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Birth, “Intelligence,” and Culture … Out of Eden, Part Three: Birth Pain Causes a Feverish Human Mind, Struggling Against Nature and the Divine, Which We Call “Intelligence”


Bipedalism Caused Painful Births, Which Caused Bigger Brains, Which Caused “Intelligence,” Which Caused Culture: Birth Trauma Makes Us Humans … and Mistrustful of Everything


The more civilized the people, the more the pain of labor appears to become intensified. – Grantly Dick-Read, M.D. Childbirth Without Fear.

Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head. – Unknown

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16


Basic Trust, Basic Mistrust, and Birth

As I have said the worldview of our hominid and hunter-gatherer existences was trusting of Nature. The world is felt to be good, not antagonistic, so dependence on it is not seen as a problem and makes life overall easier than what we know beginning with the agrarian revolution and the rise of “civilization.” Our primal forebears had a “basic trust” in regards to Nature.

Mbuti Pygmies at a forest hunting camp.

But the agrarian revolution and all “advances” after that imply a “basic mistrust.” What happened to make us more fearful, more anxious about our human condition?


These differences of basic trust versus basic mistrust are fascinating considering their possible relation to birth trauma.

Our Experience of Birth Determines Ever Afterward Our View of the World

Erik Erikson proposes that the earliest relation of the infant with the mother sets the foundation of the later attitude toward the world. A caring, sensitive, and responsive environmental and caretaker response, in particular, the mother’s, can be the basis for an attitude of basic trust toward the world … a fundamental faith in its goodness. While a harsh and insensitive early experience — wherein the child begins to feel it cannot get its needs met — becomes the basis for a feeling of unshakeable mistrust toward the world.


However, with our understanding of the influence of our first experiences of the world — that is, postnatally, usually in a delivery room and hospital nursery — on our basic attitudes toward it, we realize that these fundamental orientations are formed much earlier. Importantly, birth is a huge influence on that primary stance of trust or mistrust. First impressions are hard to overcome, as they say. Sure enough, if the first encounter with the world outside the womb … immediately after birth … is painful, and characterized by harshness, insensitivity, and unresponsiveness to one’s needs, then the infant comes to view the world mistrustfully and feels it to be a hostile place. [See Leboyer, Birth Without Violence, 1975].


What also of the pain of birth itself in setting up an attitude of trust toward the world or mistrust of it? The cold, hard fact is that our experience of our birth — that is, the amount of pain and discomfort we experience in the process of delivery as well as those first crucial moments and hours of our “introductory” experience of the world outside the womb — determine ever afterward in our lives the degree of positivity or negativity with which we will view the world and other people. [See, also, Janov, Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience , 1984]


And this is where it gets interesting in seeing how we became humans and different from all other species.

Skull Size, Pelvic Size, and Birth Pain

In this regard, it is interesting to note biological anthropologist Jim Moore’s (1987) comments in a talk given at the University of California, San Diego, concerning pelvic size, birth, and secondary altriciality. Jim Moore pointed out that the paleontological evidence from the bone records of our hominid line show several fascinating developments occurring simultaneously and over the course of millions of years. We are going back as long as six to seven millions here. One is an increase in skull size. Another is a decrease in the size of pelvic bones, which occurs alongside and is a consequence of our gradual evolution to bipedalism from being, like our primate relatives, quadrupeds. [Footnote 1]


Most folks know about the increase of skull size that occurred over the course of our evolution. However, what is only rarely considered is what effect this increase has on the process of birth. Nor has this been laid alongside the other factor of reduced pelvic size. But doing so leads to some fascinating conclusions.


To begin, it is reasonable to suppose that this increased skull, and brain, size in hominids contributed greatly to birth pain, for both mother and infant. This is so for the obvious reason that the size of the head is the determining factor in the size of the vaginal opening required for delivery. That is, because skull bone is mostly unyielding when pressured from outside, its diameter must be less than or equal to the maximum diameter of the vaginal opening through which it must pass at birth. If the skull is too big for the opening, the child simply cannot get out. And the factor that most determines the maximum diameter of the vaginal opening is the configuration of the bones, especially pelvic bones, that are involved.


