being. A child is told who it is, where it belongs, and how to behave, day in and day out, from birth throughout childhood. In this way culturally-approved patterns of thought and behavior are implanted, organized and strengthened in the child’s brain.  Social education means setting tasks that require following directions, and asking children to ‘correctly’ answer with words and behavior, to prove that co-consciousness is in place. This is one of the great challenges of human development, and children who do not ‘pay attention’ to adult demands, however deftly sugar-coated, are rejected as defective, defiant, and diseased. Punishment for having early self awareness may be physical or emotional brutality or abandonment and exile from the group.”

Who am I? is a question that most children ask sooner or later – prompted obviously by questions from adults (no child is born thinking about this) such as “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The socially acceptable menu is small: “A famous sports star” for boys, ” A wonderful mom and career woman who labors endlessly to look 16 years old forever” for girls.

How boring and unrealistic. How life and joy killing. Adults mustn’t let children in on the truth, which is even worse. We know at this point that a child can look in a mirror and say, “That’s me! I hate my haircut,” but he or she is entirely unaware that someday firing rockets into mud brick houses, blowing bodies to smithereens, may be their passion. Or end up as a single mom with three kids, totally unprepared for that job, addicted to pills and rage and stuffing paper bags with French fries eight hours a day. If a child were to utter these goals, he and she would be labeled as disturbed and possibly dangerous. And yet human children grow up to be less than ideal, and many  dreadful outcomes occur, but these are the result of the individual colliding with societal fantasies and promises that are supernatural, and not likely outcomes at all.

The strangest part of this is that we talk about self awareness as a “thing” tucked into a hidden space, deep with us, but it isn’t. It is a running score on a test, that once we are born, starts running: the test questions are life’s demands, both from the environment into which we are born, and the culture of family, school, work and citizenship. The tragedy is that no one bothers to find out enough about a child to guide them toward a healthy and happy self-awareness. This requires observing and accepting the child’s native gifts and personality, AND helping them to manage their difficulties. This is not the same as curing them of being different, or inflicting life long scars by abandoning them, or diligent training so that like parrots, they can mimic conformist behavior and speech.

Self awareness comes as we live our lives: self-esteem is connected to that process, not as a “before” thing, but an “after” thing: a result of meeting life as it really is, not as a social fantasy. Self awareness is built from the talents and strengths that we didn’t know  we possessed. It also arises as we see the “world” as its pretentions crumble before us – instead we are blamed for society’s failures. Being able to see one’s existence cast against the immensity of reality, and yet to feel secure, is the measure of finally giving birth to our self.


Snow and twigs.

I’m satisfied that loving the land is my talent and that this is not a small thing, when there are so many human beings who don’t.

Have you ever had an original thought?

The obvious model for a social pyramid dates to Ancient Egypt. Note that the scale of Pharaoh to subject is that of parent to child.

The obvious model for a social pyramid dates to Ancient Egypt. Note that the scale of Pharaoh to subject is that of parent to child. It still is.

How many human beings have ever produced an original thought?

What we assume to be created by our brains has actually been installed by our family, education and culture. Case in point: the majority of individuals did not choose their religion or beliefs about how the world ought to be, but were born into a world view that dictates how the individual filters and transforms new information to support old ideas. 

Our array of languages may not be active or dominant in each individual. Some people are so dominated by magical thinking that no amount of demonstration or explanation will lead them to accept natural explanations for phenomena. Although abstract thinking is one of the advantages of word languages, my ‘native’ thinking is visual. I must translate visual ideas into words: mathematics becomes alien when concrete applications are left behind. Magical thinking is thought by child development specialists to be active briefly in childhood, and then to disappear in favor of concrete thinking, with abstract thinking developing later through education, a ladder or level concept (another pyramid scheme!) that is misleading. Magical thinking is not only present, but dominates the adult social brain. Analytical thinking is the cherry on top and few individuals get the cherry.

