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Blood, iron, sex and time

Leonard Shlain has done it again: in a probing and wide-ranging study, Sex, Time and Power (2003) — which probes even deeper into the origins of patriarchy than his earlier The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (1998) — he sets out to answer the question he had posed to a medical doctor (instructor) during his medical training, namely, why there was such a disparity between men’s and women’s red-blood-cell counts.

The answer he received — “Women bleed and men don’t” — made him look silly in front of the other medical students but never satisfied him, especially when, soon afterwards, working in a pre-natal clinic serving poor people, he discovered that most of these late-term women were anaemic and lacked the requisite amounts of iron in their blood for the healthy development of the babies they were carrying.

As any good scientist would, he immediately connected his earlier question about women’s lower red-blood-cell count and the obvious fact that they, more than men, need the iron-rich red blood cells to be able to bring healthy babies into the world. It seemed to him that, somehow, when it came to the best interests of women, Mother Nature had miscalculated! This is just the kind of apparent anomaly that sets in motion sustained scientific investigation.

Eventually, Shlain’s thorough knowledge of evolutionary theory, anthro-archaeology, paleontology and its supporting fossil evidence enabled him to offer an answer to this puzzle, an answer more than 400 pages long. It is impossible to do justice to it here — you’ll have to read the book yourself. Hence, all I can do is to provide a kind of severely truncated synopsis of his argument, where I attempt to draw its main contours.

Our species — Homo and Gyna sapiens — as distinct from Homo and Gyna erectus, Australopithecus and so on (which are among our hominid ancestors) is approximately 150 000 years old. Among those things that distinguish us from other genera and species — such as the relative size of the human brain, and the fact that we have an abstract linguistic system (and not merely a set of signals, by means of which many insects, birds and animals communicate; although there are indications that dolphins and whales exceed most other animals in terms of the sophistication of their means of communication) — is the remarkable occurrence, in human females or women, of menses.

The females of other mammals go into oestrus (that is, they go “on heat”, as the saying goes), and during this time they mate frenetically with the more-than-willing males of their species, which respond to the females’ clearly perceivable, displayed need for sex. Sex is therefore unproblematic, at least in the sense that during oestrus (which comes, appropriately, from the Greek word for “itch”) both sexes want it — badly.

By contrast, Shlain points out, in humans it is different. Because women menstruate, instead of being subject to the powerful hormonal reproduction-serving sway of oestrus, it means that, in principle, they could have sex with men at any time. The flipside, however, is that they can also say no to sex, something that often leads to conflict between men and women because, as Shlain argues, since the time when human females exchanged oestrus for menses because of a genetic mutation, men correspondingly changed from beings that needed the trigger of oestrus to beings that could, and wanted to, have sex more or less all the time, with any woman.

If this sounds uncivilised, remember that he is talking about early humans here — 150 millennia ago — and he fills in the gap between then and now in a most entertaining and persuasive way. In a nutshell, the answer to the question of women “bleeding” lies in this: Mother Nature — or “natural selection”, in evolutionary terms — had to find a solution to the fact that, when the human brain (and therefore babies’ heads) had reached a certain size (for various reasons, including brain-enhancing oxygen from a diet that included iron and protein-rich food), the species faced possible extinction because of the high mortality rate among mothers during childbirth. Recall that, at this stage, women did not have a choice about having sex — oestrus was an irresistible hormonal mechanism. They could not say no, and therefore had infant after infant until many of them perished in the process because of the growing size of the babies’ heads.

The answer to the threat of extinction came in the genetic mutation (initially in one woman, who passed this on to her offspring) that replaced oestrus with menses, and which gave the human woman the ability to restrict the frequency of her sexual intercourse with human males. As Shlain puts it: nature gave her “veto power” in the matter of sex. Less sex meant fewer infants, and a better chance of women’s survival.

