Morality and Civilization may be a product of evolution

Copyright 2013, James Michael Howard, Fayetteville, Arkansas, U.S.A.

The identifiable behavioral expression of our moral decisions is impulse control. I suggest evolution selects impulse control because impulse control increases “fitness,” as in “survival of the fittest.” Fitness means ability to reproduce successfully, not the simplistic idea that only the strong and mean survive.

It is my hypothesis that impulse control is derived from the “fight or flight” mechanism based on the ratio of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to cortisol ratio; mechanism is below. That is, animals will either fight or flee from a confrontation. Animals that fight at every confrontation will often die or be fatally or severely, non-fatally, wounded. These reduce fitness; survival of the fittest only works best if one is metabolically optimal for reproduction. Death and severe wounds reduce fitness. Group formation is a very basic fitness mechanism in animals as it reduces the probability of predation. The fight or flight mechanism exerts its positive effect within groups.

Avoiding fights increases fitness of groups because it increases the probability of reproduction of non-aggressive males with females other than those controlled by alpha males. Since alpha males can control only so many females and fight so many fights, fitness within a group is increased by being a subordinate male and a subordinate female. With time, being a member of the subordinate males and females increases one's fitness because these males increase in numbers far more than alpha males and females. Reproduction of subordinate males and females increases group size and its benefits. This works for wolves and apes.

As humans evolved, they developed the ability to form hypotheses, that is, we can anticipate possible outcomes of our behaviors because of the larger prefrontal lobes of our brains. We anticipate the consequences of our actions prior to confrontation. This allows us to not only avoid fights “ahead of time,” it also allows us to anticipate what females find subordinate males attractive. This ability increases the fitness of subordinate males and females within human groups. This makes our groups larger and more stable.

This ability to anticipate the consequences of our actions combined with the larger “association areas” of the other parts of our larger brains allows us to control our basic impulses in many areas ahead of time. Wolves and apes can do this but far, far less than humans. The larger brains of humans selected by evolution increase our survival because of increased intelligence and increased ability to control our impulses.

It is my hypothesis that “morals” are a product of human evolution and this is established by the DHEA to cortisol ratio.

Civilization cannot exist without impulse control.

(It is my hypothesis that evolution selected DHEA because it optimizes replication and transcription of DNA, that is, genes. Therefore, DHEA levels affect all tissues and all tissues compete for available DHEA, especially the brain. (I think evolutionary selection of DHEA produced mammalia. "Hormones in Mammalian Evolution," Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum 2001; 94: 177-184). DHEA naturally begins to decline around the ages of twenty to twenty-five, reaching very low levels in old age.

It is also my hypothesis of 1985 that the "fight or flight mechanism" is based on the ratio of DHEA to cortisol. That is, I think DHEA levels determine the amount of motivation an organism brings to a confrontation and cortisol evolved to counteract the effects of DHEA. If cortisol is high enough, then an organism avoids the consequences of a confrontation such as loss of blood, infection, ...death. Evolution would quickly select this mechanism as it would promote future reproduction of more organisms and fighting would reduce reproduction.

This is derived from my examination of the adrenal hormone pathways in 1984. It became apparent to me quickly that there really are mainly two pathways of major amounts of hormone production, that is, DHEA and cortisol. This ratio directly affects gene activation, so, physiology and behavior are affected.