... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and neuroscience.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

COVID-19 - the Zendemic Wrapped in Toilet Paper




Here's a radical idea. I want it in the public record as of March 14th, 2020.

What if COVID-19 is actually not as deadly as it seems?

What if we're undercounting the actual cases, and over attributing the deaths caused by it?

OK, let me put that a little differently. What if COVID-19 on its own only rarely causes death? I'm deadly serious. What if COVID-19 is actually a relatively mild biological challenge to a normal healthy human, similar to its cousin the common cold. OK, maybe a cold that kills some people. But would the numbers of diagnosed cases of COVID-19, and the deaths "caused" by it, look any different than they do now?

As obvious evidence, why such inconsistent numbers from country to country? The disease is the common element. The variance must reflect standards for data capture or perhaps the demographics or lifestyle of the patients. Let's address data first.

When and why does a case become a case? While we're questioning, where are the useful comparative data? Out of a thousand people without confounding issues, how many will die per age group? And why do we have no random sample control groups to track overall transmission rates and deaths instead of guessing about the denominator? This denominator problem is best understood by the difference in the death rate between China (9.9%) and Korea (0.7%). Korea did more testing and so have a more useful denominator. Another way of looking at it is that China only tested those who already had a serious case. They didn't bother to test mild cases. This lack of testing is happening in the U.S. as well. At least so far. I realize there's a priority for tests being used to track individual contact and transmission, but a baseline of periodically sampled control groups would be of great value in learning how the disease is evolving in a given population.

Now for lifestyle and demographics. What is the general health of the population? Compare Italy (7.9%) and Germany (0.3%) percent. Are Germans that much healthier than the Italians? Or is this also confounded by denominator issue in Italy? We'll know in the long term.

Also, why does China now have so few new cases and deaths? Were they THAT good at stopping transmission? It's hard to believe China effectively isolated a hundred thousand from the other 1.4 billion. And did it without exception. If this disease is so contagious, China should be keeping its early lead in both cases and death. They obviously aren't. Or else they aren't reporting it.

Which brings us to this problem with the skewing of the death demographic (65 plus years old, immuno-challenged, etc.). This demographic is extraordinary for a deadly disease. But perhaps not for an ordinary cold. It's clear that most of the deaths are those over 65 years old, but what percent of 65 and older that contract COVID-19 die? Also, there is that lack of dying children. Why?

Normally, about 150,000 people die around the world each day. That's about 20 people per day per million. The most convincing data will be when deaths exceed 20 people per day, per million. So far, COVID-19 has only added another 633 people per day. Or has it? How many of those 633 would have died from other causes within 24 hours? It seems that COVID-19 might be taking the blame for a normal death rate in a typical winter. Or at the very least, taking the blame for far more death than it deserves.

With nearly eight billion people, at any given moment there are thousands of people in the world on the edge of death. Sad but true. A simple cold or flu can push some of them over that edge. What then is the cause of that death? Their pre-existing condition? Or the most recently diagnosed cold or flu? What if this COVID-19 event is largely an attribution artifact? What if they simply die a bit earlier of additional COVID-19 biological stress. Which disease or chronic condition should get the credit?

If we didn't know that the COVID-19 virus existed, would these deaths be blamed on other causes? Would they even be seen as abnormal? Is COVID-19 simply an artifact of an improved technical ability to measure a new disease? And to publish the results in the media instantly?

Then there is the toilet paper thing. If you haven't realized it yet, there is no "real" shortage of toilet paper, just people hoarding it. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. This happened once in the 1970s. I remember it well. The same thing happened with gasoline at about the same time. Here's why it matters. 

A run on TP is similar to a run on medical services. If you hear that there is a new disease, you might be just a bit more likely to go to the hospital and get tested. When the result is positive - boom - they isolate you and fill up a bed. Soon someone else comes in with a positive test and our hypersensitive medical system responds. Even a small shift in demand can overwhelm this medical system. Soon the hospital's full and there's an "epidemic". Hyper-analysis of this epidemic will find a correlation with whatever version of cold or flu that happens to have emerged during the season. In this case, that disease might be COVID-19. And the media runs with it. Panic ensues.

