Homo Sapiens Visualis

By Jon Miller Updated on February 11th, 2018

An interesting article suggested that the gap in artistic ability between early modern humans and relative Homo species such as the Neanderthals was due to differences in the way they hunted. The Neanderthals stabbed tamer prey at close range with spears, while early modern humans on open grasslands had to launch their spears at skittish prey. Humans developed better hand-eye coordination as a result, as evidenced in cave drawings. The hypothesis goes

Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and grew bigger parietal cortexes—the region of the brain that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination—because of an evolutionary arms race with increasingly wary prey.

The more humans hunted animals, the more cautious the animals became around humans, as the animals who ran at first sight of humans lived to leave similarly nervous offspring. This required that humans practiced their aim, developing the parts of their brain that let to finer motor control in the hand and arm. Being better at throwing spears also allowed humans to make artistic renderings of animals on caves because the “visual imagery employed in drawing regulates arm movements in a manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc their spears,” suggesting the two skills developed in tandem.

Furthermore, the cave wall drawings of animals could have been used as teaching tools to prepare for hunts, or even for after action reports, leading to primitive PDCA cycles. Drawing out the targets of the hunt and planning before, relying on the mental imagery and preparation during the hunt, and returning to the cave drawings afterwards would have been a revolutionary step forward in the art of hunting, compared to the stabby Neanderthals who hadn’t developed similar visualization methods.

Widespread literacy is a relatively recent human social innovation. It is likely this has led to changes in how we use and develop our brains, how we shape society and history. Some individuals like to put a poster of a sports car, a beach vacation photo, or some other object of desire on their wall as motivation, reminder and prompt to continue planning their hunt. Social exchange by our species via image and video-based media has spread explosively over the past decade. The electronic cave wall spans the world and is viewed by millions of people. This sharing of images and communicating visually has in common with the cave wall-based media a desire for safety in group cohesion and success in the hunt. No doubt this is leaving some epigenetic mark on our descendants.

How might visual communication within the business world be influencing the development of our species? For example, rational, evidence-based, cause-and-effect thinking has not been widespread across history. Even today many of us rely on received beliefs, biases, magical thinking, and other mental shortcuts. The use of cause-and-effect diagrams is a recent addition worthy of note. Popularized by Ishikawa in the mid-20th century, sometimes called the fishbone diagram, it is an intuitive method for diagramming how a problem happened. One draws branches outward from the problem, grouping potential sources of variation such as methods, material, people, equipment, measurement, and environmental factors. It is useful in problem solving, or flipped 90 degrees as a tree diagram, similar visualization also serves as a business planning tool. The value stream map is another method to visualize the cause and effect between informational instruction and material movement across time and distance. The whiteboard A3 report, while relying too often on words rather than charts and drawings, is yet another business example of drawing on the cave wall in support of the hunt.

Perhaps after a few hundred years of selection in favor of humans who can grasp, communicate, form group cohesion and solve problems visually, we will see the rise of a new subspecies, Homo sapiens visualis.

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