Do the ideas produced by language describe physical reality or do they shape and distort perceptions of reality? Ideas can clearly be a roadblock to understanding the human condition, especially ideas of proper governance. The potential for word language pre-exists in the brain, but must be activated by other humans. This need to learn demonstrates continuity with the languages of many species such as birds a cetaceans. Mathematics is the language of physical reality; mathematical relationships are intrinsic to nature and basic to understanding the substance and organization of both living and nonliving matter, energy systems, and the history of the universe. Mathematics is essential to the culture we have created and yet, in the United States, “doing it” is viewed as an arcane and alien activity – and those who speak mathematics form an increasingly imported priestly class.

It's not a good sign for equality that today's pyramids have become even steeper.

It’s not a good sign for the world’s citizens that today’s pyramids have become radically steeper than in ancient empires.

This repetition of information and instruction, which we designate as learning, has great benefits; no one must reinvent the wheel, but if a continuity of knowledge is not maintained down generations, ideas and technologies can be utterly lost. The modern social pyramid as it exists has stretched inequality to dangerous limits: skilled labor and crafts have been denigrated as demeaning grunt work, and a college degree is ‘required’ for an individual to gain a foothold on the pyramid, despite that degree providing no skills for earning a living nor satisfying basic human needs for accomplishment and reward. If anyone believes that the social hierarchy is working to benefit citizens, the extreme disparity in income between minimum wage earners and Pharaohs at the top completely eradicates such fantasy.

Do some individuals deserve higher rewards for skills and abilities? Inevitably yes, but modern social humans reward sociopaths who destroy culture, and with it, human lives. If our primary ethical position was this; that each human being counts and ought to have the means and ability to provide healthy food, clean water and shelter for his or her family, we could do it. This is a choice that we are making, to deny others (including more and more Americans) by consuming the majority of the planet’s resources, which are not ours and by destroying sovereign nations, so that 1% of Americans can be billionaires.

Greed is not an original idea;

we’re merely copying the Pharaohs,

Great Kings,  Dictators, Tyrants,

and Gods of the past.


Jinniushan / Transition Erectus to Sapien?


The Jinniushan skeleton was excavated in 1984 from a collapsed limestone cave near Sitian Village, southwest of Yinkou in Liaoning Provence by students from Peking University under the direction of Professor Lu Zun’e. Original reports and preliminary descriptions of the Jinniushan skeleton were presented by Wu (1988a, 1988b) and Lu (1989), however, little else has been published. There are a number of Uranium series dates from the cave which range from 310,000 to 200,000 years. Lu (1989) argued that layer 7 where the hominid fossils were found was dated to approximately 280,000 years (BP). Research by Huang and You (1987)and Chen et al. (1994) indicates a date of closer to 200,000 might be more appropriate.

The skeleton consists of a skull, left ulna, left innominate, 6 vertebrae, ribs and numerous bones of the hands and feet. The cranium was originally in one piece but was unfortunately damaged during excavation. Reconstruction of the skull was undertaken at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing by Wu Rukang and his assistant Zhao Zongyi (Wu, 1988). This reconstruction was subsequently altered after the skeleton was returned to the Archaeology Department of Peking University. Both the vault and facial skeleton are heavily reconstructed, with extensive bone loss in the frontal, parietal and occipital regions.


Similar to Dali, Jinniushan has a combination of Homo erectus and H. sapiens anatomical features. An endocranial volume of approximately 1400 cc, combined with relatively thin cranial vault bone, some parietal expansion, rounding of the occipital region, the position of maximum cranial breadth, and overall facial morphology have resulted in Jinniushan being allotted to archaic Homo sapiens. Compared with Dali the brow ridges are less robust and not thickened mid-orbit, the supraorbital sulcus is shallower but there is greater post-orbital constriction. Jinniushan has a median frontal ridge which extends on to the parietals. Like Dali the mastoid process is small. The occipital and nuchal planes do not meet at as sharp an angle as in Dali and the occipital torus is not particularly robust. The posterior profile of the parietals is similar to Dali, as is the location of maximum cranial breadth. Derived traits, similar to H. sapiens, are apparent in the relatively delicate facial skeleton.

