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6 Weird Theories on Early Human Intelligence

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Through thousands of years of knowledge and learning, we’ve developed extremely advanced intelligence as a species, especially when compared to other animals. But what made us unique? What evolutionary paths did we take that others did not?

That, of course, is one of the million dollar questions of early human development. There’s no concrete way for us to know for sure (at least until we build time machines), but we can make some educated guesses, and they get pretty weird... 

1. It All Came From One Human

In evolution, there are two separate paths that changes can take. One is microevolution: Small changes over a long time. The other is macroevolution: Large, abrupt changes that completely change a species. 

To date, scientists have multiple theories on how the two interact, but one of the older theories that’s starting to make a comeback is what's known as macromutation, aka the "hopeful monster." Basically, it's a genetic aberration that is so different from its relatives that it's essentially a whole new species.  (Think of the mutants in X-Men.)

A neurobiologist from Oxford University, Colin Blakemore, believes this very thing happened to humans. Some ancestor, somewhere (he posits it might even be Mitochondrial Eve) was born with a severe genetic defect that made him or her way smarter than other early humans. It was a total accident that just happened to be highly beneficial from a survival perspective, and this person (who could presumably still mate with other humans) passed on this mutation to his or her offspring.

2. It’s Because of a DNA Glitch

Scientists going over the results from the Human Genome Project found that humans have something completely unique: A duplicated gene named SRGAP2. Don’t worry about the weird name; just know that it’s responsible for brain development. No other primates (or animals at all, for that matter) have it. This could pretty much only occur as a “glitch” at some point in human history. It's not a natural evolutionary development, and duplicate genes happen all the time, except they’re almost always benign.

As a matter of fact, we have a few benign copies of SRGAP2 ourselves. They’re called SRGAP2B and SRGAP2D, and they’re just some of the random genetic junk that makes up a large portion of our DNA. SRGAP2C, however, is a fully functional (and enhanced) copy of SRGAP2.

That doesn't just mean we have double the brain development power, though, because SRGAP2C actually supersedes the original gene. When implanted in mice, SRGAP2C turns off the original gene and actually kind of supercharges their brains. If you think of it like computer software, SRGAP2C is brain development version 2.0 and it has to uninstall version 1.0 to work properly.

3. It’s an Accident Caused by Walking Upright

One of the unique things about humans is that our skulls aren't fused when we're born. Baby skulls don't solidify until the age of two because otherwise it'd be way harder to push them out of the birth canal. No other primate has this, but that's because they're not bipedal and so they  have wider birth canals, so it’s not an issue for them. 

Recently, scientists studying the well-preserved cranium of an Australopithecus child discovered that the genus, one of our first ancestors to walk bipedally, had larger brains than expected and also started out with the soft skulls that we have today. It was originally thought that we didn't develop non-fused skulls until much later in human development. 

Scientists had always assumed that we developed bipedal locomotion as a result of our intelligence, since it's more efficient. Now it looks like the exact opposite may be true—we became bipedal on our own, which necessitated a reconfiguration of the birth canal, which led to the evolution of soft skulls in babies, and that accidentally led to us growing bigger brains, since the brain could now continue to grow until two years of age.

4. Our Human Ancestors Used a Lot of Drugs

One highly controversial (and definitely strange) theory about early human brains comes from Terence McKenna, an American philosopher, ecologist, and drug advocate. In the early 1990s, McKenna developed a theory popularly referred to as the “Stoned Ape” theory.

According to McKenna, early man, upon leaving the jungle and moving into the grasslands of north Africa, saw mushrooms growing on cow dung (something they hadn’t seen in the jungle) and decided to give them a try. He points out that modern apes will frequently eat dung beetles, so it’s not completely unheard of for primates to eat things typically found on or around excrement.

McKenna believes that those mushrooms, ancestors of today's “magic” mushrooms, probably increased visual ability at low doses (much like modern mushrooms), making them biologically useful. Further, at moderate doses, those same mushrooms are sexual stimulants, also handy for a burgeoning species. Lastly, large doses would promote conscious thinking and possibly assist brain growth. Thus, it was evolutionarily beneficial for humans to consume these mushrooms.

Don’t get too excited, though. McKenna’s theory has never been taken seriously by scientists or heavily studied, so there’s currently no real evidence to support it.  

5. Meat and Fire Made Our Brains Grow

While it’s obvious that fire and meat-eating were a large part of everyday life for our ancestors, it appears likely that cooked meat may have also played a huge role in our brain development. Harvard University Biological Anthropologist Richard Wrangham has developed a theory that he thinks explains exactly how it worked.

Because brains like ours use up as much as 20 percent of our caloric intake, they require high-calorie foods to keep working. Since Twinkies weren’t around yet, cooked meat was the next best thing for early man. Cooking meat releases more calories, making it even better than raw meat, which we were probably already eating (judging from our appendixes).

Cooking also makes meat faster to eat and easier to digest. Our primate cousins, meanwhile, spent significantly more time eating fewer calories by consuming fruits and veggies. Those extra calories helped grow our brains.