Is COVID-19 the first actual media disease not unlike this run on toilet paper?

If so, this Zendemic will resolve quickly, no more than a few weeks. Otherwise, deaths will exceed the typical 150,000 per day for months on end. So far it hasn't, but we will know soon.

Habeas corpus.




03-18-20 The picture is becoming more clear.

03-25-20 What is coronavirus – and what is the mortality rate?

The above article finally addresses some of the questions I presented above. Well, sort of. For instance, I noted and questioned, "It's clear that most of the deaths are those over 65 years old, but what percent of 65 and older that contract COVID-19 die?"

Though I didn't use 80 years old to define my question, that age nicely frames the issue and makes my point. I might have said 90 percent of those that die are over 80 years old, but what percent of 80 and older that contract COVID-19 die?

Their answer - 10%.

So if COVID-19 could be exposed to all 80-year-olds (which is impossible), how many would die? Google says three million. Normally about 300,000 will die each year (linear rate). That is a useful baseline, and also the estimate The Guardian makes for COVID-19. Which was my original point. Of course, the final count could be greater, but not by orders of magnitude, and likely well under 50 percent greater.

So the question becomes, how much do we economically impact eight billion people for any excess death over 300,000?

Actually, I think this has been a good test run for a bug ten or a thousand times worse that may occur next year. Or the year after that. But not yet. COVID-19 is not the black plague. Not even close.

03-27-20 I posted the following to a friend's Facebook feed:

Justin is correct. The numbers of deaths in America so far attributed to COVID-19 are so low they get lost in the noise of the typical death rate caused by respiratory failure which is around 500 per day in America, or 1.5 deaths per day per million. But that's just the view from the top and ignores the denominator problem - how many died per day per what size population? Even though this COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic, it remains epicentric, meaning most of the deaths occur in hot spots like Wuhan, Milan and New York. What is the size of each of those exposed populations? We don't have good numbers yet, but we can use China as an example. As shown there, the ultimate impact will be far less than the media currently suggests. So far, the sky is not actually falling, and is unlikely to do so.

03-29-20 another Facebook comment:

Bruce, over 6000 people in America die every DAY for one reason or another. That's 180,000 in the month or so that we've been keeping count of COVID-19. Now, many of those deaths are from accidents, etc. but a large number are from chronic conditions, many of which, are conflated with Corvid-19 because that is the current proximate cause of death. In only a few of your 2043 cases is COVID-19 the clear and direct cause of death. In 2009 hundreds of thousands died from swine flu. Or did they? Like COVID-19, many of those deaths had respiratory and other comorbid factors as well. Yes, it's sad, but the reality is, various diseases ripple through our population each winter bringing early death to hundreds of thousands that might have lived a few more days, weeks or months. Only a small minority would live for years longer. I'm not suggesting that Covid19 isn't deadly and we of course should try to avoid its spread, or at least slow it down. I think this exercise is good practice for when we get a really bad bug like Ebola, but let's try to keep these numbers (and causes of death) in context. So far this is no worse than a bad flu, and if China, South Korea, and Germany are useful examples, it will end about the same way within a few weeks. "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...yours is the Earth and everything that's in it..." Rudyard Kipling.



The test described below may well be the turning point in this biological mystery. Sure, the Abbott ID NOW test is quick and simple. It will be used a lot, but more importantly and for the first time, there will be the ability to do large random sample testing over various large populations. This should solve the "denominator" problem. With that information at hand, analysis and local triage and isolation become manageable. The rest is just implementation. Check it out:

Why Abbott's 5-minute COVID test could be a game-changer

04-03-20  Corona WorldOMeter

Look carefully at the curves for each country (or even the world as a whole). These curves are not geometric (becoming ever steeper). Instead, they are flattening. These are pretty typical two-dimensional propagation curves. They are like a forest fire that only burns the weaker trees. This bug is harvesting those with significant comorbid factors in their health.