While anterior tooth wear is marked there is relatively little wear on the molar teeth. Comparison with prehistoric Australian dentitions suggest that Jinniushan was a young adult, 16 to 20 years of age, but this would depend upon broadly similar rates of tooth wear. Lu’s (1989) age estimate of around 20 years is probably closer than Wu’s (1988) estimate of 30. (See below – described as female)

Recently there has been a tendency to link a group of Chinese hominin fossils, including Jinniushan, Xujiayao, Dali, and Maba, previously considered by some researchers to be “archaic Homo sapiens”, with the Denisovians (Reich et al. 2010) (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7327/full/nature09710.html). However, apart from a few teeth, the Denisovians are only known from palaeo DNA. There is also a great deal of anatomical variation in the Chinese “archaic Homo sapiens” group. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next decade, or so.

Acccess to Jinniushan

Research workers interested in access to Jinniushan must write to Professor Lu Zun’e, Archaeology Department, Peking University (Beida), Beijing, China.

Related article PNAS ______________________________________________________

Body size, body proportions, and encephalization in a Middle Pleistocene archaic human from northern China

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 7; 103(10): 3552–3556.
Published online 2006 doi:  10.1073/pnas.0508681103
PMCID: PMC1450121, Anthropology


The unusual discovery of associated cranial and postcranial elements from a single Middle Pleistocene fossil human allows us to calculate body proportions and relative cranial capacity (encephalization quotient) for that individual rather than rely on estimates based on sample means from unassociated specimens. The individual analyzed here (Jinniushan) from northeastern China at 260,000 years ago is the largest female specimen yet known in the human fossil record and has body proportions (body height relative to body breadth and relative limb length) typical of cold-adapted populations elsewhere in the world. Her encephalization quotient of 4.15 is similar to estimates for late Middle Pleistocene humans that are based on mean body size and mean brain size from unassociated specimens.


Thus, the Jinniushan specimen represents a nearly unique opportunity to assess key aspects of morphology in an important period of human evolution, when relative brain size appears to have been increasing rapidly (1, 2) and geographic variation in body shape was becoming pronounced (6, 10) as the geographic range of the human species expanded to cover most of the Old World.

The most reliable indicators of sex in humans are found on the pelvis, specifically the pubis. Examination of the traits that Phenice found to be best indicators of sex (16) provides the most convincing evidence that the Jinniushan specimen is female. Because of damage to the medial portion of the pubis, it is not possible to evaluate whether there was a ventral arc present. However, a subpubic concavity is present, and the medial aspect of the ischiopubic ramus is ridged rather than flat. According to Phenice, these latter two features would classify the Jinniushan specimen as female. The sciatic notch, which is generally wider in females than in males in all human populations, is intermediate in breadth. Compared with the Kebara 2 Neandertal specimen (a male), another archaic human that preserves a complete os coxae, the Jinniushan specimen is gracile in features such as the iliac buttress and ischial tuberosity, again compatible with a sex determination of female. The ischiopubic index (length of the superior pubic ramus/height of ischial bone × 100) has long been well known to be greater in females than in males (17). Jinniushan has an ischiopubic index of 132.3, and Kebara 2 has an ischiopubic index of 126.0, consistent with the diagnosis of female for the former specimen and male for the latter. The one piece of evidence that suggests that the Jinniushan specimen might be male is the overall size of its os coxae, which is large in absolute terms.