But even an argument as straightforward as this one is contentious—science has yet to discover evidence that humans were capable of controlling fire at the time period specified by Wrangham’s theory.

6. Early Humans Were Schizophrenic

Back in the 1970s, psychologist Julian Jaynes was fascinated by the idea of consciousness and how it came to exist, and why human beings seem to have a much more advanced self-awareness than other animals.

The theory he developed in his 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, was, to put it mildly, controversial. Jaynes’ Bicameral Mind Theory (as it came to be known) claimed that ancient humans actually weren’t self-aware at all. Instead, man’s brain operated sort of like two separate organs. The left brain was responsible for everyday actions, while the right brain supplied memories and problem-solving derived from experience.

The only problem with this system is that, unlike modern humans, Jaynes thought there was no direct link between the two hemispheres, and thus no consciousness or reflection was available to our ancestors. Instead, the right half communicated to the left through a now-vestigial portion of the language center in the brain, which expressed as auditory hallucinations.

Jaynes believed that early humans may have treated these hallucinations as the voices of their ancestors or even the gods. He used two famous ancient books as examples: The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible. Both refer frequently to hearing voices (of the Muses and God, respectively) while their follow-ups, The Odyssey (which was probably not actually written by the same person as The Iliad) and the New Testament, reference much fewer instances of this. This led Jaynes to believe that the change in our brains must have occurred very recently in human history, probably a few centuries after we formed complex societies and consciousness became more beneficial.

Jaynes didn’t just pull this theory out of thin air, either. His specialty as a psychologist was working with schizophrenic patients, and he based Bicameralism on the way that a schizophrenic’s mind works. That aforementioned vestigial language center in the brain appears to be fully-functional in sufferers of schizophrenia. Most interesting of all is that recent advances in neuroimaging seem to support Jaynes’s theory.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy
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Judge Judith Sheindlin was 54 years old when her namesake TV show premiered on September 16, 1996. Two years later the diminutive (5’1”) adjudicator was trouncing the powerhouse Oprah Winfrey Show in the Nielsen ratings. Today, she is one of the highest paid TV celebrities, earning $47 million per year—which she will continue to do through 2020, thanks to a new extended contract.

Fervent fans are familiar with Judge Judy’s more outrageous cases, like The Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer, but they might not know some of these fun facts about both the show and the woman behind it, who turns 75 years old today.

1. THAT GRUFF, NO-NONSENSE STYLE OF JURISPRUDENCE IS NOT AN ACT.

Judge Judy spent a little over 20 years in New York City’s family court system, where she earned a reputation early in her career for being blunt, impatient, and tough-talking. “I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow,” was one of her oft-repeated “Judyisms” at that time. She also frequently warned attorneys appearing before her: "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives ... circumcision being the first." 60 Minutes filmed her in action as part of a 1993 profile, and while her hair color and eyebrows have softened since then, her impatient rants and verbal smackdowns haven’t changed a bit.

2. SHE BEGAN WEARING HER TRADEMARK LACE COLLAR AS SOON AS SHE WAS APPOINTED AS A JUDGE.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Judith Sheindlin to the bench in 1982, and to celebrate she and her husband Jerry—both civil servants at the time—took a $399 package trip to Greece for two weeks. While passing by a row of street kiosks with various locally made crafts for sale, she impulsively purchased a white lace collar from a vendor. She explained to her husband that male judges wore stiff-collared white dress shirts and colorful neckties that peeped out of the top of their robes, so that they had a nice colorful “buffer” between the austere black gown and their face. Female judges, however, had nothing but neck peeping out of their robes and the unforgiving black color revealed every minute of sleep deprivation as well as any skin tone irregularities. The white lace collar, she decided, would not only perk up her face but would also be a bit disarming for litigants—she could picture them thinking “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly!”

3. DESPITE THOSE NEW YORK CITY SCENES ON THE COMMERCIAL BUMPERS, JUDGE JUDY IS TAPED IN CALIFORNIA.

Sheindlin spends 52 days per year taping her show. She flies to California via private jet every other Monday and hears cases on Tuesday and Wednesday (occasionally Thursday if there are production delays). One full week’s worth of shows are filmed each day. Many viewers, however, are fooled into thinking Judy is holding court in her native New York, thanks to the scenic Manhattan footage in between station breaks and the New York state flag behind her chair. That is, until something oh-so-unique to the west coast—like an earthquake—occurs on-camera. (Note that in the clip below, Judge Judy quickly ducks beneath her bench once the room begins to tremble.)

4. SHE IS BRIEFED ON THE CASES BEFORE SHE ARRIVES ON THE SET.

Judge Sheindlin does not go to the studio unprepared; producers FedEx the sworn statements and relevant information on each upcoming case to her home (Naples, Florida in the winter; Greenwich, Connecticut in the spring and summer) and she familiarizes herself with enough details to have some background, but not enough so that the case doesn’t appear “fresh” when she questions the litigants during filming.