Needless to say, this evolutionary “solution” brought problems of its own, most notably the loss of iron through bleeding. In addition, because of the genetic mutation (on the part of human males) that enabled them to surpass their erstwhile dependence on the stimulus of oestrus — something which corresponded to women’s newly minted “free will” concerning sex — men faced a problem: How to secure a stable source of sex? Because women became aware of the link between healthy babies and the availability of red meat, they relied on the male hunter in their “hunter-gatherer cooperative” to bring home the bacon, as it were, and in exchange for the gift of meat she gave the man of her choice what he wanted, namely sex.

It was, in short, the “meat-for-sex” agreement that is at the basis, Shlain argues, of the long-standing relationship or “contract” between men and women, and which could mean a win/win situation for both, provided the man (who could, in principle have sex with any woman) developed a sense of loyalty, and eventually the novel feeling of love, towards the woman in question and their offspring. Some formidable obstacles still had to be surmounted, however, and they remain to this day in the relations between the sexes.

This is where time comes into the picture. As humans, Shlain argues, we owe our sense of time to women, who put two and two together concerning the cycle of their menses and the lunar cycle. After all, what is time? Fundamentally, the ability to connect what has been (but is no longer), what is (the now) and what is not yet (the future). In other words, women’s ability to anticipate their next menstruation according to the cycle of the moon gave them foresight — something that eventually became part of the human genome, which meant that they passed it on to human males as well. This, in turn, stood the men in good stead during the hunt, for the obvious reason that hunters armed with foresight could outwit potential prey with far more facility than without it.

The evolutionary acquisition of a sense of time (and foresight) also meant the painful awareness, to which non-time-aware species are not privy, that some time in the future everyone has to face death. This, Shlain argues (with plenty of evidence to back it up), gave rise to all kinds of (totemic, religious) rituals and ceremonies to “soften the blow”, as it were. When the penny eventually dropped, on the part of men, that they actually had a share in making babies (remember that for a very long time women, who were revered for fertility reasons, were regarded as being the sole source of children), and that resemblance between parents and infants is one indication of this, they sought some reassurance of “immortality” in their children’s names, memory and commemoration of them. To this end — and here lies a powerful source of misogyny and patriarchy, according to Shlain — men eventually set up ritualistic, conventional means (still very much in evidence today) for controlling the sexual and reproductive activities of women.

In other words, Shlain hypothesises, patriarchy has its distant origin in the attempt, on the part of men, to assure the sexual fidelity of their women, in the process ensuring that the children they bear are his, and his alone. Patriarchy, in short, was born as a defence against time, and the fear of death that our awareness of it inspires. Ironically, in the process women, who were the initial evolutionary bearers of what is arguably one of the most far-reaching capacities in humans, namely our sense of time, were (and have been ever since) the ones to bear the brunt of institutionalised attempts to control the consequences of the changes in their sexuality at social, economic and political level.

As Shlain admits, because of the fact that he is offering a novel interpretation of existing anthro-archaeological evidence (and I can assure you, in light of the massive documentation backing up his work, he is a very erudite, if modest, scientist), a large portion of the history (or is it “herstory”?) of Gyna and Homo sapiens reconstructed in his book is hypothetical or speculative. Its explanatory power (and this is the test of any “good” scientific hypothesis) is undeniable, though, and it bathes what we know about our human past in an exciting new light.

Shlain wrote this book because of critics of his earlier book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, arguing that, its explanatory power regarding the demonstrable origin of patriarchy in alphabet literacy notwithstanding, the fact that some pre-literate cultures were also patriarchal points to a more distant, deeper source of patriarchy and misogyny. He may just have found it.

For a discussion of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, see my piece, “Images, language, women and patriarchy“, posted on Thought Leader on March 11 2008, and republished in the e-newsletter of Solidarity, Sustainability and Non-Violence, Ed Luis T Guttierez, vol 4, No 5, May 2008

Author

  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.

22 Comments

  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 21 July 2008

    You really do read the wierdest books!

