Does the ability to invent and create make us humans?
Aesop tried to use this fable to illustrate the meaning of perseverance, but today’s scientists have studied the jay, the new jay, and the bald-nosed crow, showing that corvidae can indeed understand that throwing a stone into a container will make the container. The water level inside rises. The fable of the crow and the jug, as well as the experiments inspired by it, are key evidence to prove that corvids can understand causality.
Simon Byron-Cohen, director of the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Center and professor of psychology and psychiatry, in his new book “The Pattern-Seekers: New Theory of Human Invention” (The Pattern-Seekers: A According to New Theory of Human Invention, it is a bit too much to give corvids the ability of causal reasoning; on the contrary, he believes that these birds simply associate certain behaviors with specific results. They drop the stone so that they can get a piece of delicious food that floats to the top of the pipe, but they don’t really understand the connection between the two. There is no doubt that the crows are smart, but this does not prove that they are capable of inventing tools.
Byron Cohen believes that invention is only The ability that human beings possess. This ability is not only unique to humans, but also a trait that distinguishes us from other animals, and makes us “the masters of science and technology on earth, eclipsing all other species.” In other words, it was the invention that made us human.
If we want to set a point in time for this cognitive leap, Byron Cohen’s estimate is that between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago, the human brain has undergone a certain genetic change and evolution. Out of his so-called “systematic mechanism”, this is a new brain circuit that allows humans to find and invent new systems or models through causal reasoning. Byron Cohen called this “if-and-then” logic. “You make some input, this is’if’, then you perform some operations, and then’just’ get some new results,” Byron Cohen explained, “it seems that no other species will do this.”
This model of reasoning promotes invention and creation, and this ability is the basis for many advancements made by mankind over thousands of years, from ancient papermaking and printing to today’s smartphones, spacecraft, and new crown vaccines. Byron Cohen went one step further, he found that this systemic mechanism seems to be particularly obvious in patients with autism. He posed a question: All human inventions rely on this single algorithm, but is it really that simple? Can this mechanism explain why humans can dominate this planet?
Byron Cohen’s “invention” is narrowly defined, that is, the ability to come up with new things in more than one scenario, or to invent on a continuous basis-he called it It is a “generative invention”. In order to determine whether humans are really the only species with this invention ability, he studied archaeological evidence and animal science in depth, and finally proved that humans are indeed well-deserved.
Take the ancient hominid species Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis as examples, although they have shown a certain degree of innovation , But Byron Cohen believes that they do not show the tendency of systematic or generative invention. He pointed out that the design of the tools used by these ancient human species has hardly changed in millions of years. The lack of perfect tools means that these ancient humans have failed in their most critical test-creativity. “The inventions of ancient human ancestors are very limited, which can be explained by another mechanism-‘associative learning’,” said Byron Cohen.
Byron Cohen pointed out that about 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens created some unprecedented tools and reached a new level. For example, the design of bows and arrows clearly demonstrates the thinking of “if… then…”: If you tie the arrow to a flexible string, you can release the tension on the string and make the arrow fly.
Other researchers believe that other ancient human species deserve more recognition. Rebecca Rag Sykes is an honorary researcher at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. He is also the “Bloodline: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art” (Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Author of the book Love, Death and Art. This book challenges and redraws the general perception of Neanderthals. Sykes refuted Byron Cohen’s argument that the cognitive revolution occurred between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago, and pointed out that this view is considered obsolete in the archaeological world for 20 years.
According to Sykes, in Neanderthal archaeology, there is “absolutely” evidence of generative invention. For example, Neanderthals light fires, but they don’t light fires indiscriminately. She said: “We know that they already have pyrotechnic manufacturing technology, and they know how to control fire at different temperatures. As you can see, they already understand different types of fuel.” These findings prove that Neanderthals have causality. Reasoning and experimental thinking process.
Another discovery mentioned by Sykes is that Neanderthals produced birch tar and used it as a binder for tools. The manufacturing process of this resin needs to follow a very purposeful sequence, and the birch bark must be heated without contact with the air. She pointed out that only species with very complex planning and thinking skills can produce birch tar. Therefore, it is more likely that any improvement in cognitive ability is a continuous process, rather than a leap. “There is no huge gap in behavior or cognition between Neanderthals and us. I think that many of the things that early Homo sapiens did were actually what Neanderthals were also doing. It’s just an exaggeration,” Sykes said.
However, Byron Cohen also has room to think that the improvement of cognitive abilities among species may be a gradual process, rather than the sudden revolutionary outbreak he proposed. He said: “It is possible that there are intermediate steps between some primitive human ancestors and Homo sapiens. In Neanderthals, we are also beginning to see some such mechanisms.” Small steps are generated instead of big ones, and we may miss the intermediate steps. “If it turns out that Neanderthals also have this ability, that would be great-we can welcome them to join our camp.”
Maybe this inventive ability is not unique to the first humans some. But if this is the case, why wouldn’t monkeys invent skateboards? Byron Cohen raised this question in the book. What he really meant was, why don’t non-human species conduct experiments? Through the study of animal behavior science, he believes that animals do not have the tendency to invent and create like humans in the process of evolution. “Your dog can learn to do all kinds of tricks, but they usually don’t produce many new behaviors.” Many animals have shown that they have a certain degree of intelligence, but Byron Cohen does not think these animals have The ability of invention to promote its own progress like human beings is the ability of generative invention. On the contrary, he believes that the example of animal innovation can be interpreted as “associative learning.”
Las Chitka, professor of perception and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London, believes that many animal innovations are not just simple trial and error learning. He pointed out that associative learning is part of any innovation, including human innovation. We don’t know whether animals just randomly explore their surroundings and make connections from it; we don’t know whether they actively plan and think about their behavior. Humans can learn new behaviors through language, but for animals, we can only infer what they are thinking from their behavior. “I think Lenovo learning does not necessarily mean it is not an innovation,” Ras Chitka said. (Ren Tian)