One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

The Artificial Ape

on December 20, 2012

It has been a few days since I lasted posted, but it has been crazy with the holidays and traveling. But I wanted to post my Biological Anthropology paper because I am really proud of it and because my fiance suggested that I should. Although this class was not my favorite this past semester I was able to get the B that I needed, pass the class, and have material that I can critic because of pure ridiculousness. Here is my paper… (please do not plagiarize, if you would like to use the material, please quote. thank you).

 

The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution. TIMOTHY TAYLOR. Palgave Macmillian, 2010. 244 pp, figures, notes, biblio, index. $27.00 (hardback). ISBN 978-0-230-61763-6.

          In his work The Artificial Ape, Timothy Taylor argues the idea that the technological innovation of tool use in early hominids was the essential phase that allowed for the development of larger brains and increased intelligence, emphasizing the invention of baby slings. The author attempts to answer the central question of his book: “Did we evolve into the modern human form and invent the objects on which we now depend, or did the things come first and so bring us into being?” (Taylor 2010:27) Taylor believes in the latter in which humans are not products of the biological (natural selection or sexual selection) but products of artificial selection (Taylor 2010:27). Although Taylor makes his claims that “technology evolved us,” (Taylor 2010: 9) he has provided weak evidence and weak arguments in his attempt to support the claim. He also provides long narratives of personal stories that often trail off and never make a solid connection to his main hypothesis.  The Artificial Ape is not an adequate source for those who are seeking to shed light on the questions surrounding human evolution.

            The introduction and the first chapter of The Artificial Ape expands upon Taylor’s theory of the evolution of hominids caused by technology, while the remaining chapters serve as evidence to his claims (although some of the chapters’ content do not make contextual sense in relation to the overall thesis). Taylor introduces his three systems: non-living (physics and gravity), biological (animals and plants), and the artificial; into which he categorizes the fundamental forces of the Earth. His goal is to convince the reader that humans belong to the third categorical system, that of the artificial, meaning modern humans are the products of technological change (Taylor 2010: 4-5).

 Taylor makes several efforts to place emphasis on the early hominid need for alternative means for carrying infants, and thus the need to invent baby slings, as the driver for the creation of stone tools (Taylor 2010: 123). He argues that baby slings allowed us to “push back our biological limits” and allowed our brains to expand, thus forming into an artificial species (Taylor 2010: 203). According to Taylor, the innovation of a baby-sling would allow hominids to transport infants and would solve various problems such as freeing hands for other tasks, make walking easier, and conserve energy that would otherwise be spent carrying young in arms, therefore better ensuring the survival of helpless infants (Taylor 2010: 123). Although Taylor makes good arguments for the reasons for carrying technology, baby-slings would have been constructed of organic materials that would have decayed through time leaving no archaeological evidence opposed to those of stone tools.  Even though Taylor does not discuss this, there could have been various other ways of compensating for the care of infants. These alternative means of childcare include examples of social caring, such as “aunting” which is evident in modern ape species (Lecture 10-8:Primate Behavior).

During much of the discourse throughout his writing, Taylor argues “that we did not become intelligent enough to invent things, the things actually allowed us to evolve into intelligent beings (Taylor 2010: 57). The earliest tool use has been dated to approximately 2.5 million years ago (possibly earlier than that but due to little evidence because they could have been constructed by organic materials) and has been linked to brain enlargement, dietary consumption, and increased intelligence (Larsen 2008: 296-308). Tool use is also linked to the evolution in body size due to the increase in access to protein that was acquired by hunting and the evidence that stone tools were able to process meat (Larsen 2008: 321). Fossil evidence indicates a decrease of robusticity in the skulls and bodies of hominids, such as a reduction of tooth size, which was due to the increase of important technology and cooking that softened meat thus making it easier to chew (Larsen 2008: 327). The fossil evidence does coincide with Taylor’s argument that the evolution of technology is linked to the increase in intelligence of hominids; there are a plethora of fossil skulls that indicate that the size and mass of brains were increasing with the use of tools (Larsen 2008: 306-327). However it still does not suggest that technology was the cause of evolution of the human race, as Taylor is also arguing, tool use was advancing as humans were adapting to new environmental changes and better access to resources that could make tools more specialized.