Yes, some are dying weeks or months before they might have, but most would have died sometime this year. COVID-19 will ultimately kill about the same number as the flu does each year, and in many cases, the very same people. Their death will just be attributed to a different disease. This event is more about a panicked media than a biological challenge. Callous? Of course. But with increasing reports of bankruptcies, domestic abuse, murder, and suicide, there is serious doubt about this disease being worse than the cure. Still, it's a useful dress rehearsal for a much worse bug in the future, and much good will ultimately come from this event.

04-06-20 Fever Map Indicates Dramatic Drop in Temperature

Kinsa Source Health Map

After working with this map for a while I've jumped to the conclusion that this may be the most useful data so far about this whole COVID-19 issue. OK, temperature spikes do not equal COVID-19, but when these spikes correlate to jurisdictions with spiking COVID-19 cases and deaths, probability shifts dramatically in the favor that these temperature spikes ARE caused by COVID-19. If this is true then we should see not just a flattening of the curve, but a dramatic drop in new cases within days, or at most a very few weeks.

How COVID-19 affects humans

04-07-20 It appears in the graph below that about 200 deaths per day in the U.S. may have been misattributed to COVID-19 instead of all other causes of pneumonia. Of course, this is only one of the many comorbidity factors widely associated with this pandemic. If the other factors are added in, it might account for most of the current 1400 deaths per day, except for the geographical distribution of the dead. They are not evenly distributed across the population. They are epicentric in nature, especially in NY and NJ. Yes, there is misattribution but it likely only accounts for a fraction of the cases. The rest must be from the direct biological impact of COVID-19. It IS a real disease. We just don't yet have it well characterized.

04-09-20 Misatribution?

04-13-20 Shit may be the breakthrough we need to solve the denominator problem. Not familiar with the issue? The Worldmeter currently says we have 1,872,825 cases of Coronavirus which has caused 116,037 deaths worldwide. That's a death rate of over six percent, which is patently absurd. If this disease is really killing six percent of those who contract it, it is three times worse than the Spanish Flu, and that's simply not the case. There must be FAR more cases than have been documented. That would change the denominator in the death rate. This work with sewer sludge may ironically clarify our understanding. Next, we need to take on the misattribution issue, and the real scale of the Corona threat will come into focus:

New research examines wastewater to detect community spread of Covid-19

OK, I want to be clear. Corona IS a deadly disease, but only by degrees, and with extremely disproportionate targets. Here is a subgroup I just read about. It is rest home in New Jersey with about 700 rooms which means they have a staff of about 70 per industry average. At this home, 70 residents and two nurses died with a positive Corona test. That sample is consistent with the Diamond Princess - 700 tested positive and 10 dies, many of them were older passengers. In both cases, 10% of the elderly and 2% of the younger (but perhaps not completely healthy) died. This data is a place to start.

04-19-20 A New Statistic Reveals Why America’s COVID-19 Numbers Are Flat

"According to the Tracking Project’s figures, nearly one in five people who get tested for the coronavirus in the United States is found to have it. In other words, the country has what is called a “test-positivity rate” of nearly 20 percent."
This is the first decent "denominator" data I've seen so far. If this 20% number is correct, then Corona with currently 39,000 deaths in the United States has a death rate of 0.06 percent, which is less deadly than the typical flu. Then you have the issue of the under counting because of lack of tests, and the misattribution issue which would effectively over count the dead. All of this new data seems to be homing in on my original assertion that Corona is not nearly as deadly as the media has presented.

04-21-20 Both Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties now of studies showing that from 20 to 80 TIMES more people have positive Corona antibody tests which is consistent with the "Tracking Project" above. Again, this would mean Corona's CFR is comparable to a typical flu. Where are the numbers from the rest of the country? And why is this topic not being addressed in the daily briefing?

Hundreds Of Thousands In LA Infected With Coronavirus: Study

04-23-20 Governor Cuomo just announced that 21% of New York city has a positive antibody test for Corona, yet does not acknowledge what this means for the CFR. Our government has been grossly negligent in managing this "pandemic" and its metrics.

04-26-20 Santa Clara, Los Angles, New York, and Miami are all reporting positive antibody tests many TIMES in excess of reported diagnosed cases. Actually more that an order of magnitude greater than reality. It's time to reassess the nature or Corona.

