Paleopsychology Manifesto


Howard Bloom
April 1997
New York Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological
Society, Academy of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, European Sociobiological Society

My collaborators and I propose the establishment of a new discipline: paleo-bio-socio-psychology or “paleopsychology” for short. Each of us has already taken initial steps toward creating a corpus of paleopsychological knowledge. We welcome those who would like to join us.

Standard paleontology has done a magnificent job of recreating the morphology of creatures ranging from the first life forms 3.85 billion years ago to the early humans of comparatively recent times. In the case of the majority of pre-historic species, however, paleontology has left us with a considerable problem. How did these creatures behave? What, if any, were their social patterns? What cognitive and problem-solving abilities did they possess? What was the bio-evolutionary sequence which led to learning, imitation, herding, information sharing, and to what John Tyler Bonner has called animal culture?

Primate fossil evidence has often been looked at with an eye to inferring the origins of campsites, tools, migratory patterns, “mental modules,” and some of the subject matter of which paleopsychology is made. Similarly, dinosaur remains have been scrutinized for signs of maternal nurturance and other indicators of social attachment and of the ability to tell one conspecific from another. But what of the social interactions and reactive powers of the earliest bacteria, the first eukaryotes, the recently-discovered Precambrian clams, and the Cambrian profusion of phyletic representatives–from trilobites to eurypterids?

What about the first insects of 350 mya–were they initially solitary, as E.O. Wilson and numerous others assume, or were they social, as one of us suspects? Was individuality or sociality the original state of living beings? If the latter, how did the anomaly of solitary existence emerge? If the former, where does sociality begin in the fossil record, and why?

The tools with which these questions can be probed are few today, but will surely expand as more minds join the quest. Mass- behavior-specialist Howard Bloom has used data on bacterial social behavior along with fossil evidence to postulate that the cyanobacteria of 3.5 billion years ago were not only extraordinarily social, but that their colonies exhibited what physicist-turned-microbiologist Eshel ben Jacob calls a collective “creative” intelligence. Extrapolating from the work of Sorin Sonea and Maurice Panisset (1983), Bloom has gone on to make the case that the Pre-cambrian system of prokaryotic information exchange was literally worldwide. In addition, Bloom has penned four papers for Germany’s Telepolis tracing the history of the cooperative impulse and of cognitive development from the first 10(-32) second of the Big Bang to 35 million b.p. Combined with the data of Ben Jacob and of the University of Chicago’s James Shapiro, Bloom’s published views call into question fundamental axioms of neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory.

Invertebrate zoologist Kerry B. Clark, creator of the definitive teaching CD-ROM Metazoa, has applied the rules of his field to the fossil record, tentatively recreating Cambrian social behavior. Among other things, he hypothesizes that Anomalocaris canadensis swam in feeding herds. “The largest animals in most ecosystems are typically herding herbivores,” he notes, “and I see nothing about Anomalocaris that precludes this.”

Paleontologist Kevin Brett, who spent five years working at the Burgess Shale for the Royal Ontario Museum and National Geographic Magazine, disagrees about Anomalocaris, but cites evidence that trilobites may well have been sexually dimorphic, and that many trilobites were, in his words, “quite ornate.” Brett also points to the well-known observation that, “Trilobites are often found in mass associations of mono-specific gatherings of complete individuals. This suggests mating and/or moulting gatherings such as those observed in modern marine arthropods such as Limulus (Horseshoe crabs). Evidence has been found for multispecific gatherings as well as physical processes such as wave and current transport.” From this and the positioning of trilobites in fossil beds, he proposes that trilobite sexual gatherings may not have been entirely promiscuous. Modern “toads,” he points out, “will mate with just about anything–so they don’t necessarily recognize members of even their own species.” Brett suspects that Cambrian arthropods were more discerning.

Entomologist Christine Nalepa cites an understudied source of data, trace fossils. From fecal remains in chambers carved in dead Carboniferous tree ferns, she infers that the earliest proto- cockroaches (Cryptocercidae-like insects) may have shown active social behavior 300 million years ago–over 160 million years before even the most extreme dates hypothesized for the emergence of eusociality.

As Brett points out, “All animals are social. We have the opportunity to trace the degrees of sociality in the fossil record using burrow and hive traces, mass associations, nests, etc.” Adds Clark, “The chemical transmitters in the most advanced organisms have their precursors in the simple biochemically-mediated behavioral responses of bacteria and protists, indicating a continuity of mechanisms between these extremes.

“The basic organizational features of the most advanced nervous systems — ganglionation, condensation of diffuse sensors into discrete organs, and interneuronal processing — that we associate with intelligent behavior, are expressed in all but the simplest animals, and it is reasonable to look for, and expect, some expression of intelligent behaviors in ‘lower’ animals. Social behaviors, by assembling superorganisms, facilitate ’emergent properties’ that can assemble intelligent behaviors not found in solitary forms, optimizing exploitation of their environments, and may or may not be associated with fossil evidence of the superorganism. The two prime correlates of intelligence, organism size and complexity, can arise both in big, complex individuals and in smaller organisms that communally form large, complex units of biomass. Our knowledge and recognition of such social interactions is still at an early stage.”

Bloom, Clark, Brett and Nalepa are all members of our group. But we have illustrious forebears. Charles Darwin hinted at a psychology of the creatures which preceded us in his Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). With Darwin’s blessings, George Romanes took the query a step further in his 1884 Mental Evolution In Animals. Lynn Margulis has done a masterful job of reconstructing the lives of what she calls “microbial communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons.” Margulis credits as other predecessors Schimper (in his work of 1833), Famintzyn (1891), Mereschkovsky (1909), Portier (1918) and Wallin (1927)–all concerned, as is Margulis, with evolutionary cell biology. In addition, B. Moore has worked recently on reconstructing the evolution of imitative learning.

Yet the area explored by these pioneers has often been forgotten once the researchers responsible have gone. It is time to end this periodic amnesia. The tools exist. The evidence exists. And the need to know is there. The evolution of behavior, sociality, and the physiology of proto-mentation finally deserve a discipline of their own.

If you wish more information on paleopsychology, or would like to join us in our quest, please e-mail or phone:

Howard Bloom
705 President Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215
phone 718 622 2278
fax 718 398 2551
e-mail [email protected]

For further data on the participants and a taste of their accomplishments, see: (re Howard Bloom); and (Dr. Kerry B. Clark);  and  (re Kevin Brett); and Nalepa, Christine (1994), “Nourishment and the Origin of Termite Eusociality,” in Nourishment and Evolution in Insect Societies, edited by James H. Hunt and Christine A. Nalepa, 1994, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press: 57-96.