"Zen teaches nothing; it merely enables us to wake up and become aware. It does not teach, it points." ~D.T. Suzuki

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hominid Innovation

The Enlightened Spark of the World

In a layer dated to one million years ago, hominid excavations found important new evidence of microscopic wood ash, animal bones and stone tools at the very aptly named Wonderwerk Cave
in South Africa.

The team led by the University of Toronto
Michael Chazan and Liora Kolska Horwitz
of  Hebrew University identified the earliest known evidence of the use of fire by human ancestors
and published in the Proceedings of the

The Wonderwerk Cave. (Credit: R. Yates)
As we sit in front of the glow of our screens,
 under a moonlit sky...
I wonder if the Internet has not become the human campfire. Sitting globally together, discussing our thoughts and feelings
and sharing our dreams.

This find pushes back the evidence for fire use by 300,000 years. Humans... the tool maker? Tools have been used even longer than fire. We know that tools are not unique to our genus, other animals such as chimpanzees fabricate and use tools. Stone tools were more of a sustaining innovation over wood and other organic materials, life as usual, just a bit easier. But one tool that caused a cascade of transformative changes was when fire became a our tool.

The control and use of fire is perhaps our defining technology. Fire is an innovation that has been an important part of hominid life for a very long time. At the dawn of its use, it was a disruptive game changer in the "economy of nature".

I have worked at some interesting, rather famous hominid sites (meaning...sweated, climbed up and down ravines, sweated, picked at dolomite harder than cement with a jackhammer all the way down to a tiny dental hook, obviously sweated, sifted and analysed dirt, sweated some more, excavated some more, yes sweated again and climbed up and down ravines.. all under the beautiful very hot sun, although some of our ancestors lived through very different climate there), in Southern France. Bau de l'Aubesier (with Dr. Serge Lebel), Les Eyzies de Tayac and Caune de l'arago, (Tautavel).  I had the great good fortune of working with Dr. Henry de Lumley excavating a Homo erectus site at Caune de l'arago in the Tautavel valley. I have seen the ancient traces of that game changing innovation, the control of fire.

The species I have worked on ranged from Homo erectus, neanderthalensis to the more modern Cro-magnon. I have visited many more sites, including La Chapelle-aux-Saints, La Ferassie, Le MoustierLascaux and others. I will be blogging more about those in future posts. Today is all about the innovation not just of the use of tools (other animals have shown this ability), but of humankind's disruptive innovation of fire. There are no words to describe the feelings that pass through you when after... you've carefully brushed away the last layer of dust, then photographed, logged, numbered and cataloged, checked gps, measured co-ordinates and level of strata, applied preservatives (if needed), "gently" loosened from substrate... And then. then finally you are holding a fossil bone or stone tool in the palm of your hand. Last seen and held thousands and thousands of years ago. you are the first since. A sense of the profoundness of human history and a direct, tangible contact with your ancestors is, frankly, overwhelming.

An experience that nears a Zen awakening.

MU Peter Shimon consulting
 is based on Evolutionary Economics
and I use Disruptive Digital Darwinism
helping people and institutions to light their way 
and hopefully disrupt the world
 with innovation for the good.

With my background in science and business I can't help but see things with the perspective and insight that working together those fields can bring. 

Being a Zen mind, I can't help it if some of that gets in.

Briefly what that means is that phenomena of the market are analysed through the lens of evolutionary biology. 

Wikipedia definition: 

"Evolutionary economics is part of mainstream economics as well as heterodox school of economic thought that is inspired by evolutionary biology. Much like mainstream economics, it stresses complex interdependencies, competition, growth, structural change, and resource constraints but differs in the approaches which are used to analyze these phenomena.

Evolutionary economics deals with the study of processes that transform economy for firms, institutions, industries, employment, production, trade and growth within, through the actions of diverse agents from experience and interactions, using evolutionary methodology.

Evolutionary economics analyses the unleashing of a process of technological and institutional innovation by generating and testing a diversity of ideas which discover and accumulate more survival value for the costs incurred than competing alternatives. The evidence suggests that it could be adaptive efficiency that defines economic efficiency.

Mainstream economic reasoning begins with the postulates of scarcity and rational agents (that is, agents modeled as maximizing their individual welfare), with the "rational choice" for any agent being a straightforward exercise in mathematical optimization. There has been renewed interest in treating economic systems as evolutionary systems in the developing field of Complexity economics.

Evolutionary economics does not take the characteristics of either the objects of choice or of the decision-maker as fixed. Rather its focus is on the non-equilibrium processes that transform the economy from within and their implications. The processes in turn emerge from actions of diverse agents with bounded rationality who may learn from experience and interactions and whose differences contribute to the change. The subject draws more recently on evolutionary game theory and on the evolutionary methodology of Charles Darwin and the non-equilibrium economics principle of circular and cumulative causation. It is naturalistic in purging earlier notions of economic change as teleological or necessarily improving the human condition."

I will post more in the future about my excavations and thoughts on our evolutionary adventures, presenting them with a modern relevance to my current work.
I am working on original videos...hopefully soon.

Cretaceous Meteor Showers,
the Human Ecological "Niche,"
and the Sixth Extinction

Excerpt from a presentation by Niles Eldredge

"Two other points, before I get to my last characterization, which I hope will convince you that you can link humans up convincingly with the bolide impacts at the end of the Cretaceous: 1.65 million years is the onset of the first glaciation, and that's just about the date of at least the oldest-known specimens of Homo erectus, or the only ones now Ian Tattersall calls Homo ergaster. Larger-brained species, it's got a more sophisticated tool kit, and so forth. The significance here is -- well, and also they had fire. This is the last time, I think, you can point with confidence to a global climate, or any other kind of environmental event, and say: This had a direct effect on human evolution, whether it was an extinction event or an evolution event.

Then,.9 million years ago, the onset of the second glacial: Humans, we now see, had gotten out of Africa, into Eurasia, prior to that, but not in any great numbers, apparently. At .9 million years ago, the onset of the second glacial, human beings actually left Africa and went north, and tools are all over the place. Presumably, they were hunting the megafauna that were there in abundance in Eurasia. I think, if these patterns hold up, and if I'm characterizing them correctly, that's dramatic and compelling evidence that we had expanded our niche.

And I can't think of any other as dramatic example in the fossil record -- or any other source of data -- about niche expansion like that. And I think you have to think that it's culturally mediated."

I will be commenting more on climate change in future posts.

"Human language originated in Africa, according to a newly completed University of Auckland study. The study results parallel and complement recent genetic and phenotype studies that support an African origin for Homo sapiens, or modern humans, strengthening the notion that the development of language was a key innovation that enabled modern humans to spread across the globe."
© 2012 MU-Peter Shimon

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