Miami Joins the Crowd

I won't bother with the bug's official name, COVID-19 anymore. This disease has had so much world wide impact that it will forever be known as the Corona panic. Or perhaps ultimately known as a the media disease instead of a biological one. Like the disease itself, the published perception has been FAR worse than the reality - somewhere between one and two orders of magnitude. Even if this media impact was mostly not deadly (suicide and murder stats will likely show an increase), the financial costs will be enormous, perhaps incalculable.

As for the disease itself, if these antibody test are ultimately validated, and as I originally suggested at the beginning of this post, Corona will not be remembered as a deadly disease, at least not in the same terms as Ebola or HIV, and certainly not on the scale originally feared. It will take years to sort out the misattribution to even discover Corona's true death rate.

Also, the cost of the "cure" will far exceed the social impact of the relatively modest number of dead. In terms of death rate, Corona will likely fall somewhere between an average flu and perhaps, the swine flu, but in it's ability to spread, it will be closer to the common cold which is far greater than the flu.

I will let others with far more knowledge present the details, but it's safe to say that our media and government response to Corona can not be rationalized nor supported when Corona is ultimately compared to the Flu and our historical response to that and other diseases. Still, this panic response has been quite informing and an interesting exercise, even though VERY expensive.


05-04-20 Here's another useful approach to understanding the true impact of Corona:

Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19


05-05-20

Here's a very quick summary. Corona is both a deadly disease and a common cold, each by degrees, and dependent upon conditions once two issues are defined - the denominator problem and misattritubtion of the causes of death, both over and under stated for various reasons.

So far it appears that somewhere between two and twenty percent of America has antibodies for this disease. A good guess might be about 30 million Americans have already contracted and survived this disease. And that's its most important metric. It means this disease is not very deadly, perhaps not much worse than a bad case of the flu. Characterizing it's mild cases should be relatively easy. Understanding how it kills could be much more difficult as most of those deaths are mired in comorbities and teasing apart cause from correlation will be difficult. With 30% of the deaths occurring in rest homes, Corona will soon be largely managed as another disease of the elderly, while most of the world gets back to work.

The important question is, how much deeper than 10% will this disease penetrate the U.S. population? And how many more will die before this immune base begins to impact the transmission rate?

05-26-20 Misatribution remains a mess:

Beating Up the Numbers:

One example of misatribution:



06-01-20 It will take a while until we learn the truth of Corona but there are a few conclusions that can be drawn now:

Likely beginning in late 2019 Americans began transmitting COVID-19 without even knowing it.

By June 1st, 2020, between two to twenty percent of those living in large U.S. cities have contracted and recovered from Corona without ever knowing it. Somewhat less than one percent had symptoms acute enough to be tested. Approximately three hundredths of this one percent died with a positive COVID-19 test. Some of these deaths were certainly caused by this deadly disease. Many others were not. There has been gross misattribution of the proximate cause of death in both directions. I believe that ultimately, COVID-19 will be seen to have been less lethal than the average flu. Only our response has been exceptional, and perhaps a good simulation for the real thing.

Corona is now mostly a political issue.

06-20-20 Daily COVID-19 Deaths in the U.S. Have Fallen Dramatically Since April

06-22-20 Stanford prof: Median infection fatality rate of coronavirus for those under 70 is just 0.04%

06-24-20 Transmission of disease - Erin Bromage

Erin does not really deal with misatribution which would have a dramatic effect on mortality rates, but there is much good basic information here:

06-25-20 Where Are We Now? - Erin Bromage

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Defy Aging - Keep Moving and Stay Hungry

First posted on my sixtieth (or is that fortieth?) birthday, 01-29-12. Updated periodically:
























60 is the new 40. 50 is the new 30. I've even seen a proclamation that 80 is the new 30!

Such declarations about this new "age" can be seen everywhere. Are they simply age denial? Do baby-boomers refuse to grow old? And is this denial just a way to lie about our age? Will lying to ourselves help us live longer? Maybe.

There's been lots of interesting research about the placebo effect in all its forms. What's interesting is, placebos seem to work even when the patient KNOWS it's a placebo. And how is lying about your age different from giving yourselves a placebo?