Keep in mind that this kind of birth pain would not have occurred when the skull was smaller. A smaller head would pass, in general, with considerably more ease for infant and mother. In support of this we note that this is exactly the case for all our primate relatives, all of whom have proportionately smaller skulls. Note they also have larger, wider pelvises, proportionally, than us, and thus pelvic openings at birth time. Correspondingly, they do show observably much less difficulty and pain in birth, for both mother and newborn. So, along with this trend to increasing skull size in humans and reduced pelvic size we can surmise a corresponding trend to increasing birth pain, birth difficulties, and, consequently, increasing birth trauma for hominid newborns. [See Footnote 2]


The Vicious Cycle of Skull Size and Birth Pain

Brain Size and Primal Pain: Brain Size Related to Degree of Unconscious Pain Needing to Be Repressed

About this factor of birth trauma, keep in mind that it is demonstrated neurophysiologically (Janov, 1971) that much of the increased brain size in humans is tied up with processing unconscious pain. That is to say, that we require the expanded capabilities inherent in neocortical expansion and larger brains to keep traumatic experiences repressed. A bigger brain is needed to keep our primal pain from overwhelming us.


Bipedalism –> Narrower Pelvic Opening –> Birth Pain –> Increased Brain Size –> Increased Skull Size –> Birth Pain

What I am saying is that increased brain size and painful birth become, then, phylogenetically linked in a vicious cycle — one producing the other. Said another way, over the course of millions of years skull size and birth pain increased each other: Greater pain in birth requires, later on, greater repression of pain in order to survive, which leads to the development of greater neocortical capacities for processing and keeping that pain repressed. This leads to actual physical neocortical expansion, which results in greater skull size. Then, that bigger head causes greater pain in childbirth for both mother and infant. This increased birth pain causes greater birth trauma in neonates. And finally, this birth trauma leads to greater repression of pain, then, to expanded brain size, then, increased birth pain, birth trauma, a need for more repression … round and round and round again. And this goes on imperceptibly over an extremely long time in the course of our evolution.


But keep in mind, also, that this is a chicken-and-the-egg correlation. There is no way of knowing what came first. Whether changes in skull size and expanded neocortical capacity (as for example, in the development of tool use), or greater repression of feelings and pain (possible as a consequence of increased social behavior, requiring increased repression/ control of individual behaviors), or increased birth trauma (either on its own, for some unknown reason, or more likely because of skeletal changes occurring through increasing bipedal locomotion and upright posture) came first is irrelevant. These are mutually arising causative factors. It is enough that we notice their interrelationship.


Birth Pain Makes Us Humans

Birth Pain Caused the Feverish Minds of Humans, Which We Call Intelligence

To continue, remember that what is universally acknowledged to distinguish humans from other species is our intelligence and the elaboration of culture that comes from that. But with the understanding of skull size, birth, and repression described above, we see these much-touted distinctions and claims to superiority to be merely the byproduct of our neocortical attempts to deal with unconscious pain, specifically, that of birth trauma.

pepper spray charles frith

Birth pain caused the feverish minds of humans, which we call our intelligence. “We ain’t born typical,” as The Kills phrased it. And those spinning excess wheels of mental fibrillation, driven by human birth trauma, are the gears in the machine of our manic material culture.


Continue with Why We Can’t Get No Satisfaction and What It Has to Do With Being Born Helpless: Out of Eden, Part Four — Secondary Altriciality and the Origins of Culture

Return to We Once Had the Run of the Forest and the “Original Affluent Society”: Early Human Savagery Is a Patriarchal Myth Rationalizing Our Descent Into Civilization


1. On bipedalism and pelvic bone changes, at “Wanna Be an Anthropologist“:

Bipedal Adaptations in the Hominid Pelvis


Two major features are unique to humans among all the living primates: A very large brain, and moving about upright on two legs exclusively. One of these, bipedalism, appeared long before the other. Many anatomical features of Australopithecus afarensis anatomy demonstrate habitual bipedal locomotion, and the 3.6 million-year-old footprints discovered by Paul Abell at Laetoli in 1978 confirm it unequivocally (White, 1980). Not until the appearance of Homo erectus, some 1.7 million years later, could hominids be considered on their way to being large-brained (Stanford, et al., 2006).

While certain adaptations seen in the knee (e.g. the valgus angle), in the foot (such as a fully adducted hallux), and to a lesser extent in the cranium (a fully inferior foramen magnum) are all strong indicators for bipedalism (Lewin and Foley, 2004), the most interesting evolutionary changes necessary for upright posture occurred in the hominid pelvis. All of these adaptations are present not only in the pelves of modern humans, but also in all members of the Genus Homo, and in the earliest known hominids, the Australopithecines.


The hominid pelvis displays many unique features (when compared to that of quadrupedal primates) that support bipedalism. The major adaptations are seen in the sacrum and the ilia, as well as in the overall configuration and orientation of the pelvic bones….

