Humans are far from the only species that uses technology. In 1871, Charles Darwin wrote,
“It has often been said that no animal uses any tool.”
Then he merrily provided a long list of evidence to the contrary.
One of Darwin’s examples was the Asian elephant, which repels flies by waving a branch in its trunk. The elephant does not wave any branch it finds. It modifies the branch by removing side branches or shortening the stem. Sometimes it strips bark from a vine and use that instead.
This is the essential difference between tools and, say, rabbit warrens or spiders webs. Elephants make their tools by manipulating (or handling) things they seek out specifically. They do not only use things they happen to find, or only dig holes, or only restrict themselves to bodily secretions.
Branch breaking by elephants is simple compared to the technology used by birds. Birds don’t just break branches, they take twigs, grass and other materials and fashion them into homes. These homes can be very sophisticated. There is a species of thorn bird that builds nests up to two meters long and nearly half a meter wide, with four or more separate chambers—a nest condominium so strong that it can survive a fall of many meters with its eggs intact, that is lined with thorns to deter predators (hence the name, “thorn birds”) and that has well concealed viewing holes so the birds inside can see danger approaching.
The technology used by beavers is perhaps the greatest non-human technology of all. Beavers build homes called “lodges,” shape their environment by creating dams and, less well known, construct canals to help with the transport of food and building materials.
There are many other examples of animal technology, and more are being discovered every year. The more we look, the more we find.
All this technology has the same purpose: survival, or more specifically, adaptation for survival. Species use tools to help them adapt to otherwise challenging environments without having to wait for evolution to change their bodies. Technology is faster than morphology. Thorn birds, for example, are a type of bird called a passerine, or “perching bird.” Passerine nests are more complex than those of other birds and can be constructed wherever the bird chooses. This helps passerines proliferate in changing environments, most notably in the new world that emerged after the mass extinction of dinosaurs and most other species 65 million years ago. The nests contributed to the passerines’ rapid sub-division into many different species and, even though the passerines emerged much later than other birds, about half of all bird species alive today are passerines. Why can’t other birds build nests like passerines? Because passerine feet have an independently mobile rear toe, somewhat similar to a human opposable thumb, which enables the bird to grasp twigs and so build nests.
Which came first? Toe or nest?
The two developed together, with a small change in one leading to a small change in the other until all the changes added up to a large difference in both the birds’ feet and nests.
Because humans are the most radical tool users, our bodies have undergone the most radical changes because of our tools.
The prime example is the hand axe: a perfectly symmetrical teardrop of flaked, shaped flint that early humans, predecessors of homo sapiens, used as an all-purpose tool for five or more million years.
The hand axe looks like a big canine tooth: a fist-sized fang for fighting, feeding and fabricating more hand axes. The skeletons of hand axe-using humans show something interesting: over long, evolutionary time scales, they evolved smaller teeth and weaker jaws, both relative to other primates, such as gorillas, and to earlier humans. The hand-axe removed the need for big teeth and was superior to them. It could be replaced if lost of broken, sharpened when dull, and you could wield it in combat without putting your head and neck within biting range of your opponent. Smaller teeth and weaker jaws begat big biological benefits: they left space in the skull for more brain cells, and changed the weight and balance of the head so that it became easier to stand erect. Hand axes changed our bodies, and also the course of human evolution. They are the reason we became brainy bipeds.
What followed was a rapid proliferation of technology that led to us exploring, and dominating, the entire planet. Next time you hear someone complaining about “technology” being “bad,” ask them to try this thought experiment:
Imagine you are cast away, naked and without property on a wild island, and you are not capable of creating tools. Unless you can find natural shelter, naturally potable water, and food you can chew and digest with your teeth and jaw alone, you will die within days.
Next, imagine having children as well. You will need enough of all of the above to keep your children alive from pregnancy through puberty.
Then, imagine doing all these things in competition with other people and species, all trying to find natural shelter, naturally potable water, chewable, digestible food, and keep their families alive. How long could you survive? How long could the human race survive?
The answer is easy: most of us would die within a few days, and the few that remain would last only weeks or months. Without tools, the human race would become extinct within a year.
This may come as a shock to those people—nearly always wealthy, well-educated, and comfortable—who see themselves as “all natural” or “anti-technology.” Typically, their first objection to the thought experiment is that, if any of this was true, then we would not be here, because our ancestors would have died. If they could survive without tools, why can’t we? The answer to that is simple if surprising: our pre-technology ancestors were from a different species. They had big teeth, strong jaws, small brains, moved mainly on four limbs, and were covered in fur. After them came our more recent ancestors, humans but not homo sapiens, that used primitive tools that eventually changed their bodies. Those ancestors gradually evolved into us.
Our bodies are not configured to survive without the aid of technology. Without technology, we are birds without nests, beavers without dams. We cannot live without tools. We never have.
