_Social intelligence

The individual intelligence was deployed driven by the social intelligence of the first humans.

In the three previous chapters. I have been trying to decipher what happened in the brain of our ancestor when he started to build stone and bone tools.


In short, in this process there are two fundamental relationships: an immediate relationship between the subject and the object through the left hand; and another relation, through the right hand, on the same object through the intermediation of an instrument.

Apparently the left hand does nothing but hold the stone to be hit. Although it goes unnoticed, it makes fine frame adjustments that facilitate the action of the other hand. The relevant thing that happens in the part of the brain that handles that hand is that it anticipates the result, from a mere stone or bone, to become a tool of great significance for the survival of the group.

Objective relationship

marco relacionesUnlike that hand, what happens by the right hand is not only a connection between subject and object, but a true objective relationship between two objects that collide with each other. It is established between two objects external to the subject: it is independent of the subject, because it highlights the relative hardness of both objects and the physical structure of the object that is transformed. They are laws that regulate the functioning of the outside world and in themselves do not depend on the brain or the mind of anyone.

For the first time in the history of life, an objective relationship is controlled by a living being. That relationship is the hardness: a relationship that exists between all material substances. A material is harder than another when it penetrates it by scratching or cutting or drilling it. For example, a flint stone is harder than a limestone; because the flint scratches the limestone, but not vice versa.

When they learned to control the hardness of things, hominins began to dominate the physical world. Over time, they would also dominate other living beings.

Paleolithic crafts opened the door to the outside world and to the dominion of that world. Which would allow controlling the laws that govern its operation. Technology took man to the moon and travel to the inside of his own brain.

But, before being prepared for those trips, a craftsman or craftswoman had to understand others and be understood by them. And they could start to achieve it too, because while they were building each tool they were unknowingly building a new form of social communication: human language.

Social comunication

The difference between the behavior of the two hands while building the tool, is that the left seems to do nothing. Although it surely puts the most important thing in that subtle doing that it seems it does not do.

But the right hand, meanwhile, gives sound blows, so visible and audible that it seems that it does everything. And why is what it seems to do so important? Because he is doing it in the presence of other group members. It is a show for the whole family, which is the entire society in its time.

That series of equal blows, one after the other, evident and audible, are not simple sounds or visible gestures: they are signs of something significant.

They are not important for their form, but for their content. They carry with them the double sense and meaning of that action:
……. 1) The temporal sense of the transformation from being nothing (more than a stone or bone) to being a tool and a transcendent weapon for the survival of the group.
…….2) The objective and timeless meaning of the hardness revealed in each stroke and made useful.

This is how a hominino is usually represented by making a tool. He is always drawn alone (and male (1)), as if he were an artisan in his workshop. But where is the female artisan? and where is the group? Those absences are a serious error of perspective.

Let’s separate the attention of the protagonist, to look at the group around him.

That act had to be a spectacle; and also very interactive. What happened was important for the whole group, young, old, adults, females and males. Between eight and twenty individuals whose life was to depend on that decisive weapon. Its construction was full of meaning for the whole group, as much as for who was creating it.

By the way, can anyone help me distinguish if that character is male or female? I am not able to distinguish it. Nor to find a reason why it could be one or the other. In fact, in the size, the skill is more important than the force of the blows.

The pragnanz of the stone or bone in the craftsman’s left hand made it easier for him to sense the complete tool, with its sharpness edge. And he could also imagine its use in hunting, in fighting or in harvesting when cutting a stem or root. Their commitment (engagement), their determination: All this was transmitted to the group. How? Thanks to empathy.

Empathy and mirror neurons

Empathy is the way to emotionally synchronize several individuals in a group. It appears in mammals with emotions; and it develops to the great apes and even more so to humans.

In 1996, mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys and later in humans and some other mammals and birds. These neurons connect emotions and muscle movements from brain to brain and – at least among humans – from mind to mind. It is a very advanced form of social synchronization, which allows a chimpanzee and a human being to recognize themselves in a mirror and feel compassion towards a fellow human being. They are the neurological basis of empathy and imitation. Also, surely they are the basis of the art of deception (2)).

Between two humans it makes it easier for us to mentally put one in the situation of another. And to a certain degree to a domestic dog in situation of his master or a family baby.

The hominins certainly had a strong empathy, received from their common ancestors with the great apes.

Thanks to the empathy we perceive the feelings and emotions of another person and feel what she feels, by perceiving the microexpressions of her face and her body posture. So we even anticipate their actions. I’m sure that’s why I learned from Oteiza to experience pragnanz. I can also see myself as I imagine another person sees me. This phenomenon has been known for centuries; but now we know scientifically how it is produced in the brain by its processing through mirror neurons.

