Archives for posts with tag: Tool Making

Remember Sheba?

The Chimp I mentioned earlier? Who was able to tame her greed by making good use of symbolic reckoning?

I wouldn’t go as far as considering that she used numerical symbols as tools. Mainly because she didn’t initiate the process… had she been able of proper/complete symbolic thinking she would have been able to solve the task even when dealing with real candy…

Nevertheless, the whole encounter does speak volumes. If in a hurry, jump to 28:01.

Ape genius

 

Let me start from a little farther away.
I’ve already mentioned the that we, humans, haven’t really invented anything. All living organisms are already involved in elaborate trading, use tools and have at least a rudiment of self-awareness.
Let me elaborate on the tool making and using part.

The whole thing has suddenly become rather eerie? All living organisms making and using tools?

OK, what is a tool?
Something used by somebody to accomplish a task?

Crow making tools

Watch this crow fashioning a hook and using it to retrieve something and tell me whether that hook was a tool or not.

Says who? Us?

As smart as crows are, I seriously doubt that any of them really understands the concept of ‘tool’. Or any other concept, for that matter…
OK, some of them are able to use tools. Just as some of us are able to drive cars! That doesn’t mean that all drivers understand how cars work or all those capable to use tools are able to understand the concept of tool. Or what a concept is….

And what has any of this to do with Sheba and her bowls of candy?

I haven’t yet finished with tools, hold your horses.

A tool actually becomes a tool when at least one of us think of it as a tool. When some of us consciously try to determine alternative uses for that object.

When we see a monkey picking up a rock to ‘pry open’ a nut, it is us who congratulate it. ‘Wow, such a smart monkey!’. For her, it was a natural thing to do. Something she had either found out by ‘mistake’ – when a rock had fallen on her toe, for instance, or by observing a more experienced member of her gang. But no monkey has yet tried to fashion a ‘proper’ tool… Just as no monkey has yet communicated more than in a ‘mechanical’ manner… In the wild they use various calls for more or less precise events and that’s it. After being taught some symbols  a few apes are now able to transmit their wishes/commands to other apes – including humans, or even to operate  various machines. But that doesn’t mean they are able to communicate impressions or to ‘talk about about something’ with a ‘friend’.

Kanzi

My point being that our very ability to use symbols to communicate among us has developed our ability to think. Because it is through thinking that we identify an object as a tool. And then expand the manner in which we use it.
You see, speaking has taught us that ‘what you hear’ almost never corresponds exactly with the ‘real thing’ … nor with what the speaker actually meant/tried to say … After millennia of conversations with our peers, we’ve learned that words/symbols are relative. That they can stand in for a piece of reality but that they’ll never be able to replace it. And that the same symbol might stand in for a lot of things….

The same phenomenon had happened with tools. After learning that one symbol might be used to represent two or more objects it was simple to put the same object to multiple uses. Even the most primitive stone axes were simultaneously used for ‘chopping’ fire wood, cracking bones for their marrow and for bashing in the skull of ‘thy neighbor’.

According to the various needs and wishes of the human agent who ‘called the shots’ in each instance.

Be it word or tool.

Hey, you said earlier that all living things use tools, not only an odd monkey and some crows…
Indeed… Have you ever watched a dog munching on a bone? Cracking it open and enjoying the marrow? Is it possible for us to consider that the dog has used its jaws as a tool?

No? Because the jaws are an integral part of its organism?
So what?

As a foolish teenager, I used to open beer bottles with my teeth.
Was I not using them, my teeth, as if they were tools?

Have a look-see at this short video.

seed developing tools

Had I not been conditioned to see it as a germination process, I might have interpreted it as the seed simultaneously developing a tool for retrieving nutrients from the soil and a solar panel to cook them with….

 

We, humans, pride ourselves on many things.

On being smart/intelligent. And on being the only animals able to brag about their achievements with their peers…

But what is it that qualifies us as humans?
That would, of course, depend on what a human really is…

OK, let me use another tack.
What are we really good at? What sets us apart from the rest of the animals?

