According to an article in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert (15&22 Aug 2011):
. . . By about 45,000 years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo erectus “spread like many other mammals in the Old World,” [Svante] Paabo [head of the department of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany] told me. “They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.” If the defining characteristic of the modern humans is this sort of Faustian restlessness, then, by Paabo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene. Several times, he told me that he thought it should be possible to identify the basis for this “madness” by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA.
Ironically, in the same issue, there is a discussion of the same subject from a different perspective. According to James Wood, writing a review of the book The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now:
Secular explanations of the world (modern physics, astronomy, evolution) have not made the world less wondrous, and have not undermined the validity or authority of our wonderment . . . The contemporary discourses that trouble [Charles] Taylor seek to explain not the world but our minds. What happens when, say, neuroscience “explains” that our wonderment is merely an evolutionarily determined product of certain processes of our brain? . . But where are we left when evolutionary biology tries to reduce the strong evaluation we make about altruism by claiming that, like all animal behavior, it is just a contrivance that benefits our selfish genes?