The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution (Anglais) Relié – 2 septembre 2010
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One of the enduring mysteries of human origins is how our ancestors separated from the other great apes and set out on a different evolutionary path: they began to walk upright, lost their body hair, and grew significantly larger brains. These new physical traits changed us so much that we could no longer exist in the wild with our primate cousins without special protection. While Darwin's theory explains our common descent, scientists are grappling with the reasons why human evolution defies the principles of natural selection and why, although we dominate the planet, we have become the weakest ape. In this fascinating narrative, leading archeologist Timothy Taylor proposes that it was our early adoption of tools, objects, and, now, technology that changed us, demonstrating how:
* Baby slings made out of animal fur freed up our arms up to use tools
* Clothes kept us warm reducing our need for body hair
* Shelter protected us from the elements and led our bodies to become slighter and physically weaker
* Fire enabled us to cook which changed the make up of our stomachs
Drawing on the latest fossil evidence Taylor argues, that every step of the way, humans made choices that assumed greater control over their own evolution. This is a process that continues today as we push the frontiers of scientific technology, creating prosthetics and implants that integrate seamlessly into our bodies creating a new form of artificial humans.
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Pourtant ce livre dit bien davantage. Faire comprendre que l'évolution humaine n'est probablement pas darwinienne, même si le processus est bien conforme à l'algorithme darwinien, est d'autant plus remarquable que l'auteur le réalise en un texte à la fois court, dense, bien écrit, et riche en anecdotes.
Ce n'est pas l'homme qui a inventé la technique mais la technique initiale certes inventée par l'australopithèque qui a créé les conditions de sélection artificielle qui ont produit l'homme. Bref l'invention initiale de la pierre taillée puis du process alimentaire, voire de la cuisine, associée à celle du porte-bébé, voilà ce qui aurait permis l'émergence d'homo erectus, puis des espèces suivantes. L'homme est issu d'une sélection artificielle, et c'est une sorte de clin d'oeil à Darwin, lui qui avait étudié la sélection artificielle avant de construire sa théorie. Car si l'homme se met en situation d'être sélectionné par l'environnement qu'il construit, il impose cette règle aussi aux vivants qu'il domine. Il invente la sélection du moins apte...
Tout simplement stimulant.
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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 discovery....is 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. In other words, the author neglects non-material dimensions of culture which became critical both for the shapes of human societies and their impacts on evolution and for the advancements of technologies and their impacts on culture and humanity. Therefore, it is hard to avoid the impression that too large a dose of materialistic determinism hides in parts of the author's approach.
For sure the author ignores the real possibility that the future-impacting powers of emerging technologies outrun the mental capacities of humanity to control these powers and prevent the demise of the human species as a result of misuses of technologies. In other words, the likelihood of increasingly dangerous gaps between the evolution of tools and the evolution of human intelligence, including both moral and cognitive capacities, is not taken up in the book. Instead the mood of the book is unwarrantedly optimistic about the future of humanity ignoring dismal scenarios that may result from the very views on the role of tools in human evolution which he proposes. Thus, the possible need to impose limitations on the invention and uses of technologies seems to be beyond the books horizons.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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.
The book has copious and detailed descriptions of archaeological finds to justify the argument that we have long been dependent on technology. Whether the author succeeds in showing that our use of technology amounts to `artificial selection' displacing `natural selection' (p. 28), that `survival of the fittest' does not apply to humans and that `Darwin was fundamentally wrong about evolution's causes' (p. 7) depends on his definition of terms. His sample definition of `fitness' (p. 28) as `the ability to adapt to one's environment' is quite original. He could have made a better case for technology causing artificial selection by pointing out that stone weapons made it possible for the weaklings to regularly cull any would-be alpha males. This would explain the disappearance of violent ape dominance behaviour from our species.
The author makes it clear that his book aims to answer the key question of `how' humans managed to increase brain size (the baby sling), not `why' (p. 29). He briefly mentions some explanations of `why'. The `standard answer' (social organisation) he dismisses as a theory that the larger brain `made us more similar to what we were to become' (p. 69). He is surprised that our brain has grown so big, given that it now far outranks the competition (p. 189). If a cheetah were to improve its speed as much as we have improved our brain, says Taylor, it would be capable of 200 miles an hour when the top speed of its prey is only 50. He does not examine whether we faced greater challenges than today in our period of brain evolution that might have justified its expansion. He mentions another theory: that the size increase was driven by technological warfare. This is in line with his final conclusion: `technology, within a framework of 2 to 3 million years, has, physically and mentally, made us. We long ago began adapting our minds and bodies to a hidden agenda. The result is a new, symbiont form of life - one that breaks all the rules' (p. 198). This sounds like the epidemiological theory of culture that holds that we've been `taken over' by it, except that technology would have begun the takeover ten times as long ago.