Taylor gets caught with counter- arguments to his own theory by stating that apes are not capable of inventing things without first losing many of their natural abilities (Taylor 2010:67). It is known, through studying primate behavior, that many species of ape have adopted tool use into their daily lives like the chimpanzee with “ant-farming” (Larsen 2008:192, 296). It could be conceived that apes were using the same tool use that is used today at the time of the ape-human split 7-6 million years ago, suggesting they did not lose their natural abilities and it did not lead to bipedalism or increased brain size. This also suggests that early hominids could have used organic tools further suggesting the ability to sustain primitive behavior and natural abilities, which would disagree with Taylor’s argument. Taylor does state this argument in the first paragraph of chapter two and states that this would disprove his claims, but he does not discuss it further and never revisits the issue (Taylor 2010:33).  

Interesting in its own right, Taylor’s prolonged discussion on why Tasmanian aborigines have apparently degenerated to a similar level of simple tool use in relation to that of chimpanzees, does not strengthen his arguments. It does refute his notations in that the aborigines were able to retain their natural abilities with coexistence of tools and technology. They could very well create, use, and manipulate nature into tools when they deemed necessary, they still evolved alongside the rest of the Homo sapiens species (same brain size and mass) without the complete dependency of technology (Taylor 2010). The Tasmanians also refute Taylor’s claims that the modern human species cannot live without the reliance of technology; this culture has had a sustainable lifestyle for over 40, 000 years (Taylor 2010).

The last three chapters were exceptionally confusing because these last chapters seemed to be on material culture but did not link nor have any significance to the main topics of the book. One argument that stands out from these chapters is the claim that early forms of art, like the Venus of Willendorf, were really objects of a form of capitalism within the early archaic period. Taylor describes it as a way of moving products and ideas across the landscape, again no evidence of capital exchange analogous to that of the promotion of Coke-Cola products (Taylor 2010:140). Again there is no evidence to support that the Venus of Willendorf was used as a way to sell a product, it is interpreted as a female symbol of fertility and representation of a woman due to the elements that are analogous with other various symbolic art of that time. I would agree that it could have been used as a form of sharing ideology of gender, but not as a promotional item of capital production. 

As stated before, the chapters’ contents of The Artificial Ape do not contextually validate Taylor’s arguments. Although he addresses many good points, he fails to execute the explanation to the relevance to his claims often leaving the reader confused and frustrated. He dilutes much of his narrative with personal recollections that often lead to dead ends, are never revisited, or don’t have any contextual significance to the overall main topics. At several points in the book, Taylor addresses several issues like: why and how bipedalism led to larger brains, the reason for loosing canines, and the debate of sustaining natural abilities with simple tool use in comparison to apes; and states that he will return to the issues that he has laid forth, but fails to readdress them (Taylor 2010:29, 33, 66,109). If he did answer these issues, the explanations were not sufficient. With adequate coverage of these points Taylor’s work may have been a more sufficient piece on the evolutionary history of the modern human.

Taylor states in his conclusion that the increase in brain size was due to hominid female need for being able to handle “ever more developmental retarded young” and places the invention of the baby sling at the same time with the increase of intelligence (Taylor 2010:198). He describes this as the human identity. There is no disputing with Taylor when it comes to modern dependency of technology of the Western world. Taylor would be correct in the context that humans have developed technology to the point where the human brain has been progressively shrinking due to the high dependency (Taylor 2010:32). It seems inevitable that the modern human would not be able to survive without the use of technology becoming the artificial ape. The reader must take his claims, although they could be plausible, with extreme caution due to the lack of archaeological evidence and the weak arguments to back his claims. The idea that technology drove human evolution is a very plausible idea but if Taylor had stronger evidence to support his claims, his work would have been a more credible resource on the subject.  

FIN

If you could not tell, I did not like the book very much.

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