  2. Sarfeffrikin Sarfeffrikin 21 July 2008

    Bert,

    Bert,

    I think it was the revered scholar, Graham Hancock, who proposed a theory that the pyramids were built for the space ships to dock, hence more proof that men are in deed from Mars and women are from Venus. (In keeping with the lunar theme)
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist! LOL!

    Interesting topic which sort of confirms the suspicion that most men are whipped – the pen may be mightier than the sword but the true power lies between the sheets! Donald Trump is a good case study. That rediculous comb-over is evidently overlooked by the nubile nymphettes when he flaunts his bank balance.

    Aren’t we just the advanced species?

  3. Henry Hillberger Henry Hillberger 21 July 2008

    If you are reading the book correctly, it doesn’t have a clear understanding of evolution or natural selection. “Mother nature” does not “have to find a solution” to any problem. Those beings with traits that give them an advantage, live and reproduce more.

  4. Jon Jon 21 July 2008

    Boys give love for sex; girls give sex for love.

    I learnt that on the school playground already.

  5. Alisdair Budd Alisdair Budd 22 July 2008

    Have you ever read the story that the ruins of Great Zembabwe were built by the Queen of Sheba because no Afrian would be capabel, since they were so uncivlised and incapable of organising the labout involved due to their immature brains?

    I have read an old book about this that is as much a load of scientific babble and B*llsh*t, concerning the rationalising of unrelated facts inorder to constuct a logical fallacy fulfilling a blind prejudice as the garbage you refer to above.

    (incidentally you, or he, has forgotten the Neanderthals, who are thought to have interbred with Cro Magnans until they were bred, or wiped out by hunting and competition, and that humans sweat salt becuase they were thought to have once needed to from eating a shellfish diet from living on beaches in Lucy’s time.)

  6. Bert Bert 22 July 2008

    Lyndall – why weird? One of the fields I work in is the philosophy of science, hence I read books that demonstrate how scientists (like Shlain, Dawkins, Oliver Sacks, Fritjof Capra, Carl Sagan, and others) think. But sure, if you insist; weird, AND wonderful.
    Henry – ‘Mother nature’ is just Shlain’s occasional metaphor for natural selection, which is what you are talking about. The ‘trait’ (which can be read either as an adaptation to an environment that has become inimical to human survival, or as a mutation, or both, depending on whether you are thinking in Darwinian or Lamarckian terms, or a combination of the two), in question here is the passage from estrus/oestrus to menses, which is, according to Shlain’s reading of a lot of molecular biological evidence, what saved the human race (‘Homo sapiens sapiens’, the doubly ‘wise’ human) from extinction.

  7. Craig Craig 22 July 2008

    Or as Anthony Kiedis postulated – “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik”

  8. Khotso Daniel Moabi Khotso Daniel Moabi 24 July 2008

    I think that Leonard Shlain tries to connect the relationship of nature and man (as part of nature). In his book, one can see that he has an insight that science derives from philosophy. In search of the answer to his question, he looks for it from the scientific perpsective leading backwards to philosohical perspective where science derives. In that way, he shows that man and nature are related, just as science and philosophy relate. I think that Shlain tries to show that human body responds to the stimulus. In that way, he narrates that the Gyna sapiens had “veto power over sex” as to control human males who seemed to have sex with any woman at all times. So, this led to the correct time according to their bodies to have sex with men. This means that men had to wait until they were asked to have sex. The loss of “blood’s critical essence than men” was the way of responding to the stimulus (man willing to have sex at all times with every woman).

  9. Michael Barker Michael Barker 28 July 2008

    I’m not convinced that the solution to the large number of women dying during childbirth due to an increased brain size was menopause. Menopause would decrease the number deaths, although also the number of births too. I believe the answer is something else which Shlain mentioned-a homonid would remain pregnant for 18 months and through this changing to 9 months a born baby was born considerably smaller.
    A 9 month premature baby brings about something which I think deserves to be mentioned in your article, because it is this premature baby which brought about the collaboration between early Homo sapiens. A 9 month premature baby would no longer be able to defend for itself and so would require the protection and attention from both parents until able to do so. I do believe that menstruation played an important role here, as it was menstruation and the ability to say ‘no’ to sex which came with it that allowed the women to choose the suitor which would best help her raise her infant. The responsibility of the baby and free will to choose the father ignited what I believe sparked the separation between humans and all other living organisms, the development of what Shlain calls the second basic instinct of all organisms-courting, mating and nurturing. If it was not for the development of these we would still bear our large brains, although they would not have been used.

