tools and blah

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Tue, 14 Mar 1995 17:46:54 +0000

Sorry I've been silent for so long, tho' I doubt anyone else is. Back to the
intelligence debate, gentlepersons!
It crossed my mind that if we look at the use of tools by certain modern
pastoral or HG groups, or at least at what they leave behind as potential
archaeological remains, despite the ability to produce complex implements one
may commonly find only primitive devices that simply do the job adequately and
may quickly be abandoned. Such tools as are produced by an African group to
scavenge or dismember prey may be no more complex than Homo erectus tools of
1.6-1.8 Ma. With food procurement arguably the most important constraint upon
evolution it does make sense that factors improving its implementation
(literally) would be favoured, but if it is easy and efficient to use such
simple tools for the job where's the pressure towards increased intelligence
over the erectus state? But this increase has occurred and we must assume that
more advanced tools, whilst they may have been a result of this, are unlikely
to have offered a significant improvement in efficiency as witnessed by the
simple tools still used. If then they were not the drive we either have a
snowball effect going on or some other pressure for greater manipulative skills,
but this time not physical. Perhaps we have to assume that social and
contingency-planning skills are the only advantages sufficient to pay for the
cost of the brain beyond a certain point, which I suggest to be where an
erectus-like technology is seen. My point is this: if it is necessary to account
for something other than tool use to provide sufficient evolutionary pressure
to pass this point, and if one subscribes to Rob Quinlan's fair assumption that
the pressure that kicked off the expansion of intelligence continued it, (at
least, it's a practical assumption, as I think we all recognise), then one must
agree that the pressure that caused an expansion in brain size beyond erectus
size is also that which started the process off, and that it ain't tools.
This argument wins no prizes, it just fits with the assumptions that many of us
have already agreed are useful, and seeks parsimony as prominently advocated by
Bob Graber. To summarise, one pressure operates all through the long process of
brain evolution, tools are not a strong enough pressure later on (as evidenced
by modern ethnographic data), so something else operated all through instead.
There are enormous holes in this simplistic suggestion and I'm faintly
embarassed to make it, but if nothing else it may illustrate the perils of
parsimony. Really it gets us no nearer the truth, it just helps us choose a
just-so story in the absence of better theories.
tear me up, Jeremy