When they lost their forests and their fruits, the hominins already had the empathy of the great monkeys. And now in the extreme situation of the savannah, empathy facilitated the development of his social intelligence.

Empathy communicates pragnanz

Thus, when a hominino was building a tool, the pragnanz he felt (from the stone in his left hand to be transformed into the final simplicity of a tool) and the meaning of his task and the will to complete it, were transmitted by empathy to all those present.

Through empathy, each observer spontaneously reproduced the sensations, feelings and emotions of the artisan. And also, sensing his blows, felt his own muscles predisposed to move in the same way and at the same pace. Synchronized, like the young people who share a live concert today. So I can imagine that group replicating with their hands and imitating with their feet and their cries the situation they were sharing. That it was not a particular situation of an individual with his stones, but the social situation of the group as a whole.

And just as a human brain in fractions of a second synchronizes itself by realizing itself until it reaches consciousness (3), those individuals synchronized their brains as if they formed a single collective brain and disposed of a collective mind.

In other words, the shared consciousness, the human language and the different manufactured languages ​​(the theater, the music) were being born – still in germ – the reflection of the construction and use of the new tools. It took a long time for them to dominate the fire or to develop an articulated human language. But the conditions were already in place to be winners in the evolution lottery.

Social Intelligence (4) and collective engagement

These early precedents of human language and thought, socially shared, shape social intelligence and the engagement of the human group.

Without swarms – no swarm intelligence – there would be no bees or ants. Without the hominin society, without the social intelligence that worked like a brain made up of a little more than a dozen brains, they would not have been able to survive. Nor would we exist.

Only society survives when its individuals die. This works like this at all biological levels.

Also the existence of each individual consists of one or several societies of cells aided by bacteria and controlled by a society of neurons formed by many different groups. It is their complexity that makes us human. And what makes us free but also slaves. Healthy, and also sick or disabled.

Changing of frame (5)

But social intelligence is not just individual intelligence copied to many individuals. It is different. We learn from others more than they know, because we put ourselves in their place. By putting myself in another’s point of view, I see myself in a different perspective; in a wider or new framework. The intelligence that consists in understanding objective relationships-this is rational knowledge-does not allow solving all problems. Because logic needs an adequate framework on which to act. In an inadequate frame appear paradoxes that make insoluble problems.

Then you have to change the framework -create a new one- which is the same as putting yourself in another situation. Bateson and Watzlawick called him in the 1960s to re-frame the situation.

That is not born from the experience of the craftsman when building a tool, but from the social relation, by putting oneself in the point of view of someone who is outside of the situation in which one finds oneself. Archimedes found the solution to his problem by getting into the bathtub full of water. Many ideas come about when showering. Others, when imagining that one is the other: on one occasion being loved; but in another the enemy ready to enter battle.

The emotional and social phenomenon of empathy facilitates changing the framework of the situation. Pragnanz also increases when acquiring the social dimension. The consequences of this change are both emotional and cognitive.

When the situation is reframed, possibilities appear that were not seen before. This opens up the opportunity for new goals, new ways of acting (and sometimes even to realize that there was not as much urgency as it seemed). Creativity, inspiration and imagination depend on social intelligence.

In later chapters we will see how the bricolage of evolution, which takes advantage of everything found by hand, was forming the pillars of humanity, the human brain, the mind, the various languages, the spirit. How proud we are and also what we are ashamed of.

In the next chapter:  Gatherers and hunters
The differentiated evolution of females and males in hominization.

See Chapter index


Current chapter NOTES

(1) I refer to the sex of the hominins as “males” or “females”, instead of “men” or “women”, because they were in transition towards specifically human characteristics. And because, in any case, humans are also males or females.

(2) If mirror neurons make deception possible, let’s consider their consequences, since the art of war is the art of deception, (Sun Tzu). We will take care of it a little later.


(3) Stanislas Dehaene experimentally demonstrated by EEG that individual human consciousness materializes in waves of neuron activation through the brain: from the occipital (visual) cortex to the frontal (executive) cortex and vice versa; and from the limbic (emotional) zone to the executive cortex and vice versa. Like a thunderstorm triggered in fractions of a second. Similarly, visual and sound transmission leads to the same synchronization on a collective scale. (Stanislas Dehaene: Consciousness in the brain).

(4) About the importance of empathy in social intelligence, see Daniel Goleman: Social Intelligence.


(5) Goffman: Frames Analysis.


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