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What makes humans different is externalised cumulative memory.

In other species, individuals learn, but their knowledge disappears when they die. So each generation has to start from scratch.

A few animals have very limited shared memory.

Only humans externalise memory in physical form, so learning and culture don't just persist across generations, but become cumulatively detailed and increasingly widespread and accessible.

Tool use isn't that unusual. A few animals can share tool strategies. Only humans can share tool strategies in a way that persists long after the original inventors died.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:31:39 AM EST
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Case 1: In bottlenose dolphins, all individuals from a single ancestor use tools, while their companions (as in "member of the same group, but of different ancestor") do not use the tool.

Case 2: in chimps, tool use and learning most effective between age 3-5. A 16 year long longitudinal study.

Case 3: Archeologists find remnants of continued tool use on the same site for 4300 years.

by Xavier in Paris on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 07:36:13 AM EST
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You're missing my point.

I can learn how to do integration by reading Wikipedia or buying a book. The point is not that I'm learning from other individuals, but that the knowledge persists and exists externally and independently.

I can learn to play the blues by listening to recordings made by someone who died a long time ago. You're going to have a hard time convincing me there's any evidence of similar transmission in animals.

Tool use is not the point here.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:47:07 AM EST
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It's the case 3 for you, then: An archeological site were tools associated to chimps are found on a 4000 years duration. These tools are still used by chimps.

Anyway: a knowledge exists in the brain of an individual (who has learned it). If this individual, chimp or human, do not teach it, then it is lost. Otherwise it is transmitted. Chances are that the second individual will be young (study about learning age 3-5 for chimps), so will survive its teacher: if he becomes a teacher in his time, then the knowledge has been transmitted to the next generation.

Does knowledge exists independently from a living mind? This is a philosophical question I do not have an answer to.

by Xavier in Paris on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:31:50 AM EST
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As I said - tool use is not the point. But you're not understanding the difference, so never mind.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:06:59 PM EST
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I understood you were talking about the transmission of knowledge in time.

That's the third paper, talking about continuous transmission attested by archeological evidence during a period of time.

If you're restraining your though to transmission through a media like writing, recording and so on, then what about human oral cultures or pre-historical ones?

I feel the limit is much more tenuous and that it may be impossible to find something other than a difference in degree (of intelligence, communication, culture...) between species that are akin to ours.

by Xavier in Paris on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 06:33:54 AM EST
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I'm sorry if i didn't understood well your meaning.
by Xavier in Paris on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 06:35:13 AM EST
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The line goes:

personal memory -> shared herd memory -> external persistent shared memory -> abstracted external shared memory.

Each is a superclass of the previous one, and the differentiator - as I said - is that once memory is externalised, face to face transmission is no longer required, and it also becomes possible to symbolically abstract, summarise, model and share experience without having to living it personally.

That's a difference in kind, not a difference in degree. It took humans a long time to invent it, but once it was invented it made a lot of other things possible, including brain tools like computers, which not only store information outside of individual experience, but can leverage innate intelligence in novel ways.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:04:08 AM EST
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In addition, it means that when aggressive males manage to kill themselves off, their cultural influence does not die with them, but persists and can be relearned by future generations. Which means we're worse off than baboons.

Specifically, I'm thinking of the theory that European post-WWII Social Democracy is a consequence of two world wars in 30 years decimating the male minitaristic elite. But the effect of that did not survive the coming of age (1980s) of the generation born after WWII (1950s), because they could learn toxic culture from the "classic" writings of dead people.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:10:54 AM EST
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The corollary is that you don't change culture by persuading individuals, you persuade individuals by changing culture.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:32:59 AM EST
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And what likely happened after WW II was that there was insufficient change in the underlying culture. Likely insufficient account was taken of the ability of the females and older generations of males to transmit the negative cultural traits that were attenuated in their expression after WW II by the reduction of living males in the 20-40 year old age group. So when more normal population demographics reappeared so did the traits that had led to them being skewed in the first place.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 25th, 2013 at 07:54:35 PM EST
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No, the knowledge depends on you knowing how to decode it. It's not independent of anything - write the book in Chinese (guessing here) and it's not knowledge to you or me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:46:39 AM EST
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That depends on whether we consider knowledge to be a relative or an absolute thing. I may know something that is unintelligible to my teenage children, because they are not currently disposed to comprehend or accept it.

Nobody could read hieroglyphs or Sumerian cuneiforms either. But the knowledge they embody was still there all the time, just waiting to be decoded.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 10:20:37 AM EST
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Decoding was only possible because we had sufficient continuity of oral skills to link stuff we knew to stuff that was there. And whether our interpretation is correct or not is an issue of debate.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 10:33:47 AM EST
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ummm so the information was there? sort-of there? not there at all?

I don't really think oral skills had much to do with decoding hieroglyphs or cuneiforms. Archaeological evidence, and other writings, of various ages, were what permitted it.

I postulate that encoded knowledge is objective and intemporal (but, obviously, contextual in its interpretation)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 11:10:54 AM EST
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Nope, no more than DNA is.

We were able to use the other writings because we knew how to read their descendants. Reading is a skill we pass on orally.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 11:18:58 AM EST
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No, speaking is a skill we pass on orally.

Reading and writing are enhanced language skills that can be learned after that. Humans are capable of teaching themselves to read (with difficulty, but it can be done - just as most people can learn the basics of most languages, given tapes and books.)

The point isn't that language exists, but that enhanced skills allow information to persist and accumulate outside of human brains, and to be transmitted without personal contact.

And it's not just writing. Some of the most popular language courses are spoken-word. They're recorded and replayed to order.

Again, the key difference is that they continue to exist independent of direct personal contact. Just like iPad games for kids that teach them word basics when their parents aren't around.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:42:54 PM EST
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Why does something have to make humans different? We do some stuff really well, but we're just animals.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:03:44 AM EST
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You're asking that on the Internet.

Just saying.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 08:38:53 AM EST
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Difference of degree, not kind. We're really shit at flying.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 09:47:09 AM EST
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Er - no we're not. We're really good at flying - to the Moon and back good.

We're really bad at flying by flapping our forelimbs around, which is something else entirely.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 01:50:12 PM EST
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