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Todd Suomela

The Technium: The World Without Technology - 0 views

  • Although strictly speaking simple tools are a type of technology made by one person, we tend to think of technology as something much more complicated. But in fact technology is anything designed by a mind. Technology includes not only nuclear reactors and genetically modified crops, but also bows and arrows, hide tanning techniques, fire starters, and domesticated crops. Technology also includes intangible inventions such as calendars, mathematics, software, law, and writing, as these too derive from our heads. But technology also must include birds' nests and beaver dams since these too are the work of brains.

    All technology, both the chimp's termite fishing spear and the human's fishing spear, the beaver's dam and the human's dam, the warbler's hanging basket and the human's hanging basket, the leafcutter ant's garden and the human's garden, are all fundamentally natural. We tend to isolate human-made technology from nature, even to the point of thinking of it as anti-nature, only because it has grown to rival the impact and power of its home. But in its origins and fundamentals a tool is as natural as our life.

  • The gravity of technology holds us where we are. We accept our attachment. But to really appreciate the effects of technology – both its virtues and costs -- we need to examine the world of humans before technology. What were our lives like without inventions? For that we need to peek back into the Paleolithic era when technology was scarce and humans lived primarily surrounded by things they did not make. We can also examine the remaining contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes still living close to nature to measure what, if anything, they gain from the small amount of technology they use.
  • Then about 50,000 years ago something amazing happened. While the bodies of early humans in Africa remained unchanged, their genes and minds shifted noticeably. For the first time hominins were full of ideas and innovation. These newly vitalized modern humans, which we now call Sapiens, charged into new regions beyond their ancestral homes in eastern Africa. They fanned out from the grasslands and in a relatively brief burst exploded from a few tens of thousands in Africa to an estimated 8 million worldwide just before the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
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  • It should have been clear to Neanderthal, as it is now clear to us in the 21st century, that something new and big had appeared -- a new biological and geological force. A number of scientists (Richard Klein, Ian Tattersall, William Calvin, among many others) think that the "something" that happened 50,000 years ago was the invention of language. Up until this point, humanoids were smart. They could make crude tools in a hit or miss way and handle fire – perhaps like an exceedingly smart chimp. The African hominin's growing brain size and physical stature had leveled off its increase, but evolution continued inside the brain.  "What happened 50,000 years ago," says Klein, "was a change in the operating system of humans. Perhaps a point mutation effected the way the brain is wired that allowed languages, as we understand language today: rapidly produced, articulate speech."  Instead of acquiring a larger brain, as the Neanderthal and Erectus did, Sapien gained a rewired brain.  Language altered the Neanderthal-type mind, and allowed Sapien minds for the first time to invent with purpose and deliberation. Philosopher Daniel Dennet crows in elegant language: "There is no step more uplifting, more momentous in the history of mind design, than the invention of language. When Homo sapiens became the beneficiary of this invention, the species stepped into a slingshot that has launched it far beyond all other earthly species." The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it.
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