Practical intelligence? Our ability to solve really complicated problems?

Then watch this wild New Caledonian Crow treating itself to a piece of meat.

new Caledonian crow

Our ability to figure new meaning and to overcome our natural impulses?

Then read about Sheba the Chimp using language to suppress her greed:

In a celebrated study that investigated impulse control, Sally Boysen of Ohio State University asked chimps to choose between two dishes of M&Ms®.

SALLY BOYSEN: Now, you watch real carefully. We’re going to put one, two, three, four down here. Are you watching, Miss Priss? Sheeby? And we’re going to put two in here.

Give those to Sarah. Okay.

Well, I have to give these to Sarah, and Sheeba gets two. So Sarah gets four and Sheba only gets two. Aw, too bad.

NARRATOR: The twist was that the chimp got the candy she didn’t point to. Could the chimp learn to resist her impulse to reach for the bigger pile?

SALLY BOYSEN: You want Sarah to have these? It’s okay, it’s okay. You get to have that one. Yeah, Sarah gets five, and Sheba gets one. Oh, that is such a shame.

NARRATOR: Amazingly, chimps never overcame their greedy urges. They always reached for more and, so, ended up with less.

SALLY BOYSEN: And Sheba gets two, so Sarah gets four. See?

NARRATOR: Impulse studies have also been run on humans. In a classic experiment from the 1970s, a researcher gave a four-year-old a simple choice.

RESEARCHER : So, if you wait for me to get back, I’ll give you this bowl with all of these gummy bears, okay? But if you can’t wait, you can push that button, like this, and then I’ll come back and you can have this bowl with just this one gummy bear, okay? Okay, I’ll be right back.

NARRATOR: According to an inconclusive but intriguing study, the longer children resisted temptation, the higher their S.A.T. scores were years later. In any case, the differences between people are small compared to the gap separating humans and apes.

BRIAN HARE: Maybe one of the first things that happened during our species evolution is we became much less emotionally reactive. And maybe that’s one of the big differences that may explain why we solve problems so differently. We sort of got control of our emotions.

NARRATOR: Can apes be given skills to help them master their emotions? Sally Boysen trained a chimp to understand numerals. Then she repeated her M&Ms experiment, but now offered different pairs of numerals rather than treats.

SALLY BOYSEN: You want to give two to Sarah? Okay. Two goes to Sarah, and you get six.

NARRATOR: Remarkably, chimps were now able to learn what they couldn’t before: point to the smaller number to get the bigger prize.

Symbols can make you free. They can help distance an ape from its impulses. But outside of the lab, apes don’t seem to use symbols. Still, ape minds seem to share many of the amazing features of the human mind.

There is a video which depicts all this. Click on this link and see if it’s available “in your area.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/ape-genius.html.

How about our consciousness? Our ability to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
Well, that alone wouldn’t have made us any more special than an octopus…

self aware octopus

But what if our individuality resides in us having taken all three to ‘a different level’? One which hasn’t yet been attained by anybody else? Not necessarily higher, mind you!

I’ll deal with ‘trade’ now and I’m afraid you’ll have to come back for the rest.

‘Trade’ wasn’t even mentioned in those three examples?
What was the crow trying to do?
Feed itself? As in exchange matter with the ‘outside’?
What was Sheba trying to do?
Figure our what was going on? As in trading information with the surrounding world?

In this sense all living things are engaged in all forms of trading? And continue to do so for as long as they remain alive?
What did I tell you about us doing nothing really new? Only different?

OK, we had already figured out – long before Adam Smith described it as ‘division of labor’, that by dividing tasks amongst us we’ll be able to accomplish far more things than if we had attempted ‘individual autarky’. And then we had invented ‘trade’, as a manner of exchanging the different wares each of us was proficient in doing…
Wait! Even this is not really ‘new’!
Mother Nature had already invented sexual reproduction – a very extreme ‘division of labour’, a very long time ago…. but not before bacteria were already adept at ‘trading’ genetic information.

 

 

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