Books

Technology

Yesterday I read this extremely interesting article.  The  author Timothy Taylor suggests that human intellectual development is a product of our technological advances – not the other way around.  We didn’t invent new things because we got smarter – we got smarter because the inventions helped us to evolve.   His book is called “The artificial ape”.

Here’s an example given in the article:

… one important development would have been the construction of the first slings for carrying around newborn babies. Without them, women would have expended more biological energy carrying their children in their arms than they would have used on providing them with milk, on lactation. But now, if you had tools to make spears, you could kill animals and remove their skins with the knives you had learned how to make and [from the skins] you could make a sling with which to carry your baby.

The implications of this development were enormous. It meant that babies could continue to develop outside the womb after birth and that their brains could continue to grow. They were not constrained by the size of their mothers’ pelvises and could grow bigger and bigger for years. It gave us scope for intellectual expansion. We could give birth to children who were intellectually underdeveloped but whose brains could continue to develop outside the womb.

We can only infer that, of course. The skins or viscera that might have been used as slings have long since decayed.

In addition, though, tools provided us with the weapons we used to kill animals whose meat provided the protein-rich diets that were necessary for our brains to expand over the eons. Thus technology let loose processes that led to us evolving larger and larger brains. It does not explain why we developed big brains, but it shows how technology created the space in which that expansion could occur.

I think this an enormously interesting idea which seems quite plausible.  I look forward to reading this book.  Coincidentally, later the same day I came across an example of the mayhem which can ensue these days when technology lets us down.

I popped into a shop in Edinburgh’s west end.  It transpired that they had experienced a technological meltdown.  Their computer system was kaput and they had to process all sales manually *gasp*.  This doesn’t sound too bad… until you realise that none of their products were individually priced.  They were all labelled with barcodes of course but these labels didn’t include prices – the shelves showed prices for the benefit of customers but the computer was required to read the price at the till.  The poor girls had to copy out the long barcode numbers for their records then rush off around the store searching out the prices (from the shelves) add them all up then calculate discounts (it was buy 1 get one half price day).  I have to say I was impressed by how well they coped.  The poor dears would have been knackered by the end of the day though.  Good thing they were both young and strong.

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