Unfortunately, the placebo effect will not solve everything. There are still some hard facts in this new age of aging. Since the Kellogg brothers made health a popular topic at the beginning of the last century, thousands of treatments have been tried in an attempt to stay younger. Most have been proven to be worthless, but a few obviously make a difference:

"Today, the average age for someone moving into a nursing home is 81. In the 1950s, it was 65."

"People are living 34 years longer than their great-grandfathers."

"The number of people in the world over 100 years old is now approaching half a million."

The internet is full of such dramatic results, so how does one gain the benefit?  A few simple things make most of the difference.

Avoiding tobacco and limiting solar exposure is good for the skin.  The guy to the left was a life-long truck driver.  He's obviously not British. Tobacco has a similar effect but to all of your skin.

Appearance aside, the most important factors in staying young are still diet and exercise, so keep moving and stay hungry.



Keep Moving

Whether you are overweight, have chronic pain, arthritis, dementia, depression, diabetes, anxiety or fatigue there is one piece of advice that will improve your quality and length of life - "Keep Moving". What's surprising is how this advice not only affects the physical but also your mental health.

ANY physical activity that keeps you moving for at least 30 minutes a day, EVERY day will make a huge difference. That "every day" is the hard part. Success starts with finding something you enjoy. It can be yoga, swimming or walking.  Start slowly and work your way up. Even if it takes a year to do 2 miles a day, after that you've gained 80% of the benefit of exercising in general. The second, fifth and seventeenth years are much easier.  The best exercise is the one that you DO, so it's probably the one you enjoy most.  Find your favorite way to move.

Here is the best summary I've found on the topic, graphically presented.  If you do nothing else about your health this year, at least spend nine minutes watching this video.  It may add years to your life:
























23 and 1/2 Hours : What is the Single Best Thing You Can Do For Your Health?


“You don’t deteriorate from age, you age from deterioration.” - Joe Weider 


Stay Hungry

The meaning is obvious. The trick is to not stay too hungry. Just like the exercise part, if you take it to the point of pain you're more likely to return to your old lifestyle. On the other hand, if you eat only what you need, you'll not only stay lean and healthy, you'll enjoy life more.

Have you noticed how much better food taste when you're hungry? Well, at least the first few hundred calories. This is an important hint. When the meal becomes less compelling, stop eating. I know it's easier to say than do for a number of reasons. But if you eat just 100 calories less than you burn each day, you'll lose 12 pounds a year - that's hard science, and it's major progress. Still, it's easier said than done.

The trick is finding how many calories you really NEED. It's probably a lot less than you think. That's because we're used to eating about twice as much as we require. Food is everywhere you turn. There's now even a snack bar at our local DMV. People seem to eat every hour or two. And they eat more than they did a hundred years ago. There's just too much food in our cage. Fortunately, our body is smart enough to send most of those extra calories right down the toilet. But not all of them. Over time, even a few extra calories a day will add to your waistline.

You can use an internet calculator to find how many calories you need per day. You can tell if the number's right by how hungry you are at the end of the day:

Calorie Calculator

Once you know this number, slowly decrease intake until you find that edge between hunger and health. This should become your average consumption target. Avoid grazing. Eat at appointed times, and only planned amounts. Take some of that food out of your virtual cage. And as you decrease volume, increase variety. That's the key to good nutrition.

Another trick is micro-fasting. If you know you'll be having a large dinner, skip lunch. Sure, you'll be hungrier than usual and probably eat a bit more at dinner, but you're already a few hundred calories under your target. Just don't stuff yourself. Keep your AVERAGE consumption just below your need. Take your time losing those extra pounds.

"Staying hungry" will also improve the quality of experience for your other appetites. From sex to alcohol, to Netflix, less can be more if you hone your appetite with a bit of moderation. Find the "sweet spot" and stay hungry in all respects.

Live Longer

If it's that simple, why are only a few truly healthy? It's obvious not everyone is gaining these extra years. Not surprisingly, access to excess noted above and electric grocery carts are the reasons. The majority of people today are actually shortening their lives with calories and the couch. Many are now dying younger than they would have a hundred years ago because of this default lifestyle. And more will follow them into the grave shortly.  Just look around.