5. THE CASES REALLY ARE REAL.

The production company has a staff of 60-plus researchers across the country who spend their days poring over lawsuits filed in local small claims courts. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they are able to photocopy cases that they think might make for interesting television and those copies are forwarded to the show’s producers. Any cases that make it to the next stage (about three percent) involve contacting the litigants involved and asking them if they’d like to forego their civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles, an $850 appearance fee, and a per diem of $40 (as of 2012). An added incentive is that any judgments awarded are paid by the show, not by the plaintiff or defendant. The best cases, according to the executive producer, are those that involve litigants with a prior relationship—mother/daughter, father/son, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Such cases engage the audience because it’s an emotional tie that’s been broken (the recurring plot on many soap operas).

6. THE AUDIENCE, HOWEVER, IS NOT SO REAL.

Regular viewers will note that the same faces seem to pop up in the audience regularly. Those folks in the spectator seats are paid extras (often aspiring actors) who earn $8 per hour to sit and look attentive. Prospective audience members apply for the limited amount of seats by emailing their contact information along with a clear headshot to one of Judge Judy’s production coordinators (sorry, we cannot provide that info). If chosen, the spectator must dress appropriately (business casual or better) and arrive promptly for the 8:30 a.m. call time. Audience members must pass through metal detectors on their way in and are not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronic devices with them, and food, drinks and chewing gum are also verboten. Spectators are rearranged after each case so it’s not as obvious that it’s the same group of people, and the most attractive folks are always seated in the front row (it’s Hollywood, after all). The audience is instructed to talk animatedly amongst themselves in between each case so that Officer Byrd’s “Order in the court!” admonition has more impact. Bad behavior is grounds for immediate expulsion (in front of 10 million viewers, as Judge Judy likes to remind us).

7. JUDGE JUDY DRESSES CASUALLY FOR THE JOB.

Sheindlin has been known to publicly chastise litigants who come to her courtroom in skimpy clothing or “beach attire,” but behind that bench and under that robe she is usually sporting jeans and a tank top or T-shirt.

8. OFFICER BYRD IS A REAL BAILIFF.

Brooklyn native Petri Hawkins Byrd earned his B.Sc. degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989 and started working in the Brooklyn Family Court system. He first worked with Judge Sheindlin when he transferred to the Manhattan Family Court. “We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “She was just hilarious.” Byrd relocated to San Mateo, California in 1990 to work as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal and a few years later he read an item in Liz Smith’s gossip column about Sheindlin’s upcoming TV show. He sent his old colleague a congratulatory letter and added, “If you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”

9. DESPITE HIS SOMETIMES IMPOSING COURTROOM DEMEANOR, OFFICER BYRD IS ALSO A VERY FUNNY GUY.

He is a talented impressionist, but his sense of humor almost cost him his job—or so he thought at the time. Once, back when he was working with the feisty Judge Sheindlin in New York, he donned her robe and reading glasses to entertain his co-workers with a barrage of Judyisms. Of course, as always seems to happen when one mocks the boss in the workplace, he was caught in the act.

10. THE OCCASIONAL CELEBRITY RELIES ON JUDGE JUDY’S BRAND OF JUSTICE.

Depending upon your own definition of “celebrity”, of course. Actress Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) appeared on the show in 1996 as the plaintiff, suing her plastic surgeon for a leaky breast implant that was impeding her acting career. One year later, former Sex Pistol John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) appeared as a defendant when drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to support Lydon on a solo tour, sued the singer for lost wages and an assault. Despite Lydon’s occasional bad courtroom behavior, the decision was made in his favor.

11. THE STAR ORIGINALLY DIDN’T WANT THE SHOW NAMED AFTER HER.

Sheindlin first envisioned calling her show Hot Bench, a term used frequently in the appellate court, but the producers wisely advised her that the term was meaningless to TV viewers who didn’t work in the legal system. Her next thought was Judy Justice, since she’d overheard her court officers warning deadbeat parents who were delinquent in child support payments that they were in for a load of "Judy Justice" if they weren’t prepared to cough up some money. In retrospect, Sheindlin realized the wisdom in calling the show Judge Judy: She couldn’t be easily replaced, as the various judges had been on The People’s Court. However, after 19 years on the air, she still does not refer to herself by that sobriquet; whether introducing herself to someone or advertising her show in a promotional clip, she is always either “Judge Sheindlin” or “Judge Judy Sheindlin.”

12. JUDGE SHEINDLIN INHERITED HER SENSE OF HUMOR FROM HER FATHER.

Murray Blum, Judy’s beloved father, was a dentist whose office was in the family home. In those days—before sedation dentistry was an option—a dentist’s best tool to distract nervous patients was the gift of gab, and Murray became a master storyteller out of necessity. Years of listening to her father at the dinner table and at family gatherings taught Judy how to deliver a punchline. One evening outside of a hotel in Hollywood, Sheindlin was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Lorna Berle. She told the judge that her husband Milton was a huge fan and asked if she would mind talking to him for a moment. The elderly comic slowly emerged from a limo and Judy greeted him by singing the theme song to Texaco Star Theater, her favorite TV show as a child. Milton Berle complimented her in return, saying “Kid, you’ve got great comic timing.”

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