  10. Garg the Unzola Garg the Unzola 29 July 2008

    Seems like a chicken and egg situation. Is patriarchy a result of men trying to guarantee an exclusive source of nookie in exchange for providing a constant source of iron? Or is it a result of women trying to formalise and guarantee a constant source of iron?

    If you follow the principle that behind every successful man there is a baffled stepmother, I’m inclined to think it is the latter.

  11. Brian Rutledge Brian Rutledge 4 August 2008

    I find Schlain’s project and process fascinating. As he speculates and repositions intertwining arguments, his excitement spills into the reader, who feels a deeper regard for science and life itself.

    But despite my enthusiasm, I am left with a feeling that, at times, Schlain generalizes too deeply. Specifically, his speculations about time seem stretched to fit neatly into other theories. It seems likely that the moon and menses helped humans construct a sense of time. But emphasizing this as the driving force behind our sense of time seems to arise out of Schlain’s personal goal to ascribe more agency to women. I feel that other factors (like language, which serves as a medium for expressing the before-now-later of lived experience) probably helped create a coherent human sense of time.

    Of course, the moon- and women- probably had much to do with our temporal constructs. But Schlain largely refuses a dialectical relationship between both sexes in order to promote a very modern ideological construct, namely, female agency.

    His perspective is fresh and interesting, but I think his emphasis on women brings out an often hidden aspect of the scientific process: the political side. Science tries to systematically ‘explain’ by fleshing out causal connections. While at the same time, economic, social and political trends from the now soak every scientific undertaking. For example, the modernist urge to categorize (limit/ confine) the world into an easily readable map combined with colonial necessity and countless other factors to give the world scientific racism. Perhaps now considered ‘pseudo-scientific’, at the time this phenomenon was allowed and perpetuated by scientists due to other imperatives. Today, Schlain (working from the ‘left-coast’, the ultra-liberal center of America: Berkeley/ San Fran) is no less influenced by social trends around him, seeking to raise women’s status through scientific exploration.

    I am not trying to downgrade or discredit his findings. However, we need to remain aware of the personal/political aspects hidden behind science. Very appropriately, Schlain includes an autobiographical sketch in his preface, which serves to make this link between the personal (his life) and the professional (his work). When something fits into your current political leanings, it is easy to get excited about a hypothesis and claim that bundles of ‘evidence’ has been presented. Without a doubt, Schlain is convincing , articulate and knowledgeable. But most readers (his target audience seems fairly broad for a scientific work) will be familiar enough with the complicated academic-scientific worlds he dances through to form a definite opinion on whether his evidence is truly in order.

  12. Tasmin Tasmin 4 August 2008

    Shlain provides an interesting and novel hypothesis that could account for many various human traits, physical, psychological and cultural.
    His theory is founded on too many maybes, and on subject matter that we at this time know comparatively very, very little about with certainty. After all this is millennia and millennia in and of our past that we’re talking about here.
    Therefore, in all honesty, I highly doubt that Shlain could have hit the nail precisely on the head with every claim he’s made.
    But I think that’s hardly the point. The fact is that his thorough and in-depth research draws from a wide spectrum of knowledge, i.e. anatomy, chemistry, archeology, culture and evolutionary science and so on. ‘Events’ in culture or nature do not exist and behave exclusively to one or two spheres but impact and are impacted by a complex interplay and exchange of ‘events’.
    So Shlain attempting to account for patriarchy with something so seemlingly unrelated as iron counts goes further than just tentatively suggesting a theory which could entirely possibly be outdated in a few years with the publication of another 400-pg hypothesis. It provides a theoretical framework upon which more research and imagination can be laid.
    Shlain can’t have painted the entire picture, but he might have lain down some obscure shapes that others can work with in the future. Even his earlier work, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (1998), though with valid criticism, would have contributed to the portrait of the history of humanity.

