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The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution (Macmillan Science) [Hardcover]

Timothy Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Sep 2010 Macmillan Science
A breakthrough theory that tools and technology are the real drivers of human evolution.

Although humans are one of the great apes, along with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, we are remarkably different from them. Unlike our cousins who subsist on raw food, spend their days and nights outdoors, and wear a thick coat of hair, humans are entirely dependent on artificial things, such as clothing, shelter, and the use of tools, and would die in nature without them. Yet, despite our status as the weakest ape, we are the masters of this planet. Given these inherent deficits, how did humans come out on top?

In this fascinating new account of our origins, leading archaeologist Timothy Taylor proposes a new way of thinking about human evolution through our relationship with objects. Drawing on the latest fossil evidence, Taylor argues that at each step of our species' development, humans made choices that caused us to assume greater control of our evolution. Our appropriation of objects allowed us to walk upright, lose our body hair, and grow significantly larger brains. As we push the frontiers of scientific technology, creating prosthetics, intelligent implants, and artificially modified genes, we continue a process that started in the prehistoric past, when we first began to extend our powers through objects.

Weaving together lively discussions of major discoveries of human skeletons and artifacts with a reexamination of Darwin's theory of evolution, Taylor takes us on an exciting and challenging journey that begins to answer the fundamental question about our existence: what makes humans unique, and what does that mean for our future?

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1 edition (2 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230617638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230617636
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 374,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'Taylor is an engaging and entertaining writer...this is a stimulating book...' - Engineering and Technology
'Taylor is a good storyteller.' -Antiquity

Book Description

A new take on the evolutionary story as archaeological evidence unravels the great mystery of why human evolution defies the principles of natural selection

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Timothy Taylor has written a most thought provoking book following on from and in line with the recent publication by Richard Wrangham: Catching Fire how cooking made us human. The central thesis is that the evolution of humans has been dominated by the ability to adopt technology which compared to other species amounts to an artificial selection. Through technology the laws of nature are supplanted by the will of humans. He develops the concept that we did not evolve to use technology because of our superior intelligence but it was technology itself that was the evolutionary pull which we responded to and adapted by evolving our intelligence. This pull selected out the trend/evolution to higher intelligence.
Examples are given which the author concludes launched humans on the technology/evolutionary line some 2.6 Million years ago. These include the making of hunting implements and cooking to become more efficient in the use of food which resulted in more energy becoming available to support the evolution of larger more intelligent brains. In addition, he highlights the less appreciated technology developed to support immature infants by adapting energy efficient means for carrying them such as slings and rucksacks. While the discovery of stone implements which define the technology developed for hunting; arrow heads, axes and implements for cleaving and slicing carcasses, the technology of carry infants would not have been preserved i.e. archeologically invisible.
An illustration on how dependant we are on technology is succinctly given by how far we have lost direct contact with the raw source of our food which is termed "visceral insulation." Getting back to nature is not an option for us as we have never lived with nature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Top purchase. Quick and efficient. 18 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Taylor argues that it was the technology that defined humans and challenges the Darwinian notion by suggesting humanity is the 'survival of the weakest'. Clever, funny, and very accessible.
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3.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING BUT LACKING 5 July 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book presents the hypothesis that tools had and have critical impacts on the evolution of humanity: "instead of our becoming intelligent enough to invent things, the things actually allowed us to evolve into intelligent human beings (page 57)," going even further to claim that "Technology is at least as critical to our identity as out soft tissues" (page 189). Going beyond accepted theories of genetic and cultural coevolution, the author proposed revisions of Darwin's theories so as to recognize tools into a main shaper of the human species, with technology having a dynamics of its own, up to claiming that "Things rule us" (page 160).
He makes a strong case about the crucial importance of tools in shaping human evolution. Indeed, we might do well to stop using the term genetic-cultural coevolution and think instead in terms of genetic-cultural synergetic interaction. But there are two main missing links in his argumentation. First of all, the book does not present any reasonable conjectures on the processes producing the results he describes. Thus, on the critical example of infant-carrying slings he says that they were "an essential tool" (page 122) because of the need to carry infants for long distances "So the pressure to make this huge...It becomes conceivable that the first bestoke and standardized stone tools...were made in order to obtain the materials for... the simple fabrication process for basic slings" (page 123). Maybe this is conceivable, but "being conceivable" is a far cry from "being likely" even if we accept abduction as a reasonable logic of discovery.
The second missing link concerns the mental bases of advanced technologies, which are not a continuation of stone-age technologies but depend on science and its philosophical underpinnings.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Taken over by technology 15 Jun 2011
The headline in this book arrives six pages before the end: it is the theory that the invention of the baby-carrying sling allowed humans to evolve from woodland apes two million years ago. The sling would have solved the problem of how a bipedal species with a narrow pelvis and constricted birth canal could dramatically increase its brain size. The solution was to allow the infants to be born prematurely when the head was just small enough to pass but too big to support itself unaided. For the parent to remain productive while raising an infant, technology was needed to carry it - an artificial marsupial pouch. Ever since then, says the author, humans have been completely dependent on technology to the point where it "has taken a leading role in evolution" (p 194) by separating us from our environment.

The author sees Tasmania as a test case for his theory. According to previous accounts, the aboriginal inhabitants lost their technology after they were cut off from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. The explanation for this has been that skills were forgotten because the Tasmanians did not have enough neighbours to refresh them. The author sees this as a challenge because if our minds evolved to invent technology, why could we not reinvent it? He argues very persuasively that the Tasmanians remained totally dependent on technology, that reports of their backsliding were exaggerated, and that a reduced toolkit was sensible and comparable to that of other groups in analogous situations. His evidence does not seem to me to undermine the theory that larger populations are more technologically innovative, in fact it enriches it. The Tasmanians had ideas that might have helped some mainlanders too.
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