2. On brain size and secondary altriciality in humans at Human Development:

Human babies enter the birth canal from the womb in the same way a chimp does but just before the actual birth the skull rotates 90 degrees in order to exit the rounded birth canal that humans have evolved. In Homo Sapiens, evolution reached a compromise that favored even bigger brains at a further cost to birthing and efficient walking. The Homo Erectus pelvis was very narrow. Humans are unique among mammals in the extent to which the brain keeps growing well after birth. The scientific terms for this is secondary altriciality. It involves accelerating the birthing process and arresting the development until after birth. Monkeys and apes are born with brains half as heavy as they will ever be. A chimpanzee brain, for example, will weigh perhaps 7 ounces at birth and about 14 ounces as an adult. Human brains are about a third of their final size in newborns; they more than double in size in the first year after birth. On average, human babies are born with a brain that weighs 14 ounces but reaches 35 ounces in one year. It will continue to grow until it reaches about 45 ounces in size (at age 6 or 7).

Gestation in humans should be about 21 months rather than the normal 9 we think in terms of. This is the process of accelerating the birthing process to enable the enlarged brain to escape the birth canal. Development of the brain then continues external to the womb for well over the first several years. What this intense development means is that a human infant is born relatively helpless. A baby can neither stand up or in any way fend for itself for a long time. Stephen Jay Gould has written our sexual maturation comes almost absurdly late in a Darwinian world supposedly regulated by a constant struggle to secure reproductive success and pass more genes along to future generations….slower development must provide some power advantage to evolve, in the face of its obvious drawbacks. In fact, must of what makes us human in the end may stem from this unnaturally long period of helplessness in the very early part of our lives.

nariok 1

anriok- 2

3. On prolonged postnatal brain growth at Unique to Humans

This is one of the most dramatic distinction between humans and other mammals (including primates). In all precocial mammals other than humans, at around the time of birth there is distinct slowing down in brain growth relative to body growth. In altricial mammals, the switch to diminished brain growth occurs at a developmental stage comparable to birth in precocial mammals. In humans, substantial brain growth relative to body growth continues for approximately a year after birth before a marked slow-down occurs. Because of this human neonates are unusually dependent on parental care in comparison with other primates for the first year of postnatal life, and sometimes labeled as “secondary altricial”.
Martin RD. The evolution of human reproduction: a primatological perspective.
Am J Phys Anthropol. 2007;Suppl 45:59-84.

And on postnatal brain growth at The Rise of Homo sapiens: The Evolution of Modern Thinking:





Continue with Why We Can’t Get No Satisfaction and What It Has to Do With Being Born Helpless: Out of Eden, Part Four — Secondary Altriciality and the Origins of Culture

Return to We Once Had the Run of the Forest and the “Original Affluent Society”: Early Human Savagery Is a Patriarchal Myth Rationalizing Our Descent Into Civilization

For an Overview and Links to Other Parts of This Work-in-Progress, Go to Prodigal Human: The Descent of Man

Falls from Grace: The Devolution and Revolution of Consciousness Michael’s latest book – is now available in print and e-book formats.


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Primal Peoples Had a Nobleness We Don’t Know: Civilization, Culture, and the History of Our Falls from Grace in Nature … Return to Grace, Part One — Can It Be Otherwise?


Yes, We Can Improve the Human Condition … and We Have: The Necessary Wound … We Should Make It Better


History of Falls from Grace

In two other works, The Great Reveal and Primal Return, I have delineated what I believe are some of the factors in creating the present state of consciousness as described as being the endpoint of the process of devolution in the last chapter. I trace it back millions of years to bipedal locomotion, an increasing skull size, greater pain in childbirth, increased psychological repression, changes in pelvic size in the female, the forces of natural selection on the length of gestation, comparative prematurity of human newborns, secondary altriciality, increased pain in infancy and birth for humans, increased repression, increased neocortical capacities, the beginnings of culture, and increased skull size again. I also trace this current patriarchal pathology back thousands of years to the “agrarian revolution” and the rejection of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Civilization, Culture, and the Falls

So obviously I do not believe that this condition was always the case for us. However, it goes back rather far in our line to the beginnings of our hominid existence. And its more extreme form seems only to have come into existence within the last 10,000 years, and only then for part of the population. It follows also, since I have claimed that it is more characteristic of “civilized” cultures, that I don’t believe that its extreme form is as prevalent in “simpler” cultures, specifically, hunter-gatherer ones. And I should mention that even among hunter-gatherers there is quite a bit of variety in the degree of severity of this expulsion from paradise.