Once we became homo sapiens sapiens—not just tool-using humans but creative humans—we started developing and sharing tools and ideas as well as genes, and the symbiosis between surviving and creating intensified quickly. We jumped the rails of evolution and stopped evolving physiologically. Instead, we started adapting our technology in our lifetime, rather than waiting for our bodies to adapt in evolutionary time. We became the species that responds to environmental pressures with new tools, not new bodies. For example, when we overpopulated land near potable water, we invented bottles to transport water from distant springs, then pumps and dams and desalination, then we learned how to treat waste water and irrigate deserts. We did not reproduce less, or change our bodies to need less water. We did not evolve humps.
Our tools and are bodies are one. We do not evolve, we create. And, because we cannot adapt without creation, if we stop creating, we stop existing.
For most humans, the scripture was the only explanation of all nature, from floods, storms, and any natural event. The scriptures essentially said that modern humans and all creatures alive today we’re “zapped” into existence magically by a creator only a few centuries back.
I hope you aren’t serious about using fiction as a basis of fact. Constantine made all that up in 325 ad
U got most of that right. But it wasn’t a few centuries. If the scriptures r correct, then humans have existed for almost 10000 years. But I believe we were born long before that.
Apparently humans have also developed greed, a trait that I do not see in animals, nor do I see a global adaptation. Where are the tools to protect us from ourselves?
What do you mean? Some animals are territorial. They fight over food. The alpha always gets the first pick while everything else gets the scraps. Greed is a major part of survival.
What are you talking about? Squirrels, apes, crows and other animals developed greed. No animal could survive if all they do is share their resources with other animals. Imagine a deer walking up to a wolf and offering their bodies to feed the wolf out of the kindness of their heart.
You’re also a part of the human race; improve us or don’t complain about it.
I think you confuse greed with physical need. Animals who kill and eat other animals are not doing so based on a human emotion of greed. Its out of survival. The reason the alpha males get the most is because they are literally the biggest and need more to survive. And because they have proven themselves dominant. Greed is a human emotion and trait.
Self preservation and the preservation of offspring is the most common instinct in the animal kingdom.
Animals can be greedy, take a dpg that has tp be put in a seperate room so the other dogs can eat. Pure greed.
That would be your ‘brain’ Denise..
Obviously you dont have cats.
You must not be observing very many subjects because my dog is the greediest, most jealous being I’ve ever known. If another dog has my attention, she will fight for it. It another dog has a ball or toy, she will attack for it. Treats, a bed on the floor, anything. She wants it if another dog has it. Anyway my point is that you’re wrong. Animals are greedy too.
Hyenas, wolverines and many other scavenger carnivores will kill just for the sake it killing. Is that not greed? Taking what you want when you don’t really need it?
Dogs are greedy if you leave food inffont of them they will gorge themselves until full. If there are more than one dog the alpha will take the most. I’m sure this applies to more animals. What makes us different is we can rationalize greed and choose to be greedy or not.
Not true: wolves kill far more sheep than they need or can eat at one time….At least humans can save , preserve their “killings” thus rationalizing their greed….
So true. And they also like grandma’s and little pigs.
Greed? There are many greedy animals. Animals the eat until they die and animals that destroy others habitats to support themselves. Do some reading!
you must have been out of debating team cuz you cover yourself really well with the next. I enjoyed reading this thank you it helps to know there’s someone out there willing to try to explain this mess we’re in haha thank you
Amazing observations. And this responds a question that I have since I learned a little bit about evolution: we will someday divert in another species? Are we still evolving (biologically speaking)? Both answer seems to be no.
So so wrong so so sorry. A lot of people would die surely. Those who are so far removed from ️nature would. But an avid outdoors man backpacker Id sure hold my own. Technology leaves people weak. Use of technology in the right hands is a powerful tool no question. But leave it behind for a weeks at a time and practice we’ll be okay. Real world skills aren’t something you can get paid for.
Bet you still use knives to cut things, rope to tie things, containers to hold water, all of these things are tech/tools
So you could live without the tools to make fire, to build shelter, to cook, cut, etc? Your not understanding the point. Technology isn’t just the electrical kind, lighting, heating, entertainment. It’s also tools, lighters of matches, axes, knives, even a fire drill made from wood is being counted.
Clothes, backpacks, any tool at all that wasn’t formed naturally is technology. Go but naked with nothing into the woods see how far you get. That would be going without any tech.
Backpackers use technology. Anyway, who would WANT to live more than a few days without technology? And the Bible is not literal. It is a parable.
No. Back packs are tools. Wilderness men use tools. Try it naked and empty handed without even making tools. Then see what happens. The moment you make our adapt something to your needs… Technology.
So sorry doc but you’re wrong. I believe the axe was designed for plants and tree felling also minning. War, It is not in our nature to use weapons. The using of weapons man against man is an other worldly influence. Man needs nothing but hands and mind for creation. Just take children for example…but when placed in an instatution such as school only then do they need to defend oneself. Children and adults alike would play for ever given the chance and food would be plentiful.
