Re: Culture/Flintknapping

Nicholas Gessler (gessler@UCLA.EDU)
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 10:39:33 -0700

Dear Jesse,

Let me interleave my responses with your comments and questions:

>Teaching oneself and teaching others is not the same thing.

This is certainly true, but if the question is one of the transmission of
stone tool making techniques from one generation to another. The
observation that one can learn directly from the artificat itself suggests
that culture can be passed from individual to individual by way of both the
observation of behavior (watching others) and the observation of the results
of that behavior (that is the artifact itself).

>Did you not have any internal dialogue? Was your "trial and error"
completely without >any language whatsoever?

My internal dialog occasionally went something like this: "Hmmnnn, OK...
Merde... That's better... Yeah, that'll do..." It was a dialog that I
though was not particularly significant, and interestingly it goes away as
the work becomes more intense. It is a good question you raise, though. I
do a lot of work making things and I find that one of the rewards is
precisely the disappearance of such a dialog. Your attention seems to be
rallied around your work and the seemingly superfluous running commentary is
discarded. This I find echoed in other intense activities, such as
surviving in a Zodiac inflatable boat in 30-foot seas. In that instance my
commentary was even more profane and animated, until some cognitive agent
deep inside me probably realized no one else was listening who could help,
and the executive agent further up the net decided to pull his plug. The
fear is gone and one "just acts." The point of all of this is that language
is certainly useful, but that there are other cognitive abilities which are
probably more fully engaged and fully necessary in coordinating physical
activities such as when toolmaking learning is going on.

>Were there no comments passed back and forth as the "few hours" passed?

Certainly, as I mentioned previously, having to do with invocations for help
and cursing its absence, focusing attention, and assigning "fitness" values
to different rocks, flakes and procedures. However, much of this can be
accomplished without speaking. The deeper question is how the language
producing module in the brain is interfaced with the silent procedural
modules that underlay it? Specifically, if the language module has so
deeply coevolved with (hypothetically) a physics module (which computes
physical properties such as objects, mass, movement and collisions) that
their independence is illusory, then the supression of language in teaching
cannot in itself be taken as proof that the evolution of the language
functionality was not necessary for much of tool manufacture. If, on the
other hand, the language module sits relatively independently alongside or
on top of such a physics module, then it is conceivable that language
fuctionality is/was not directly involved in tool manufacture.

>Again, it might have taken only "a few hours" to teach yourself, but that
>doesn't mean it would take only "a few hours" to teach someone else.

It does if the "else" is similar to "self." But beyond that, "a few hours
to teach someone else" comes from observation. Some people pick it up,
others don't.

>after 30 years, can you say with assurance how many hours "a few hours" was?

Definitely! From less to an hour during classroom demonstrations and lunch
breaks on excavations to the "few hours" remaining between quitting field
work in the afternoon and darkness.

>Finally, were the "Magdelenian [sic] stone tools" thus produced of
>sufficient quality to serve the purpose for which the neandertal would have
>intended them? Did you try them out to see if they would serve?

We never tried to systematically discover and reproduce their purposes.
However, the tools worked exceedingly well for a number of our purposes such
as shaving, butchering, skinning, hide-scraping, bone incising, tree
felling, wood working, digging, and decoration.