  13. Bert Bert 4 August 2008

    Brian and Tasmin – both of you have valid points. Brian, your perceptive observation regarding the political side of science is spot-on as far as Shlain’s fairly conspicuous attempt to advance women’s interests is concerned. But don’t judge too hastily: the connection he posits between our sense of time and women’s cyclical experience of menses is not all that far-fetched. Shlain would readily grant your point about time being registered in language – in fact, he talks about it in his previous book (AvG). But language as we know it – that is, as a system of signifiers operating along the twin axes of the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic – is of more recent origin than the switch from oestrus to menses. If anything, the temporal imprint of language probably owes much to an earlier, growing awareness of temporal (sun and moon-related) cycles and changes. The awareness of seasonal change must have contributed too, but without language this would be difficult to register.
    Tasmin – your point about Shlain having laid the groundwork for further research is valid, and we will probably witness further work in this field coming from other writers. Besides, he grants explicitly that what he argues is to a certain extent speculative, because so much of what he’s talking about is lost in the mists of time, and scientists are dependent on, among other things, the molecular-biological analysis of fragments of bone dating back 150 millennia to the dawn of our species. Nevertheless, what he has done here, and very imaginatively, is to come up with an answer, compatible with the principles of evolutionary theory, to the puzzle of humans’ switch to menses at such a tremendous cost to women, given that oestrus seems to work perfectly well for other mammalian species. The complex network of interrelated phenomena that he is able to construct on the basis of his hypothesis, that it happened to save the sapiens line of humans from extinction (with everything else that it involved) is a prodigious feat of scientific thinking and theorizing, even if one is able to formulate critical insights.

  14. Talitha Talitha 5 August 2008

    I do think that Shlain’s “claims” are plausible, but he makes “statements about memory, the evolution of the human brain and the ubiquity of homosexuality that are haphazard at best. Claiming that human females developed a sense of time before males goes against the entire historical and literary record, and goes against common sense too (ancient women did not know about menstruation, as they were virtually always pregnant or lactating and dying at about 30, menstruation and menopause becoming issues only in modern times). Some of his logic may sound dubious, for example, the idea that men wanted children to carry on after their death is a very modern and very Anglo-Saxon idea. In most “primitive” civilizations children are desired because they represent free labour, not necessarily because “they carry my genes”.”

  15. Khotso Daniel Moabi Khotso Daniel Moabi 8 August 2008

    Evolution is at the centre of Dr. Shlain’s thinking. He traces the origins of humans from the biological perspective. Dr. Shlain agrees with the Genesis story that “Eve” was the first to gain ego consciousness.But something inspired him to find out what is going on in “Eve”‘s blood while he was assigned “to monitor each woman’s weight, blood pressure, CBC, and blood-sugar levels.” I think that this is the reason he wanted to deviate from the idea of the “Original Sin”. The professor was probably right when he told him that “Women bleed and men don’t.” Because in his findings he (Shlain) has discovered that women loose a lot of blood, “on average, forty quarts of blood during her lifetime of menses.” I think that he wanted to know what caused that “loss of blood” rather than by mere observation as he suspeted the credibility of the answer he received. And, this led him to his discovery (or even basing himself on other reseachers findings) that there are more other “evolutionary mysteries” that contrubute in loss of blood. He admits that his experience in physiology, anatomy, biochemitry, primatology, evolutionary biology, and archeology have served him “well in researching this book.” Therefore, the book is based on scientific research and theories. As I say that he agrees with the Genesis story about “Eve” which is a myth (or I can say theory) about evolution, he examines and observes how humans behave and do things, even how they think. From these obvious things he observes and examines Gyna sapiens and then engages his scientific knowledge (theory,research and experience). It is obvious that human beings are far more intelligent than any other spieces. From this, he starts examining the brain which helped the hominids to have successfully avoided becoming a big cat’s dinner for a long period ago, as he states. And also,he bases his speculations on how homo sapiens feed, fight, flee, court, mate, and nurturing their offsprings, thereafter he applies a scientific knowledge. In that way Dr. Shlain is able to scrutinize every activity, action on any behaviour as well as biological functions in human body especially women for that matter, therefore, “Iron/Sex” becomes the issue on the table to be discussed. That is why I say that it is obvious that “Women bleed and men don’t”. Then one can speculate that this is so because of this and that, but it becomes more interesing when one applies certain knowledge as he does. In this regard I say that he has not come up with a new thing, he is just like those who speculated the origin of the earth just by observing and examining the human beings. What is important is how one supports his idea and how believable it is.