The reason for the disparities between cultures, as can be derived from the model I have constructed, has to do with the fact that we all, by virtue of being human, are in a separated state relative to the Divine. We have all come into form, to put it bluntly. Beyond that, we all have some amount of trauma from birth. If nothing else, the separation from the mother represents enough trauma for a secondary duality to occur there; but there is almost always much more than that occurring in the womb or around birth to create a further separated, further removed condition.

So by reason of these species-specific factors, all peoples and all cultures attempt to work out their situation “in darkness” as to the real causes of things, oblivious of the motives behind at least some of their actions, and, in sum, liable to error. Hence, any culture, any people is capable of creating cultural and social constructions that increase, or decrease, the amount of repression and fearfulness that already exists as part of the human condition.

Primal People

Thus, we can only say that in general hunter-gatherers are less repressed, less anxious, less “devolved,” and so on, than are people from agrarian or industrial cultures. Cultures have taken somewhat different paths, even hunter-gatherer ones (cf. Gregor, 1985; and Turnbull, 1972). But generalities have their uses, and the evidence appears overwhelming that simpler lifestyles are correlated with radically different, more humane attitudes and behaviors toward children, toward other human beings, and toward Nature in general—characterizing a less split-off state. (cf. Bird-David, 1992; French, 1985; Lawlor, 1991; Liedloff, 1977; Sahlins, 1972; Turnbull, 1961; and van der Post, 1986).


The Necessary Wound?

Also, this analysis does not take into account any metaphysical or theological perspectives on the opportunities or, dare I say, “benefits” of a separated state, a more dismal and painful human condition. There are those who claim that this “wounding” is a necessary prerequisite to truly human compassion and empathy. Muller (1992) has said that the painful and traumatic human condition … and he is speaking particularly of that produced in childhood … represents our unique opportunity … he even uses the term advantage.

Still, hunter-gatherers don’t seem to be any the less compassionate or empathetic; indeed, the opposite of that is most often asserted about them. So one must conclude that there is no reason to go back to the poisonous pedagogical traditions which enjoined that sparing the rod would spoil the child, or to Christian, especially Catholic, ones that routed the roadways to heaven through valleys of torture (to which I can personally attest).

We Should Make It Better

It would seem, to the extent we are able, that we should do all in our power to minimize this devolutional pull on consciousness, to do all in our power to minimize the separation from the source of our true identity, our knowing, our power and joy; to do all in our power to maximize the chances for future generations, as well as ourselves, to live in the nobleness, strength, at-home-ness, and glow of divinity that characterizes our species at its best. I am sure, given that, that there would still be enough “darkness” hereabouts—within our still-separated state—to go around, providing more than enough “opportunities” and “advantages” for any other ends God might have in mind for us.

Can We Make It Better?

So, then, the question still remaining is, can it be otherwise? Can we make it better? Can we improve the human condition? Looking cross-culturally, the answer would appear to be absolutely in the affirmative (Lyn-Piluso & Lyn-Piluso, 1994). From the perspective of the new experiential psychotherapies, ditto. From the viewpoint of conscious and responsible conception (Baker, 1986) and loving and welcoming gestation (Verny, 1981), without a doubt. And from that of humane and natural birthing procedures (Leboyer, 1975); sensitive, physical, and loving infant care (Liedloff, 1977); and flexible, attentive, and accepting child care-giving (Mahler et al, 1975; Sroufe et al, 1992); a resounding yes!

So let us look now at some of the evidence for a more fortunate and favorable human condition and some of the factors correlated with it. With those in mind, we can envision the more natural self.

Continue with Changing the Human Condition Starts with Birth: The Most Precocious, Brilliant, and Advanced Children Were Treated Differently as Newborns

Return to Resistance Is Futile … One Doesn’t Have One’s Own Mind … One Takes Up the “Mind” of the “Collective”: The Fourth Fall From Grace — Rites of Passage, Becoming “Adult”

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Continue with Changing the Human Condition Starts with Birth: The Most Precocious, Brilliant, and Advanced Children Were Treated Differently as Newborns

Return to Resistance Is Futile … One Doesn’t Have One’s Own Mind … One Takes Up the “Mind” of the “Collective”: The Fourth Fall From Grace — Rites of Passage, Becoming “Adult”

To Read the Entire Book … on-line, free at this time … of which this is an excerpt, Go to Falls from Grace

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