SETI bioastro: Anthropology, Neanderthals, and SETI theory

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Tue Apr 25 2000 - 11:54:02 PDT

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Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2000 22:14:51 -0500
From: Valdemar Phoenix <>
Subject: SETI public: SET public: Anthropology, Neanderthals, and SETI theory

Hello all. I have been hearing a great deal recently in the media from some
SETI researchers, especially those of the persuasion that there are very
few, if any, other intelligent species in the cosmos - at least our corner
of it. This is in contrast to the notion that there should be thousands or
tens of thousands of intelligences, based on various interpretations of the
Drake Equation. One of the arguments for the "intelligence is rare"
hypothesis has been that in the 4 billion years of life on Earth, nature
has produced only one intelligent and technological species, namely Homo
Sapiens, or us. Even Seth Shostak has quoted this idea in his book "Sharing
the Universe." And he supports the "many intelligences" side of the debate.

Being trained in Anthropology, I have always wondered how Anthro could
contribute to the notion of life in the cosmos. For those on the list not
so familiar with things Anthro, let me just say that one of the
long-standing problems in human evolution has been the problem of who the
Neanderthals were, and what their connection with modern humans (ultimately
us) was. Two lines of thought have persisted... one, that they were a
subspecies of us, but definitely Homo Sapiens. The other, that they were a
distant cousin at best, and probably a different species. The debate has
raged for years based largely on paleontological analysis of skeletal
fossils. Enter in recent years mitochondrial DNA analysis and now it seems
an answer is emerging. The analyses done so far seem to say that the
Neanderthal DNA is too far distant from our own for them to be considered
ancestral to us, and they represent a different species that, one way or
another, went extinct. They did, however, coexist along side us modern
stocks for quite a few thousand years. The debate is still going on, but
the evidence is mounting in the direction of separate species. The
important point is that they were indeed cultural creatures, with
technology. They made sophisticated tools for their time, were excellent
hunters, buried their dead, etc. Some anthropologists maintain they weren't
all that different from our ancestors. Or us.

Seth Shostak talks about the point of technology in his book. How much
technology is required to be intelligent? If we define intelligence by the
ability to make a SETI search with a radio telescope, then we became an
intelligent species only 50 years ago. By this definition, Grote Reber and
Frank Drake were the first intelligent humans.

I think we need to be a little more flexible and I'm willing to accept the
Neanderthals as being technological and intelligent. Why they went extinct
(if that is what happened), I will leave to the professional
anthropologists to discover.

But the point leads to the obvious conclusion that if the Neanderthals were
intelligent, and had a culture, and produced technology (even though
primitive by our standards today), then it throws a very large point in
favor of the "many intelligences" hypothesis. Nature, it seems, may indeed
have produced two contemporary intelligent species. We shared a common
ancestor at one point but somewhere along the line we went our separate
ways to the extent of having different gene pools. Somehow we survived, but
they didn't, and that is still the puzzle today.

If this line of reasoning is correct, then multiple intelligences are
indeed possible. The possibility of finding another intelligence out there
has increased. Here's a url for those who wish to read up on this
Neanderthal stuff. There's lots of other interesting anthro material
there., too.


Val Phoenix
KG2PM - Houston - SETI

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