Research Update

September 11, 2009 | 2 Comments

Category: Autism, Social Structure, Society

I’m working with Nithya and Elia on two separate but related projects.  Nithya is exploring the possibility that there is a correlation between breast cancer and matrifocal society.  It looks like she’ll be concentrating on Dravidian communities in India.  I hypothesize that many matrifocal societies are characterized by high-testosterone, high-estrogen woman, and I am estimating that certain diseases and conditions will be more common among that hormonal constellation, including breast cancer.

About a week into conducting research, Nithya noted that an unusually large number of matrifocal societies are island communities.  She suggested Founder Effect, or an ability for unique features to proliferate in the absence of competition.  I told her to explore whether mountainous communities possibly show a similar propensity.  The Basques would be an example.  Both islands and mountains have shown unique language structures.  I’m wondering if islands and mountains might harbor ancient social structures, relatively unmolested because of unique geography.  It would not be farfetched to consider that matrifocal social structures mainly inhabit terrains that are difficult to attack.  This would support a hypothesis that matrifocal social structures are precursors to patrifocal social structure.

We also talked of creoles.  Nithya noted many matrifocal island societies in the Caribbean.  I asked if they were creole, as Caribbean societies often are, and Nithya said yes.  I told Nithya that this was a potentially confounding variable because of Darwin’s observation that pigeons that had been bred separately for over 2,000 years in China and Europe, when mated, revealed features of their last common progenitor, the roc pigeon.  Humans might also reveal features of common forebears if separated by over 1,000 generations.  If creole peoples are encouraging sexual unions between Africans and Asians, for example, then the children may sometimes be revealing neurological, hormonal and social structure features of their distant ancestors.  Those features might be matrifocal.

In a separate discussion, I talked with Elia about his research, which focuses on possible unique language structures among matrifocal societies.  We are attempting to see if there is a larger pattern after noticing that the Hopi and Trobriand Islanders, both matrifocal societies, show strong tendencies to observe the world largely through the present tense.  Might this suggest a tendency toward a primary process (one time, one place, no negatives) point of view?  If so, might a connection between primary process and matrifocal social structures enhance our understanding of autism and contemporary society?  These are the kinds of questions we are asking.

I asked Elia to run some additional explorations regarding the use of voiced and nonvoiced consonants in aboriginal matrifocal societies.  I recently saw reference to a study that concluded that autistic people have only one, not two, kinds of laughs.  Evidently the autistic do not offer nonvoiced laughs.  When they laugh, there is always only vocal chord activity, no laughing without vocal chord contribution.

What this suggests to me is that nonvoiced consonants may reveal more theory of mind.  A nonvoiced laugh may suggest self reflection or awareness that one is laughing while one is laughing.  If this same dynamic applies to nonvoiced consonant communication in general, then this may be a marker for a predilection to primary process and/or an aboriginal matrifocal tendency.

In the July Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=being-more-infantile) there was an article by Charles Q. Choi describing a study conducted by Philipp Khaitovich and colleagues that concluded that there is genetic evidence that supports human neoteny.  Khaitovich compared almost 8,000 genes in the brains of 39 humans, 14 chimpanzees and 9 rhesus monkeys.  Choi observed, “Analysis of the 299 genes whose timings had shifted in all three species revealed that almost 40 percent were expressed later in life in humans, with some genetic activity delayed well into adolescence.”

I’m not exactly clear why Stephen J. Gould’s 1977 Ontogeny and Phylogeny didn’t lead to decades of work exploring neoteny as the primary engine behind human evolution.  Perhaps this was because there was no suggested reductionist conclusion.  Nevertheless, there seems to be some renewed attention in this area.

Thomas Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions notes the power of an anomaly to tease out useful new directions when one is seeking to understand how the world works.  I’ve been exploring patterns in neotenous features in contemporary social structure for about ten years.  I’m not aware of anyone else showing interest in these same kinds of things.  A particular anomaly that has plagued me for that decade was tentatively resolved last fall when I estimated that the differences between Asian and Scandinavian neotenous characteristics were differences that could be explained by taking into account both testosterone and estrogen.  Estrogen had not been part of my equation.  By making estrogen part of the equation, I was finally able to grasp the relationship between matriarchy, patriarchy and their particular hormonal constellations.  I was then able to make predictions regarding how social structure would change in response to different social and environmental influences.

Since then I’ve adjusted my “equation” by playing with the possibility that the neoteny implications run deeper than I thought.  Neoteny is one of six heterochronic processes.  Heterochrony observes fluctuations in the rate and timing of maturation and development and traces their effects.  The deeper insight revolves around the possibility that as testosterone regulates the rate of maturation, estrogen manages the timing.  The implications are profound.  If true, this conjecture heralds an increase of attention on the epigenetic patterns researched by evolutionary developmental biologists.  This means that the environment becomes a prime influence on human ontogeny and evolution over the course of a single generation.  We will be able to see the direct effect of diet, light, exercise, stress, drugs, etc., on human evolution as we observe their effects on testosterone and estrogen levels as testosterone and estrogen adjust the rate and timing of individual ontogeny.  The science of endocrinology will become an integral part of evolutionary theory.

Evidence for my conjectures emerges with the work of people like Nithya and Elia, who are exploring patterns that integrate with the larger whole.  It feels like I’m sometimes occupying the body of a being that is conducting an invisible orchestra, with players now occasionally sitting down, picking up an instrument and toying with a tune.  I hear music.  Do you?


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This entry was posted on Friday, September 11th, 2009 at 6:56 am and is filed under Autism, Social Structure, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Bill on September 12, 2009 11:30 am

    i just found your site in a search i’m doing for work involved with childhood poverty and chronic stress in urban environments. What you are saying here is fascinating, but i need to spend some time here to get a better picture. Do you have a bibliography posted?

  2. Andrew on September 12, 2009 3:05 pm

    Chris Kuzawa at Northwestern is doing work in this area. His papers are noted on his Northwestern faculty page. The bibliographies for those papers should be gold minds regarding what you are looking for.

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