The cranium is robust compared with modern specimens, which led some researchers in the past to conclude that it was male (18). However, when compared more appropriately with the Dali specimen, a cranium of similar geological (and chronological) age from Shanxi Province in northwestern China, the Jinniushan specimen appears to be gracile and probably female. The Jinniushan specimen has outer dimensions similar to those of Dali but has a thinner cranial vault and therefore larger cranial capacity (Dali is 1,120 cm3, and published estimates of Jinniushan range from 1,260 to 1,400 cm3) (11–15, 18, 19). The Jinniushan supraorbitals are thinner than those of the Dali specimen, and the differences between the two penecontemporaneous specimens are probably explained by sexual dimorphism.


Finding information about Chinese sites and skeletal finds is not easy, and “western” treatment of such papers and articles usually comes with a dismissive tone.

It’s good to find anthropologists who are taking a serious look at hominid sites in China.

Unraveling Asperger’s / Sometimes I don’t know that I’m ill


I don’t like to use my own experiences too often to unravel what might be going on with Asperger’s, but sometimes it’s all you have to go on. One reads (here we go again) that Asperger individuals either over react to pain and discomfort, or will not notice pain at all. Another of those “gotcha” symptoms in which we are over or under  normal.  (We can’t win.)

Now is a good time to think about this, since I have a toothache (not another root canal!) and severe allergies. I’m a mess. I hate being sick, mostly because I’m very active and have trouble staying in bed or on the couch, resting as one should.

Questions arise. What was I like as a kid whenever some illness like the flu was going around? The plot thickens: how did my parents behave toward us (I had a brother) when the inevitable sick days that kids have, came round?

Not good! My brother was six years older and from my observations was babied. He always had something “mysterious or nebulous” going on that meant staying home from school or being spared from regular tasks that he didn’t want to do. This was very bad; he ended up being entirely dependent on our parents. By the time I arrived, a dysfunctional set of relationships was already in place.

You say you're sick? PROVE IT

You say you’re sick? PROVE IT

The short story is that my brother received gifts, toys and attention if ill, but I was punished. If I said I didn’t feel well, I had to prove it: have a measurable fever, be vomiting or be possessed of some obvious bug going around school, and parents had been asked to keep symptomatic kids at home. I wasn’t allowed out of bed, or to have books or toys. Although my mother was peeved or angry with me, when my Asperger father came home, he  would state how he never became ill (it was true) and that illness was a sign of weakness and failure; why wasn’t I like him? This message came through loud and clear and has been a negative influence – absolutely. When unwell I have to fight feelings of inadequacy and failure, and a residue of abandonment. It’s ridiculous.

Here’s the question: Is this cruel message served up by my father a product of Asperger’s, or is it something else? Although his attitude was obviously hurtful, I also knew my father’s story: he had been a twin; his brother died at birth and he was not expected to live, but he pulled through.  My father’s childhood had been a living Hell of beatings and hard work on the farm dished out his father “To make him strong.” In one of those “tragic” outcomes, my father ended up being a highly fit and muscular adult; tragic, because he believed his father’s cruelty was responsible.

I attribute my father’s survival to having good care and good genes, not magic or cruelty. If a premature baby survived in the 1910s, long before the elaborate interventions of today’s medical devices and drugs, he or she had to have had a package of healthy provisions on board. So I was stuck with a mystery; was my father a product of nature, or bad nurturing? It just wasn’t his nature to be cruel; his weak – strong theory of life descended like a dark curtain when issues of vulnerability appeared. Otherwise he was generous with his time and attention and I remember that also. Unfortunately, he had no insight into the brutal treatment he endured as a child and let’s face it, American males are subject to the irrational fear of being weak – a fear intensively cultivated by American culture.

It is my view, after this past year reading and thinking about Asperger’s, especially psychology’s conclusions, medical information, and anecdotal references, that Asperger’s is a personality or temperament type, characterized by an intellectual “state” that is simply not socially oriented, but attuned to the physical world: sensory-logic based, not word-supernatural based.

