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Researchers: Complex tools don’t show ancient humans were smart

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From ScienceDaily:

Artefacts such 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 and houses. …

“We tend to explain the existence of complex technologies by saying humans have big brains and superior causal reasoning abilities,” said Dr Maxime 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.

See also: Eating fat, not meat, led to bigger human type brains, say researchers. Theories of the evolution of the human brain are a war of trivial explanations that no one dare admit are too trivial for what they purport to explain. It’s like blaming World War II on indigestion, only monstrously bigger.

Earlier discussion of the fat theory.

Starchy food may have aided human brain development

Do big brains matter to human intelligence?

Human evolution: The war of trivial explanations


What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

3 Replies to “Researchers: Complex tools don’t show ancient humans were smart

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    I don’t think there is ANY reason to believe that average human IQs have increased since the NFL started their selective breeding program to produce Neanderthals (“people found buried in the Valley of the Neander River”).
    It is well established that IQs vary by race, but then we haven’t figured out how (or why) the various races appeared.
    But I’m generally of the Serendipity school of technological advancement. No one is quite sure how or why The Wheel appeared in Eurasia, but we do know it was COMPLETELY unknown in the Americas before the Europeans showed up. There are a few (1 or 2?) examples of TOYS found in California and Mexico (or some such) that had axles and wheels. But then the toys are clearly HORSES, and there hadn’t been any horses in the Americas for more than 10,000 years. So there is some reason to guess that the toys had somehow arrived from Asia shortly before the Spaniards.
    But solving problems by Analysis and Experimentation is a VERY modern kinda thing. Um, herders in East Africa noticed that if their goats ate the berries from specific bushes, the darn goats stayed up all night. So the goatherds tried the berries, and THEY stayed up all night. Hence Coffee.

  2. 2
    doubter says:

    “Most likely, the felt need to identify a subhuman state of mind lies behind such a claim.”
    I think it is most likely that the motivation for this idea is anthropologists trying to “ape their betters” the evolutionary biologists. The anthropologists want to show a creative mechanism that is mostly mind-free like mindless purposeless Darwinism.

  3. 3 says:

    Nothing ever “emerges” (arises).
    1. Too often it’s assumed that thing “arise”. As in:
    a. “The universe arose in the Big Bang”
    b. “Galaxies and planetary systems arose from cosmic dust”
    c. “Life arises from non life”
    d. “Species arise from other species”
    e. “Human intelligence arises from animals”
    f. “Consciousness arises”
    g. “AI machines will arise”
    2. It’s better to say “we have no idea” than assume these – so far – insurmountable, qualitative jumps are trivial. The only experiences we have with “arising” are failures like “spontaneous generation” and “infinite monkey”.
    3. The discontinuities mentioned here, as well as many others, have never been observed and cannot be duplicated or conceptualized properly. “Explanations” are sometimes given by proponents, but these never amount to more than myths.
    4. An example of meaningless “explanation” is the one given for “Human intelligence arises from animals”. We are told that somehow, a group of animals came across fire or plentiful food, and that extra energy resource caused bigger human brains to “arise”. But all hypothesis tests result in increased populations or larger individuals, and never significantly smarter ones. And other “explanations” like bipedalism fare no better. In the end, we’re asked to take an insurmountable leap of faith.
    5. Both elephants and whales are bigger and have bigger brains than humans, yet neither is more intelligent. Why didn’t they get smarter instead of bigger or why not get both bigger and smarter? Even apes, small or big are more or less the same in intelligence. Between them there’s no significant chasms such as between human and any ape.
    6. In nature, simple Accumulations do not result in untraceable Transformations. Even when they seem to do, such as in liquefaction-gasification, a catalyst (pressure/temperature) is present, and the process is repeatable.
    7. Proponents of the “arising explanation” disregard their own teaching. Whenever they wake up in pain, they seek the root cause of the problem rather than just think it simply “arose” for no reason. When observing what appears as a non-random pattern in an unexpected place, they also seek an explanation rather than shrug it off as an “arising”.

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