  16. Khotso Daniel Moabi Khotso Daniel Moabi 27 August 2008

    Contrary to my comments datedAugust 8th, 2008 at 12:51 pm,I wish to comment again.
    Shlain is unorthodox in the best possible way, an original thinker who ignores traditional disciplinary boundaries, as far as Western culture is concerned. Shlain goes deeper in finding facts and discovering existing truths about the human evolution by applying the scientific methods to the phenomenon, by his careful observation as physician and surgeon who specializes in laparoscopy. Following the footsteps of Darwin’s theory of evolution which was described by the so-called moralists as ‘immoral, violent, cruel selfish and the rest of such nonsense’, for the fact that it was not based on the theory of ‘the beginning’ in the Hebrews’ Bible version’s narration of the ‘beginning’.
    Historically, human morality developed in relation to, among other things belief in spirits, or spirit, perhaps gods, or a God (Magee 1997:275). Moreover, Magee says that in the Middle Ages, during which the Christian Church ruled everywhere in alliance with the secular authorities, the entire culture of the West became saturated with Judaeo-Christian beliefs (1997:275). But,
    “by the late nineteenth century most of the educated Westerners had ceased to believe in the existence of gods or spirit. They had been won over to what they took to be a scientific view of the world” (Magee 1997:275).
    Contrary to popular myths about the ‘origin’, Shlain goes further stating that ‘genealogical’ account of the human evolution theory of our descent from early primates is characterized by randomness and ‘natural selection’ which can be traced by the ‘reliability of new science of molecular biology’. He points out that tests in laboratories performed on mitochondrial DNA can accurately measure the genetic variation that exists between members of a species and the differences existing among species. He affirms that the existence of an African Eve is extremely likely, because the genetic material of all humans alive today is eerily similar. On the contrary to the theory of human evolution that traces the Homo sapiens from millions of year ago, Shlain suggests that our species’ birthdate can be calculated backward in tens of thousands of years.
    With a lot of scientific reseaches conducted by him and other reseachers, and his theories including other theories by other theorists, all supported by scientific evidence Dr. Shlain really is believable, as far as our “beliefs” are concernd.

  17. Siobhan Siobhan 7 September 2008

    Bert,

    As ever, a great blog. I am a ‘fan’ of Shlain, Lyall Watson, Capra, and independent scholar/scientists in general. We need them to lift the blinders that orthodoxy imposes on every established discipline. I never wanted to live to any great age but I am glad to have lived long enough to see a scientist validate theories that were current in the early seventies in ‘feminist’ circles. Ashley Montagu’s “The Natural Superiority of Women” (1952; 1969), E. Gould-Davis’ controversial but interesting “The First Sex” (1971), Elaine Morgan’s witty but scientifically well-grounded “The Descent of Woman”, Jean Auel’s brilliant and bio-anthropological novel “Clan of the Cave Bear”, together with a handful of others advanced several of the theories (including the increasing head size of offspring) for which Shlain has provided more detailed and up-to-date scientific evidence. It is particularly gratifying that science supports the findings of social anthropologists whose observations have often been ridiculed or attributed to ‘liberal’ social bias. Biology is hard to argue with.