Our society has become bifurcated where most people (of all ages) default into less activity and consume more calories. A minority eat less and lead more active lives. What's truly amazing is that this minority is still able to skew the average lifespan upward, while the bulk of America is killing themselves early. That's why a healthy lifestyle may extend one's life even more than the averages indicate. If you live well, your chronological age may not matter as much as you think.

Misrepresenting your age may be a lie, but it's a lie worth living.

"Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears." - John Lennon


Even more data:

Consistent with the social bifurcation of watching diet and exercise:

05-08-17 Life expectancy gap between rich and poor US regions is 'more than 20 years'

04-17-13 Here is a demonstrative meta-study of the effects of 50 calorie reduction per day for an entire country! Now if we could just learn to do that as individuals:

The Cuban diet: eat less, exercise more - and preventable deaths are halved

Another example in progress:

02-22-18 Venezuelans report big weight losses in 2017 as hunger hits

06-10-13 Cause or effect?  Fast walkers stay ahead of the game

01-15-15 More data:

Daily walk adds years to your life: Just 20 minutes a day is enough

04-21-15 Or is an hour a day the sweet spot?

The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life


01-20-16 Here's an interesting idea that fits in with the work I've been doing on neuroscience and behavior:

The Hunger Mood

04-09-17 Interesting meta-collection: Peaking

06-08-17 Longevity Illustrator

07-17-18 Think Yourself Young

11-08-18 Dutchman, 69, brings lawsuit to lower his age 20 years

01-17-19 This Is How To Have A Long Awesome Life: 7 Secrets From Research

04-22-19 Effective Microfasting

10-25-19 Five Myths About Again

01/13/20 Lee Schonberg Index

02-02-20 When Does Someone Become "Old"?

03-29-20  The number of steps per day, not speed, is linked to mortality rate

05-05-20 A fairly obvious filtering of the healthiest, but still deaths were associated with how MANY steps taken and not how fast they were taken:

More Steps Per Day Linked to Lower Mortality Risk

Taking more steps per day is associated with lower all-cause mortality risk, according to an observational study in JAMA.
Roughly 4800 adults aged 40 and up participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) wore accelerometers on their hips during waking hours for 7 days. During a mean 10 years' follow-up, 24% died. The unadjusted all-cause mortality rates were:
  • 77 per 1,000 person-years for those who took less than 4000 steps per day;
  • 21 per 1,000 for 4,000–7,999 steps;
  • 7 per 1,000 for 8,000–11,999 steps; and
  • 5 per 1,000 for 12,000 steps and above.
In adjusted analyses, people who took 8,000 steps per day had lower all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality than those who took 4,000 steps. Faster walking speed was not associated with lower mortality after adjusting for total daily steps.


Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Emergence of Man

First posted 08-03-12, updated every now and then.

As a boy, I was impressed with "2001 A Space Odyssey".  The idea that a spark from space vaulted man beyond the other primates seemed plausible. And it got me thinking.

How different ARE we from the other primates?  And when did this difference occur?

These questions lead me to, "The Naked Ape", by Desmond Morris. He defined a few differences, but far more similarities.  So I kept looking.

Over the years I've kept track of the various discoveries looking for the significant differences between us and our cousins.  It's time to document them.

For background, let's step back about a billion years:

Billion-year-old fossils may be early fungus
Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor'

And a half a billion years later:

Tiny Chinese Archicebus fossil is the oldest primate yet found


Walking and Running

When I was a child, walking erect was the gold standard of humanity.  And it's true, we're better on two feet chasing down game than all others, but only by degrees.

Rare 10 million-year-old fossil unearths new view of human evolution

Little Foot - 3.67 Million Years Old

Bonobos showed that walking erect is no big deal:

Walking Upright

But that's not running.  About three million years ago a significant change occurred.  Humans became marathon runners and developed some new hunting scripts largely stolen from wolves, which begs the question, who ultimately domesticated whom?

Family Tree of Dogs and Wolves Is Found to Split Earlier Than Thought


Diet

Food has also been an area of study to define differentiation, but which species jumped what line, and when?

