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On the value of Ancient Wise Ones

One of the little questions that evolutionary theorists vex themselves with is why we humans live so long compared to other species. One theory is that grandparents are useful because we take a long time to mature - auxilliary child care is a survival feature.

Here is a different take on the utility of grandparents notion. In a social species it can be very useful to have a few "old wise ones" around. They have lived long enough to remember what to do in rare circumstances because they experienced them personally. Without speech the length of group memory is bounded by the age of the eldest member. Speech enables a longer group memory. Even then, though, the reliability of oral narratives is greater when they are correctible by "I was there and it didn't happen like that."

I am firmly of the opinion that ancient wise ones are an important social resource and should therefore be privileged.


This page was last updated October 2, 2010.

Richard Harter's World
Site map
Origins
Essays
October 2010
Email