  18. Bert Bert 8 September 2008

    Siobhan – Glad to know you like Shlain, Lyall Watson and Capra. I assume you know the work of Oliver Sacks, too? These are independent, in may ways, ‘contrary’ thinkers who tend to turn received wisdom on its head, and in the process indicate fresh new directions for thought. My students loved reading Shlain’s ‘Sex, Time and Power’ – they said it was the most unusual course they had done at university (which pleased me no end!).

  19. Siobhan Siobhan 9 September 2008

    Bert,
    Yes, I have read and appreciated Sacks and found in his work parallels with Wilder Penfield’s work on brain damaged (epileptic) patients. Both had the courage to challenge orthodoxy, not for ego validation, but to advance our understanding of both the mechanics of the physical brain and the mysteries of ‘mind’. Each tiny step toward greater understanding of the complexities of consciousness and its expression in human values (ethics, concepts of justice and the rights and responsibilities of citizens, what constitutes ‘civilized’ lfe, etc.) is so precious and so fragile in a hostile environment. The courses you teach, the blogs you write, the articles you publish, protect that delicate network of minds at work for the greater good. Thank you, again, for that.

  20. Corne du Plessis Corne du Plessis 22 September 2008

    Very good article Bert, especially considering how you managed to condense such a, extensive text into a short online blog. I think that the obvious mistake most of the comments contain is the belief that Shlain is presenting his theory as fact. It is a possible hypothesis for the origin of patriarchy, and not the only factor involved either. People who make negative comments about valuable theories such as these are clearly to afraid to accept complexity thinking, and are still stuck in the binary mode of ‘fact or fiction’.

  21. Michael Barker Michael Barker 22 September 2008

    Corne, I think that there is a far simpler reason why many of the past comments are “stuck in the binary mode of ‘fact or fiction'” About half of the comments here were left by the philosophy students who delved into this book in our philosophy of science module. In this module we were taught that scientists try to work with facts and our term essay’s was on answering if Shlain was scientific in writing this book, i.e. if he worked with facts or not.

    Bert, there has been one thing that’s been consistently bugging me in Shlain’s hypothesis. I wanted to include it in my essay, although in all honestly it would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb. I wish it didn’t contrast so strongly with Corne’s post. Nevertheless I will hopefully come back to revise my post once you’ve taught us about complexity thinking.

    Shlain links the freewill that women gained to choose to not have sex gave birth of patriarchy, he says, “ever since (freewill) men have been fighting back to gain what he so emphatically lost”. For men to have lost control they must first have had control over having sex when ever he wanted to. Although it is evident now, Shlain doesn’t ever go into when men developed this need to have sex which proceeds that of the comparatively brief period of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

    I propose that it wasn’t men’s loss of the ability to have sex with a women whenever he desired to, it was the gain of it that initiated patriarchy.

    I would also like to make an addition to Shlain’s hypothesis.

    For men to have made this connection between sex and the pleasures associated with it the brain required developments. Shlain attributes these mental developments to the developments which allowed women to link menses to the lunar cycle, which lead to women understanding time and through time gaining free will. Is it not possible to say when men realised this connection between sex and it’s pleasures that he inadvertently discovered time too? In planning ahead for his next pleasurable experience he had to escape the confinements of the now and think ahead to the future.

    Overall I like to believe Shlain’s connection between menses and time and freewill and patriarchy are true. Although, I don’t think Shlain was constant in showing how he came these conclusions.

    P.S. I touched on the previous comment I left on this page in my essay, although this time I put it in a broader perspective and hopefully this will bring light to it (reading over it now I see it was in desperate need of restating!)

  22. Bert Bert 23 September 2008

    Excellent comments, Corne and Michael! If the effect of writing these little posts for TL continues having this effect on those (relatively few) people willing to think for themselves, the time put into it is well worth it! Siobhan, as usual, you have shown your insight and tremendous breadth of knowledge – TL should give you a blogsite of your own.

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