Human ancestors changed diet 3.5 million years ago



Tools

Another thing that set us apart was thought to be tool use, but this test also fell as chimps and other species have now demonstrated.

04-14-15 World's oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya 

Tool-making and Meat-eating Began 3.5 Million Years Ago?

Tool-Making 3 Million Years Ago?

Stone-tool makers reached North Africa and Arabia surprisingly early - 2.4 million years ago 
Tool-making 1.4 Million Years Ago?

12-06-19 San Diego Tool Use 130,000 years ago

Ancient Stone Tools Hint at the Real Paleo Diet 126,000 to 781,000 Years Ago

700-year-old Stone Tools - Used by Monkeys

The spear which was developed about 500,000 years ago is also a clear example of tool use.  So far we've seen no other species accomplish this trick, though a weapon may become a possible learned behavior for some other primates as other tools have been.  Is it just a matter of time?

When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears?  - 90,000 Years Ago?

Australian researchers say they’ve found the world’s oldest hatchet

Monkey or Man?

11-04-16 49,000 Year Old Human Settlement in Australia

01-31-18 Sharp stones found in India signal surprisingly early toolmaking advances


Trade

Clear evidence of trade between distant (and separate) tribes would definitely set man apart from other primates:

Evolve or die: Why our human ancestors learned to be social more than 320,000 years ago


Culture

In response, the transfer of culture became the new human benchmark, but the ability to transfer new knowledge from one generation to another has also been demonstrated by chimps...

And WHALES

Then there was self-awareness, which was disproved in spite of Darwin's original mirror observations:

Mirror Test

Fish Passes the Mirror Test

And a nice test of abstract thinking is meta-cognition:

Chimps: Ability to 'Think About Thinking' Not Limited to Humans

And have episodic memory:

Chimpanzees and orangutans remember distant past events

How about 500,000 year-old art?  But which species made it? :

Art on the half-shell

176,000 year old ritual?

Bruniquel Cave

Blombos Cave has 73,000 year old art?


Language?

Next to evolve was language.  The chimp Washoe laid that one to rest in the 1960s.  And then there's Koko the gorilla who recognizes 1000 signs vocabulary and 2000 spoken words.  She has an IQ of about 80. Also bonobos have gesture language plus now respond to spoken language with keyboard feedback. It may be simple, but it's language. And even more languages are being discovered:

Prairie dogs' language decoded by scientists



Fire?

The most literally obvious and vivid tool of man has been fire.  The control of fire allowed our gut to decrease in length by about a yard as we began to cook our food and digestion improved.  Human resistance to air pollution also emerged over the last million years, an indication that we lived with fire during that time.

Control of fire wasn't just tool use, it was the most exquisite form of tool use.  The trick was getting close enough to use the flame but not get burned, and then of course, not letting the fire go out.  How many thousands of our ancestors played with fire before we learn to pass on these two tricks?  And was this the brain and thumbs at work?  Fire was the turning point. The most concise summary of why I found in a New Yorker article, "The Case Against Civilization" (which I disagree with overall):

"The earliest, oldest strata of the caves (in Africa) contain whole skeletons of carnivores and many chewed-up bone fragments of the things they were eating, including us. Then comes the layer from when we discovered fire, and ownership of the caves switches: the human skeletons are whole, and the carnivores are bone fragments. Fire is the difference between eating lunch and being lunch."

We know of no other primate who developed the independent use of fire, (though some Bonobos have now been trained to do so with a lighter, and even use water to put it out).  Man's sustained use of fire is estimated to have begun sometime between 1.5 million and 400,000 years ago:

Who Mastered Fire?

Were Early Humans Cooking Their Food a Million Years Ago?

Still, isn't the difference between us and other primates simply a matter of DEGREE in thinking and manipulating our environment?  Scripts and tools are certainly learned and used effectively by other species.  But our fore-brains allowed for abstraction, delayed gratification and far more complex simulations as demonstrated by the wide range of different human behaviors.  So is our main difference from other primates the complexity of behaviors created by individualism and hyper-specialization?

Or maybe not:

Neanderthals Light it Up

Canned Food?