Conformity-based institutions (like psychology, corporations, religions and schools) simply cannot tolerate people who think for themselves. It’s the old story of domestication: dogs are useful to humans and so are tolerated and have become members of the family. Wolves are despised and exterminated because they can’t be tamed; they remain free to be competing predators. Myth, fairytales and fabrications place wolves close to the devil. It’s not true; like sharks, they have been hunted by human predators to near extinction. .






You say sapiens, I say erectus.

Pre-modern humans may have picked up genes from Homo erectus

My speculation from doing thought problems, is that we’re all Homo erectus, with modern humans (those since the agricultural revolution) being juvenalized Homo erectus.

Denisova cave serves up a new genome, this time Neanderthal.

It’s a busy time in our attempts to study our species’ pre-modern history. Just two weeks ago, researchers reported the sequence of the oldest bones to yield human DNA. Now, the same research group is back with an entire genome, obtained from a bone found in Siberia’s Denisova cave. This genome comes from a Neanderthal, but all the data reveals a lot about all the interconnections among the pre-modern human groups that were wandering around Eurasia tens of thousands of years ago. The analysis came with a tantalizing hint that one of those groups had interbred with a species separated from modern humans by over a million years—perhaps Homo erectus.

The Denisova cave is famous for having yielded the bones that helped us identify the Denisovans, a group of archaic humans that inhabited Asia at the same time as the Neanderthals. Although we haven’t found enough bones to know much about what the Denisovans looked like, DNA analysis has revealed that they are most closely related to Neanderthals and that they interbred with modern humans that went on to populate East Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific.

The new results spring from a toe bone found in the same cave, this one from a layer that is estimated to be tens of thousands of years earlier. DNA sequencing revealed the bone to be from a Neanderthal, a different group of pre-modern humans that is most closely related to the Denisovans. The DNA was in excellent condition and had a minimal (about one percent) contamination with sequences from modern humans. The team generated a high-quality genome using samples from this bone.

The sequence that resulted tells us a lot about Neanderthals. For one, it shows that other populations we’ve obtained DNA from (samples found in the Caucasus and Croatia) were closely related but distinct, indicating that the Neanderthals were already well established by the time this individual died. Those populations were apparently quite small, however, since there’s not a lot of genetic diversity among them. In the case of the specific individual in the Denisovan cave, the lack of diversity was quite severe. Rather than carrying two distinct sets of chromosomes, large stretches of the two chromosomes were identical, indicating that they were inherited from a single individual in the recent past.

The extent of this identity suggests that the parents of this individual were half-siblings, although other combinations (uncle-niece, aunt-nephew) would also produce a similar pattern.

But the more significant results come from what this new sequence tells us about the other groups of humans present at the time, including modern humans. To begin with, it confirms the rough timing of the split between the ancestors of modern humans and the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans, which took place about 550,000-600,000 years ago. The Neanderthals and Denisovans became a distinct population about 400,000 years ago.

The sequence also provides a clearer estimate of the amount of Neanderthal DNA that shows up in modern human populations: 1.5 to 2.1 percent. And it confirms that it got there via interbreeding, since the Neanderthal sequence looks most similar to the sample obtained from the Caucasus remains. Had it been inherited through a structured ancestral population in Africa, it should look like it was equally distant from all three of the Neanderthal genomes. The other thing that’s apparent is that modern Asian and American populations have a bit more Neanderthal DNA than others, suggesting that a low amount of interbreeding continued as our ancestors moved east.

Our ancestors weren’t the only ones who couldn’t resist getting a piece of the Neanderthals. At least a half percent of the Denisovan genome also came from them as well.

But perhaps the most unexpected finding comes from a comparison with the Denisovan genome. Modern humans in Africa never overlapped geographically with Neanderthals or Denisovans and thus contain none of their DNA. Therefore, any shared DNA they have should be inherited from a common ancestor, and the African’s should be equally distant from the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Yet they’re not. The Denisovans have some sequences that are much more distant than you’d expect.

