On the Multi Regional Theory of Human Evolution

Pia Daliana, age 15
On the Multi Regional Theory of Human Evolution

Nowadays, researching is a walk in the park compared to what it used to be like. Instead of having to go all the way to a library to find books with limited information on a subject, the seemingly endless expanse of information on the internet is at our fingertips. However, researching online still can be difficult, especially if you don’t really know what you are doing.

Nowadays, researching is a walk in the park compared to what it used to be like. Instead of having to go all the way to a library to find books with limited information on a subject, the seemingly endless expanse of information on the internet is at our fingertips. However, researching online still can be difficult, especially if you don’t really know what you are doing. A ton of things can go wrong, from using an unreliable source to not being able to access files, to just not asking the right questions. Personally, I think I am decent at finding information online — I generally check the sources I am using and I can make my questions specific enough to get fruitful results — but sometimes, I can get downright stumped on a topic; for example, when I tried to understand the Multiregional Theory of Human Evolution (MRE).

I tried to research MRE to write an essay about it (and, of course, because I was curious to know what it was). I could have chosen literally anything in the world and I decided to choose something that I knew absolutely nothing about. This obviously made the topic all the more irresistible to me, though. I had originally thought about writing the essay on ancient China, as ancient civilizations are just so fascinating. During my research into this topic, I stumbled upon the mention of a small ancient primate found relatively recently in China that gave some evidence for a theory of regional evolution (which could very well be different from MRE), and somehow found that the most interesting factoid in the article (again, probably because I knew nothing about it), after which I decided I would write about this rather than ancient China. I am sure that, even though there would be more articles with more information than MRE, a paper on ancient China would have been very involved and confusing too. The idea of a different theory on the evolution and migration of modern humans was intriguing to me. Of course, I understood that there were multiple theories on the topic (as there are on every topic) but I hadn’t ever explored an alternative to the Out of Africa Theory of Human Evolution (OOA). The OOA was taught at least every year of the three years of middle school, if not more, at the very beginning of the social studies curriculum, and is the generally accepted theory. I find it’s important to keep an open mind to new theories and ideas, as our understanding of the natural world can drastically change at any time. It also allows us to expand our thinking, keeping us away from the mental box that contracts thought saying, “This is the only way.” Keeping an open mind could lead to new, more accurate hypotheses, furthering scientific knowledge in general. Keeping an open mind in everyday life is also important. One must be able to try to understand and accept different viewpoints and opinions, even if they don’t match up with one’s own ideas of the world. Learning about MRE would increase my boundaries of understanding human evolution, and science in general.

Based on my understanding, MRE is an alternative theory to the evolution and migration of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) to the more widely accepted OOA. It originally stated that humans (including archaic, meaning old, hominids and modern humans) did have some common ancestor, but evolution into modern humans existed when they were separated in various regions of the world. In other words, different groups of hominids evolved into modern humans simultaneously. In this theory, Africa had no specific role in human evolution. This theory was revised several times, eventually, agreeing with the Out of Africa Theory that Africa indeed did have an important role in human evolution and that Homo erectus (an earlier version of H. sapiens) evolved in Africa, migrated to various areas of the Earth, and then the various groups evolved into modern humans simultaneously. While OOA has the most support and evidence of these kinds of theories, MRE has an increasing amount of fossil and genomic data as supporting evidence.

Finding this much information was not exceedingly difficult, but diving deeper into the topic proved much harder. The only source that gave extensive information about MRE that I could actually understand was Wikipedia, and that isn’t really a great source. Anyone can post on Wikipedia, and, while it is good for getting the general idea of a topic, it’s not an appropriate source to cite for an essay or project. However, Wikipedia does give a useful place for sources, but those that I found from the multiregional theory page were hard for me to use. Some were books that one had to purchase and look through, some were PDFs with extremely small writing, and some were just too complicated for me to understand. Other sources were limited and were also hard to understand. In addition, I was often unsure if I was reading outdated or untrue information. MRE had been revised several times in the past, and I wasn’t quite sure how the theory had gradually evolved (even though I did know the general starting and ending ideas). I had also read in an article of complaints that science reporters had misinterpreted MRE when it had originally come out, so that furthered my skepticism of the articles I was reading. Because my grasp of the concept was so limited, I couldn’t know if I could trust what I was reading in the articles.

I should have known that attacking this difficult concept would be challenging, possibly too challenging because of the way I attempted to understand it. The easiest way, and possibly the only way, to learn something new and complex is to utilize the ever-useful method of reductionism. Reductionism is basically taking apart a complex idea or machine, learning how the smaller parts work, and then putting the smaller parts together to understand the larger concept/machine. Instead of using this method to understand MRE, I tried to figure it out all at once, which spelled disaster from the very beginning. First, I should have elaborated on what I already was relatively familiar with: OOA. As previously mentioned, this theory is the more accepted theory explaining human evolution and migration and is taught in schools. I would have to understand evolutionary genetics enough to understand the “Mitochondrial Eve,” a common female ancestor of almost all of humanity. She is hypothesized by scientists to understand the similarity of human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). I would have to understand morphological and osteological differences among hominids, primarily between modern humans and other hominids. I would have to understand different archaic and modern hominids (not in very much detail, just what they generally looked like, where they lived, and how they interacted with humans). Of course, to understand all of this I would have to go through more reductionism for each topic, which would take a lot of time and effort. To get a better understanding of what each theory actually is or isn’t, I would have to get at least a basic understanding of multiple theories, including MRE, OOA, the hybridization model, and the assimilation model. To the average onlooker, these models may seem more or less 99% the same, and, to be honest, some of them are very similar. However, even knowing all of these things would not give me all the information there is to know about MRE and other theories on the same topic.

I was unable to understand MRE to the extent that I wanted to, but I don’t regret trying. Staying curious allows one to be open to new ideas, which is beneficial to both the scientific world and the world in general. Gaining knowledge opens us up to more areas of the world and allows us to make connections among things. Being able to properly research something is an important skill that everyone should be able to use, especially in this day and age. In addition to the multitudes of factual information found on the internet, there is probably an equal amount of incorrect information. Knowing when to be skeptical of and when to trust a source prevents one from believing untrue things. From attempting to research MRE, I learned the hard way that you can’t just understand a topic, particularly a hard one, if you don’t know its basics and that you should be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into learning about it.

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