Out of Africa

Whatever makes us different was probably well established by 60,000 (or 100,000?) years ago, as that's when humans became successful enough to spread from Africa to the rest of the world in our anatomically modern form.  Was it a combination of language, hunting methods, tools, spears, and fire?  Or was it some kind of proto-agriculture for which we've yet to find evidence?

Blombos Cave contained scratches on ocher objects from 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Left 100,000 Years Ago?

Or Stayed 60,000 Years Ago?

01-25-18 The modern human brain may only be 40,000 years old

06-16-20 Earliest known bow-and-arrow hunting outside Africa 48,000 years ago

Music, Art and Property?

Border Cave takes some level of symbolic culture and the ownership of property back to 44,000 years.  The Venus of Fels Cave in Germany is clearly art from 35,000 years ago.

Border Cave

Could "owning things" be that line between us and chimps?  This is one of the ideas put forth in Sex at Dawn.  Maybe Christopher Ryan is on to something.  Will this mystery lead us back to ourselves?  In any case, ten to fifty thousand years ago was an exciting time for man.

40,000 Year Old Cave Painting

Archaeologists Unearth 35,000 Year Old Musical Instrument

World's Oldest Portrait - Symbolic Abstraction 26,000 Years Ago

Not all hunter-gatherers moved around.  How could they have carried all these pots?

What 15,000 Years Of Cooking Fish Tells Us About Humanity

02-09-20 15,000 Year Old Catalan Altamira cave carvings


Agriculture?

The key to real civilization seems to be the domestication of plants and animals - agriculture.  It's often described in terms of specialization and our ability to withhold gratification until the resource matures (wheat, cows or eggs into chickens).

This may be the key to domestication 14,000 years ago:

We Didn't Domesticate Dogs.  They Domesticated Us.

How hunting with wolves helped humans outsmart the Neanderthals.

14,000-Year-Old Bread

Another line blurred:

Baboons Kidnap and Raise Feral Dogs as Pets

Even the line of first settlements are moving backward and becoming blurred.  In school I was taught civilization started about 5,000 years ago.  Then it was 7,000 years.  Then 10,000.  And now:

Shelter?

Except for digging holes, and a few other minor exceptions, no other species builds shelter:

Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old
Stone Building in Russia



12,000 Year-Old Gobekli Tepe


Gobekli Tepe Update 04-04-15

(Wiki says Gobekli Tepe is only dated to 9559 projecting to 11,000 years old) That's still some impressive stone work which must have taken a few thousand years to develop.  20,000 years seems like a more safe number for now.  We just need to find more sites and map progress, but we're definitely blurring back into our ancestors.  When exactly did we become "human"?

As a side note, dogs have been with us for about 14,000 years according to bone evidence.

And here is an even broader overview taking evolution into our culture - a lot of good ideas here:
This next post strays a bit far from the origins of man, but contains so many useful observation about humanity:

State of the Species - Charles C. Mann

Maybe the missing mechanism is EPIgenitics working with genetics. It's an example of how evolution can go well beyond sexual preference:

Scientists claim that homosexuality is not genetic — but it arises in the womb

Here is a fun idea about how the n-grams of our cultural evolution is reflected in our language:

Evolution of the most common English words and phrases over the centuries  12-12-12

World's Oldest Wooden Water Wells Discovered From About 5000 Years Ago  12-24-12

Is a long childhood the key difference?  Maybe:

Why Are We the Last Apes Standing?

Believe it or not, this was published long after I published this post (which like primates is still evolving). Mark Changizi seems to agree that we differ only by degree ("quantitatively so, not qualitatively"). Interesting post.  I need to get his books on my list:

Bursting the Bubble of Human Intelligence  04-09-13

It seems this puzzle is filling in literally day by day.  Stay tuned for more updates.

It appears we must guard against cultural imperialism in our acquisition of knowledge. And does human behavior vary to try all possible combinations in the same way a species replicates to fill the physical range of it's environment?

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World  02-25-13


9000 Year Old Neolithic Settlement in Israel - 07-17-19



The Wheel

02-19-16 The wheel is certainly a definitive test of humanity.  Well, at least so far:

Oldest Wheel - 5200 Years Old

12-27-18 Seven Million Years of Human Evolution