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4.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking book on how technology was the drive for the evolution of human intelligence, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
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.
A common theme of the book is how humans evolved the large head in response to the technology pull. Since ever increasing brains could not pass through the restricted size of the pelvis of the erect posture humans, human brains had to mature outside the womb. Through technology, humans developed the means to support immature infants and effectively became artificial marsupials.
Taylor stresses that technology is as least as critical to us as our soft tissues and that we are formed not by raw nature, but by the continually emerging world of technology and that artificial intelligence is human intelligence. We have to face our destiny as the first non-biologically evolving species.
The book is very thought provoking in that if any one of us spent some time musing on how our lives are so dependent on technology our artificiality becomes immediately evident. Hence there is lots of scope to reconsider the more linear Darwinian thinking of survival of the fittest since through adapting technology we became less fit. For example the bone structures of early humanoids are much more robust than those of today.
Taylor gives a number of convincing examples of his central thesis but one was left with wanting more evidence to push home such thought provoking themes. If anything the author digresses somewhat both philosophically and through narrating his personal experiences. This tends to hinder the reader from evolving his or her summery of the main message. Never the less one is sure that many other works will follow on from this ground breaking account of the artificial ape.
On further reflection I feel that it may not have been intelligence that was brought by technology but curiosity- how to make things better. Maybe a book could be written about the evolution of curiosity which although not absent in other species is a key driver in homo sapiens.
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