That assumes one dies not have to compete for resources, when you have to compete(those times things are not given to you is the real world) you do what you have to to survive.
I agree with everyone here who says we’re screwed without technology. Which is y we should be more environmental. If we’re not careful we’ll force ourselves into a world where technology cannot help us. N none of us could survive in extreme conditions for over half a year, garanteed.
What the hell are you smoking…
A very enlightening treatise. I learned lot. Thank you.
Axes at 9:45Reference
Sadly, I had to stop reading after the third typo. Please check your grammar if you want to be taken seriously.
Um… not to rain on this parade but there is one problem here – not all people, sure Western city dwellers, Asian or Arab city dwellers with comfy lives full of technology will likely vanish, but there are plenty of native tribes around the world that wouldn’t even notice lack of it and go about their lives unaffected
So many people in here must’ve flunked the reading comprehension portion of elementary school. Technology and tools doesn’t exclusively refer to cellphones, cars or guns. Simple things such as knives, ropes, bottles or even a mud hut are included. Considering we don’t have fangs or fur anymore, we’d positively be dead pretty fast without tools and tech.
I think when some commenters are arguing against the need for technology, they’re referring to “modern” technology. The end of the article clearly states that we must continue creating in order to continue existing, however (as some individuals have already pointed out), there are some cultures that have not had the need to create much for centuries and have adapted to the point where they do not need to invent or implement new technology into their daily lives. Yes, they use technology, but it is not as intricate as say, an iPhone. And yet they have sustained their lifestyle for centuries.
Not to rain on your parade Martin… but I don’t think you really understood the article, even elephants use technology so why do you think tribes do not? Technology is not just the internet or a smartphone, technology is rope and a spire to and I’m almost surten they use that, and if all of their tools were to disappear I think they would notice don’t you?
Asi es nuestro sistema se a ido modificando de acuerdo al periodo de tiempo
el sistema invierte y modifica para la súper vivencia de humanos en la tierra.
Greed isn’t an emotion, it’s an outside moral judgement of the actions of others.
I find it silly to talk about what is and isn’t a tool/technology.
Is it tech becaus it isn’t attached to our bodies? What about cybernetics?
From birth? What about genetic engineering?
No matter how far you try to draw this, naturalism cannot divorce itself from all and every new technology ever invented.
Being against technology is one of main things that constitutes any definition of stupidity.
The point that seems lost on too many people is, if you use ANYTHING in your hands to accomplish ANYTHING, that is technology. I’m not sure why I’m surprised at the number of comments that show a lack of comprehension.
Much discussion of greed here. Many good points. So necessity vs. greed. Analogies: Necessity: acquire what you need for you and yours to survive.
Greed: Acquire what you need to survive and then take much more beyond what you need so others can’t or struggle to survive. Some do these things out of selfish or evil intent, some out of fear.
So perhaps it’s suffice to say that genitive engineering and gene therapy are necessary for survival, without which, our future generation cannot do without? I already see it coming…cancer and HIV is going to wipe out the human race until we do something to stop these threats.
yes,i agree that tools determine our destiny.but what surprising is that technology helps to maintain and kills us.I believe its function is based on our intention.Reference
Love how you’ve all just jumped on that lady’s one comment rather than offering thoughts and opinions on the original piece. 1st commentor contradicted the lady’s point. It didn’t really need 30 other people to compound it.
Brain development and brain power is the key to human thriving and going to the top of the food chain. Stop thinking, start dying.
A very interesting article.
I would probably die if left on some strange and isolated island, but why would I be there in the first place? In the event of a technology wipe-out (leaving us all stranded in some post apocalyptic Hollywood world) I would be right here, at home – or in the area anyway. Which makes the article silly and irrelevant.
You see, right here, I would have a shelter. I would be able to keep livestock and plant vegetables. I know the lay of the land (so to speak) – so I know where to get fresh water and I know where to hunt. In fact, I even know which plants have medicinal value – so we would be just fine 😉
I’ll just stay off boats for the time being…
I know a lot of people are going to think this is fake
(but it’s not) elephants get it and are capable of figuring things out, animals in general have much more intellectual & emotional capacities then we can imagine.
Also there are geniuses (applicable to their species) in every species.
The Theory of Evolution is a theory based on supposition not facts. There is no fossil record that proves the theory. When Darwin proposed the theory is was thought that some compounds struck by lightning could make a single celled organism. Modern technology still hasn’t fully mapped out the complexity of a single living cell. For life to begin as evolution would suggest would be like taking iron, glass, aluminum, petroleum,carpet, rubber, etc. throw all that into the air and it come down as a running Boeing 747.
greed comes from the need for security not just mere selfishness
i disagree because before we had phones, laptops, etc. we lived and made it in lifeReference