Exploring the human evolution and a further step on the contemporary technology
It might not be a bad idea to start with the 5 hypotheses for what set the stage for modern human behavior listed in Kate Wong’s article this week: Symbolism, Ecological disaster, projectile technology, population growth and brain mutation (Wong, 2005, p.89). Among these hypotheses, though not mutually exclusive, one that most likely to elicit advanced cultural behaviors, according to McBrearty, is increased population size where limited resources forced a competition where cleverer ways to obtain resources need to be created. Besides, growing population increase the possibilities where individuals then encountered among groups (Wong, 2005, p.94).
Nevertheless, if these two changes above are doom to happen because of the population growth, and given that the population of some other primate relatives is comparable to our ancestor, does this indicate that they are also going to have the modern behavior as we do? Unfortunately, human beings seem to be the only species that is having this so called modern behavior. If we call the distinctions social factors, which J. C. Barrett mentioned in the example that earlier humans’ idea of burial, compared to what chimpanzees react to the death of their friends, is different in the idea of caching the death which indicates the social factors in their group (Barrett, 2013, p.12).
But the question seems still unsolved. What, after all, make these social factors happen? I would start with every individual in those groups, which drives me to think about the difference between human beings and other primate relatives or animals. While Dubreuil points out such distinction can be explained by human’s cognitive commitment that brings together interest of wider good, this argument is later challenged by the social brain hypothesis which, in an anatomical way, argues that the increase of social complexity would drive the brain development (Barrett, 2013, p.9-10). While there is no absolute judgement, we can still see the mutual interaction between brain and social factors. Simultaneously, this could lead us to think about human brain, mind and consciousness. The other concept Barrett mentions is human consciousness rest upon recognition of the other (Barrett, 2013, p.11). For me this concept is more philosophical where Hegel mentioned a lot in his master and slave dialectic about how one manages to fight for the recognition to become a human being and thus gain self-consciousness (Kojeve, 1969, p.63). But if we consider in a more anatomical, or biological way, the Darwinian narrative which tends to attribute those intelligence behaviors of human beings in a genetic way where natural selection enables those who are more adaptive to pass their gene to the next generation (Barrett, 2013, p.8). Barrett partly agrees with this viewpoint whilst he is suspect of the reduction where every behavior of the organism is solely and fully determined by its genetic inheritance (p.8). Rather, he brings the importance of individual’s disclosure of the sense of the world. Culture as both an input into our information processing channel and an output seems to be important here.
In Donald’s article, he points out that the cognitive development of human beings depends upon their links with culture, cultural network harness the cognitive resources of many individuals (Donald, 2007, p.219-220). Renfrew organizes Donald’s theory into three transitions within four phases (i.e. Episode culture, Mimetic culture, Linguistic or mythic culture, theoretic culture) and slightly challenges his viewpoint by adding material world as an important factor through the evolution where he adds External Symbolic Storage between linguistic culture and theoretic culture (to be sure, he clears that the phases are not simply sequential) (Renfrew, 1999, p.2-4). Here we can see how a great match comes here if we look back on Wong’s list of 5 hypothesis: the first hypothesis, i.e. the Symbolism, indicates that the invention of external storage of information (including jewelry, art, language and tools), was the watershed event in modern behavioral evolution (Wong, 2005, p.94).
The other interesting point about the evolution is the linguistic culture where word, language has been considered a crucial point to distinct human beings with other species. Tools (including language), according to Cole, are in turn reacting on the development on human psychological processes (Cole, 1996, p.108). The conceptual tools serve as a mediation which allows human beings, unlike animals, to imagine objects they might not directly perceiving, which, therefore, indicates that human beings are able to live in a two-dimensional world while there is only one-dimension for other animals (Cole, 1996, p.120). Besides, words also break the barrier exists in the oral culture where memory are hard to fully stored due to biological limitation. While culture mediation implies a mode of development change in which the activities of prior generations are cumulated in the present as the specifically human part of the environment, a complete storage counts a lot for culture mediation (Cole, 1996, p.145). This reminds me of the most efficient storage tool today: the computer. Or to be sure, the best collaboration: a computer (as a server) and the internet, which in other word, is the cloud storage today. With the help of computer and internet, one can retrieve the data, or the information dating back to 10,000 years ago just in a second. Further, it’s much faster as well as being able to save a lot of human resources than the words on non-electrical devices. In a case that leads to the treaty of the Right to be Forgotten in EU, there was a Spanish lawyer who request his embarrassing record to be deleted so that people won’t find this information quickly on search engine, the court finally require the search engine to delete the relevant data, however, the newspaper 10 years ago which also contain the embarrassing record were not asked to make any action eventually (Posner, n.d.). The reason seems obvious: No one would border to jump into the heaps of old papers to find the information 10 years ago. Therefore, it might not be a bad idea to see the combination of computer and internet as a great fuel of culture mediation today.
There is still, obviously some discussion about the exploration of brain and mind which Barrett mentions with bringing two propositions. Another spotlight here is the discussion about the modularity of the brain which resembles our concept today of computers. One thing that is thought-provoking is that the modularity indicates a brain-plus facility where there the modules of the brain are domain-specific (Barrett, 2013, p.3). These might also lead us to further think of AI nowadays. While most computers are still automatic, an autonomous AI’s development, might need to refer to this concept as well.
- Barret, J. C. (2013). The Archaeology of Mind: It’s Not What You Think. Cambridge Archaeological. 23(01).
- Cole, M. (1996). On Cognitive Artifacts. Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Donald, M. (2007). Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain. Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition. Amsterdam: Rodophi.
- Kojeve, A. (1969). Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology.
- Renfrew, C. (1999). Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage. Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage. Cambridge. UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
- Posner, E. (n.d.). We all have the Right to be Forgotten. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/hang_up_and_listen/2018/01/michigan_state_the_australian_open_and_the_nba_s_all_star_draft.html
- Wong, K. (2005, June). The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture. United States: Scientific American.