Sunday, June 26, 2011

Teachers Are Us

It's nearly 2AM here in Missouri and I'm on vacation. I thought I'd have a better chance to write something up but, like on so many occasions, life intervened. Even so, a couple of things have crossed my desk recently that deserve comment. I only have the cognitive power to talk about one of them and then only briefly.

I spoke a while back on the cognitive leap that signifies modern humanity. (See here.) There have been a lot of thought about the physiological evolution of human cognition. But I've been thinking for a while now it was an idea that got us started and not some magical genetic change.

For the first 120k years or so Homo sapiens sapiens was a round we pretty much did as we always did: hunt, eat and reproduce. Then, around 80k years ago things started popping. This is, of course, open to discussion. Some authorities have suggested it was a gradual thing that happened. Others think it was more dramatic.

Then, about 80k years ago, we changed our tool kit to more complex stone tools-- flaked stone tools and the like. Researchers at Lund University, in Sweden, have analyzed the cultural requirements to maintain that level of technology: finding of materials, trade for the materials, retention of the skills, teaching of those skills, etc.

They suggest that to maintain these skills required significant cultural advancement. Imagine a genius figuring this out and then the tribe getting behind it. Evolution takes advantage of what's there and by that principle the rudiments of culture had to have been in existence to be selected and modified by both cultural evolution and physiological evolution.

Not only did we make our tools, our tools made us. (Article here.)

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