After considering and rejecting a couple of alternative explanations for this, the paper settles on a rather radical explanation: Denisovans themselves interbred with a population that had been separated from their common ancestor with modern humans for about a million years. This, as the authors note, suggests that the DNA’s source was Homo erectus. In fact, they suggest that the Denisovan’s entire mitochondrial genome might have come from this interbreeding event, since it’s much more distant from the Neanderthals’ than the rest of the genome is.

Of course, that explanation is even harder to square with the findings from the ancient bones in Spain, which had a similar sequence but came from skeletons that looked somewhat like Neanderthals. Unless, of course, the Spanish population also interbred with Homo erectus (or whatever this is) at some point.

In any case, the results add yet another layer onto the increasingly complicated Out-of-Africa model of the origin of modern humans. We still arose in Africa and migrated out into Eurasia. But once we got there, we interbred with a previous wave of African expatriates and incorporated a small bit of their genetic legacy into our own. And one part of that previous wave may have even incorporated a tiny piece of a species that hadn’t seen Africa for a very long time.

erectus2thomas herectus_map_ngEurope dots arch sites


Synchronicity / A Description of Paradox

Do you ever experience a sudden unexpected connection to information that “clicks” with your state of mind or mood? My previous post symptomizes the struggle I have with changing seasons – I go from contentment to confusion and overwhelming restlessness – But also Excitement, when seasons change. “Paradox” is the word.


Asperger’s and Depression:
Inside a Common Paradox

By Nomi Kaim

A large proportion of people with Asperger’s Syndrome–perhaps especially those who are higher functioning–suffer from some form of depression. It is unclear whether this depression emerges as a result of the struggles, exhaustion, rejection and failures so often present in a life with Asperger’s Syndrome, or whether the mysterious neurology of AS somehow invites, or includes, a hard-wired affective disorder. What is clear is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome can end up particularly entrenched in their depression, and be difficult to treat or “cure.” Like many of the viewpoints and needs of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, this depression can be extremely rigid and hard to budge. To use the sensory terminology of Autism Spectrum Disorder: the “weighted blanket” of despair is immobilizing, smothering, paralyzing–and it most certainly does not provide deep pressure relief!

(NOTE: Depression hits me out of nowhere but usually lasts only hours or a day or two. This is why I was diagnosed bipolar; rapid and sporadic flip flops in mood – but very seasonal also. I’ve seen a lot of therapists and psychiatrists over the past thirty years, and became thoroughly confused by a few docs who claimed I’m not bipolar at all. Since lithium had an extremely beneficial effect, it was more less by default that “bipolar” became the diagnosis. However, depression seems very alien to my personality, and people who knew me for years, scoffed at the diagnosis.)

Back to article: My own personal struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome and depression have also revealed some seeming paradoxes in the juxtaposition of these two conditions. It seems that many of the thoughts, feelings and impulses associated with depression are practically incompatible with the definitive mindset of Asperger’s Syndrome. Depression arouses desires that the person with AS does not need or want–and vice versa. And yet the conditions do coexist, and often; so I, like many with AS, am forced to live the paradox. (Amen!)

Below are some of the contradictory forces I find myself battling daily.

The Dissolution of Special Interests. Since early childhood, my Asperger’s Syndrome has endowed me with powerful, engrossing “special interests” that I turn to for comfort and de-stimulation. But anyone familiar with depression knows how it can suck the pleasure out of interests, hobbies, and just about anything that was once enjoyable. Specifically, when I am depressed, I do not want to do anything fun; nothing seems fun or worthwhile any longer. It is hard to go from having strong interests to having none at all; it leaves an empty space where I don’t know what to make of myself, who I am. What used to intrigue and engross now bores and even repels me. Yet behind this apathy and this despair hides the image of something essential being walled off: my interests are still an enormous part of who I am, but I cannot get at them.

More at: AANE Asperger / Autism Network http://aane.org