Artefactssuch as bows and arrows do not necessarily prove our ancestors had sophisticated reasoning and understanding of how these tools worked, new research suggests.
Instead, such items could have emerged from an “accumulation of improvements made across generations” — with each generation understanding no more than the last.
The new study, by the University of Exeter and the Catholic University of Lille, does not question humanity’s capacity for “enhanced causal reasoning” — but argues this did not necessarily drive the development of technologies such as bows, boats
“We tend to explain the existence of complex technologies by saying humans have big brains and superior causal reasoning abilities,” said
DrMaxime Derex, of the University of Exeter and the Catholic University of Lille.
“But — as our study shows — you don’t have to understand how something works in order to improve it.
“Artefacts from hundreds or thousands of years ago do not necessarily show that their makers had a plan or a theory about how something would work.”Paper. (paywall) – Maxime Derex, Jean-François Bonnefon, Robert Boyd and Alex Mesoudi. Causal understanding is not necessary for the improvement of culturally evolving technology. Nature Human Behaviour, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41562-019-0567-9 More.
The study involved a rather far-fetched experiment on university students involving optimizing dragging a wheel down a track.
Experience from recorded history is clearly of humans getting just such ideas as the authors claim to be impossible in remote antiquity — and to make their point, they use modern students! Most likely, the felt need to identify a subhuman state of mind lies behind such a claim. Unlike the claim that the Neanderthals never produced art, this one can’t just be exploded. It can never be demonstrated either but in the present environment, that doesn’t matter. If the claim is made enough times, it will become orthodoxy.
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