Thoughts & Insights

Walking Upright

All life forms now alive on this planet undergo genetic evolution in the course of millions of years. And no matter how disparate these life forms may be, the pace of change on this development track is excruciatingly slow. Yet when the development of any species is so slow that it fails to keep pace with radically changing environmental conditions, the species is doomed to extinction.

Some 1.8 million years ago the evolutionary history of humankind reached a watershed moment which with hindsight can only be seen as revolutionary. This was the moment when humankind first learnt to stand on its own two feet and walk upright – not for an instant or a short time the way monkeys, bears, cats and horses can still do today when they rear up on their hind legs – but permanently, making the upright bipedal gait an essential human characteristic.


This evolutionary change was indeed revolutionary and from a long term perspective has had consequences that have changed the world. The front legs became arms, the front paws turned into hands. They were no longer needed for forward motion and in their new found freedom were gradually used to solve ever more problems of everyday life on a totally new level of sophistication. Hands and fingers acquired the abilities of precision engineering instruments that with the help of the simplest technical aids could engineer yet more tools. Use of these tools didn’t just make life easier but also marked the beginning of the brain’s development and a cultural line in the history of evolution that even today is unrivalled by any other species.

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The pace of this development has continually accelerated over the course of many thousands of years. Starting out in cycles which stretch for more than a thousand years, today we have reached a pace of cultural development that is so rapid that it far outstrips our ability to perceive, let alone comprehend it.

That a physical mechanical act first led to this momentous watershed in the history of human evolution might seem surprising at first sight. But a second glance reveals that in fact it’s highly probable and this is a view that paleoanthropologists such as Professor Friedemann Schrenk of theSenckenberg Institute in Frankfurt subscribe to with conviction. He discusses his views in the extremely interesting conversation he had with Alexander Kluge and which is now being screened in the 70,000 Years Just Like One Day exhibition at the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum for Film and Television in Berlin. If you haven’t yet seen Professor Schrenk’s encounter with one of OUBEYs paintings, you can view it here.

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Incidentally, this revolutionary step in evolution is now firmly inscribed in the genetic makeup of each and every one of us. Admittedly, hardly any of us can remember the intense feeling of joy of standing upright for the very first time nor the first hesitant, but still independent, steps walking on two feet. But the parents of children aged around one to one and a half years who experience this all important life stage will have an idea of the tremendous changes it signals. Previously unknown energies are liberated with this first elementary step into independence and freedom.2014-04-23_blog62_6


Once a person reaches this decisive moment in their genetic program, nothing within their reach is safe from their inquiring mind. The growth of their (self)awareness is matched only by the development of their ability to learn. What finally emerges from these processes in terms of the individual person is just as open as the final results of human evolution which none of us knows.