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INTERESTING BUT LACKING
on July 4, 2012
This book presents the hypothesis that tools had and have critical impacts on the evolution of humanity: "instead of our becoming intelligent enough to invent things, the things actually allowed us to evolve into intelligent human beings (page 57)," going even further to claim that "Technology is at least as critical to our identity as out soft tissues" (page 189). Going beyond accepted theories of genetic and cultural coevolution, the author proposed revisions of Darwin's theories so as to recognize tools into a main shaper of the human species, with technology having a dynamics of its own, up to claiming that "Things rule us" (page 160).
He makes a strong case about the crucial importance of tools in shaping human evolution. Indeed, we might do well to stop using the term genetic-cultural coevolution and think instead in terms of genetic-cultural synergetic interaction. But there are two main missing links in his argumentation. First of all, the book does not present any reasonable conjectures on the processes producing the results he describes. Thus, on the critical example of infant-carrying slings he says that they were "an essential tool" (page 122) because of the need to carry infants for long distances "So the pressure to make this discovery....is huge...It becomes conceivable that the first bestoke and standardized stone tools...were made in order to obtain the materials for... the simple fabrication process for basic slings" (page 123). Maybe this is conceivable, but "being conceivable" is a far cry from "being likely" even if we accept abduction as a reasonable logic of discovery.
The second missing link concerns the mental bases of advanced technologies, which are not a continuation of stone-age technologies but depend on science and its philosophical underpinnings. In other words, the author neglects non-material dimensions of culture which became critical both for the shapes of human societies and their impacts on evolution and for the advancements of technologies and their impacts on culture and humanity. Therefore, it is hard to avoid the impression that too large a dose of materialistic determinism hides in parts of the author's approach.
For sure the author ignores the real possibility that the future-impacting powers of emerging technologies outrun the mental capacities of humanity to control these powers and prevent the demise of the human species as a result of misuses of technologies. In other words, the likelihood of increasingly dangerous gaps between the evolution of tools and the evolution of human intelligence, including both moral and cognitive capacities, is not taken up in the book. Instead the mood of the book is unwarrantedly optimistic about the future of humanity ignoring dismal scenarios that may result from the very views on the role of tools in human evolution which he proposes. Thus, the possible need to impose limitations on the invention and uses of technologies seems to be beyond the books horizons.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem