Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Fri 12 Jul 02 02:58
I studied with Errett, which is more like he tolerated us clueless clumsy undergrads because he was finishing his MA and on the way to his doctorate, and you know what that means if you're a grad student -- undergrad seminars! Purely the luck of the draw, I assure you, although I have carried that experimental bent forward into my political work. In fact, the political scientists finally seem to be rediscovering this weird thing called "experimentation": http://www.yale.edu/isps/publications/reclaim.pdf But I digress :) Here's a nice summary on early toolmaking with good example pics. (Errett could make uncanny copies of these without even much attention; me, I had trouble just making a decent core-flake. On the other hand, we were using jasper and chert, lovely materials but those crypto-crystalline quartzes are harder to work with than obsidian and so on): http://www.handprint.com/LS/ANC/stones.html You know, these crude tools don't look like much. Or rather, they look crude in the way an old-fashioned wood handled hammer would look crude today. A properly made "crude" stone tool like this with good dimensions, grab-ability, balance and a decent working edge can kill an animal as large as a good-sized deer and produce messy but workable hides, meat, etc. in the hands of even a moderately skilled person. Plus, there is something a bit primal and familiar in picking up a replica (or even my own crummy imitations of the most primitive axes and scrapers). Just like you'd expect, if you think about it for a moment. The pictures just don't convey this at all. The text cited above notes that these tools are only associated with H. habilis, not the australopithecines. In line with what wcalvin was just talking about, I consider this a big fat clue about the whole human lineage. It's much more complex than the popularizers have wanted to admit; we only see a very tiny fraction of what's happened because of "data attrition" (there really weren't very many individuals in the hominids during those millions of years, and they were kind of small and peripheral to the regional scene, and many of the most populous sites have probably long since been totally disturbed by climate and stratigraphy change). The fact that we know as much as we do about our lineage amazes me as much as it did when I first picked up a National Geographic with a Leakey story about 40 years ago.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 12 Jul 02 09:20
That phrase "primal and familiar" reminds me of yet another interesting thing that the book mentions: landscape preference studies. Apparently when you show hundreds of people pictures of various landscapes, they tend to prefer "garden-of-Eden" settings that include a low hill near water, wide open spaces and perhaps a bit of forest nearby. And this same "primal and familiar" landscape is just how the the press described the landscape in ancient Chad where that latest proto-human fossil skull was found. Bill, I was grateful that you put that kind of detail into your book--it makes for a tantalizing story--but how sound is that kind of science really?
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 12 Jul 02 12:29
There is so much to discuss in this book and on the topic in general! You are certainly welcome to continue for as long as you like. I just wanted to pop in and say thanks to our guest, Bill Calvin, and to his extremely able interviewer, Andrew Alden. We enjoyed your discussion, and enjoyed having you. Carry on!
William Calvin (william-calvin) Sat 13 Jul 02 13:43
Andrew asks about the "garden of eden" environmental preferences, and how well established it is. Behavioral ecology studies this in many kinds of animals, but only preliminary work has been done in humans, the best of which I cite. These preferences (for the view of a savannah waterhole scene from a viewpoint a story higher, framed by something) match up pretty well with japanese tea gardens, the view from the little shelter atop a hill from which you see scattered trees and water, with ducks and fish visible. This isn't to say that it cannot be culturally overridden. Forest peoples, taken to the edge of the forest withnsuch a view, might not like it very much.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 13 Jul 02 15:26
I found it a charming sidelight in your "Ghosts of Habitats Past" section. Probably it will always be a soft, contentious field of inquiry involving as it does the gut feelings of ordinary people. But as you say, "such gut feelings tell us something about our ancestors - indeed about what they liked to put in their guts. Such innate likings would have guided individuals in selecting a habitat suited to the better ways of making a living for their species, back then..." I notice that you admit a fondness for the "water ape" hypothesis. Is there really something to it, or is it an easy just-so story to explain how we lost our body hair?
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Sun 14 Jul 02 23:36
I first read about "landscape preference" in E. O. Wilson's "Biophilia," istr. There's a ton of research in this area, for example: http://www.unc.edu/~devries/papers/gbthesis.html <http://evolution.anthro.univie.ac.at/institutes/urbanethology/student /html/erich/synekpro.html> http://www.shef.ac.uk/assem/5/chamberl.html
William Calvin (william-calvin) Mon 15 Jul 02 20:34
yes, Ed Wilson loves to use my colleague Gordon Orians' landscape esthetics research in his biophilia lectures. Andrew asks about the aquatic ape business, which I mention in passing. I've long thought that it was one of several candidates for upright posture, back 6-7 million years ago. Most versions of it are salt water, but I like it for offshore islands in rift valley and Sahel lakes as well (great refuges when trees are scarce). But no one knows what upright posture is all about yet, only that upright stance is early but the prehensile big toe is lost much later with Homo erectus.
Indigo Mallard (blueduck) Fri 19 Jul 02 09:59
Proboscis monkeys are evolving that way on the coasts. The problem with freshwater aquatic evolution is that we have such well developed salt excretion glands.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 17 Jan 03 15:08
Out of the blue, while I was looking for something else, I ran across a paper by Gordon Orians, who Bill mentioned in #82. He takes an evolutionary approach to esthetics--why we instinctively fear snakes, etc. Fascinating reading at http://www.apa.org/divisions/div10/articles/orians.html
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