Remember Sheba?

The Chimp I mentioned earlier? Who was able to tame her greed by making good use of symbolic reckoning?

I wouldn’t go as far as considering that she used numerical symbols as tools. Mainly because she didn’t initiate the process… had she been able of proper/complete symbolic thinking she would have been able to solve the task even when dealing with real candy…

Nevertheless, the whole encounter does speak volumes. If in a hurry, jump to 28:01.

Ape genius

 

Let me start from a little farther away.
I’ve already mentioned the that we, humans, haven’t really invented anything. All living organisms are already involved in elaborate trading, use tools and have at least a rudiment of self-awareness.
Let me elaborate on the tool making and using part.

The whole thing has suddenly become rather eerie? All living organisms making and using tools?

OK, what is a tool?
Something used by somebody to accomplish a task?

Crow making tools

Watch this crow fashioning a hook and using it to retrieve something and tell me whether that hook was a tool or not.

Says who? Us?

As smart as crows are, I seriously doubt that any of them really understands the concept of ‘tool’. Or any other concept, for that matter…
OK, some of them are able to use tools. Just as some of us are able to drive cars! That doesn’t mean that all drivers understand how cars work or all those capable to use tools are able to understand the concept of tool. Or what a concept is….

And what has any of this to do with Sheba and her bowls of candy?

I haven’t yet finished with tools, hold your horses.

A tool actually becomes a tool when at least one of us think of it as a tool. When some of us consciously try to determine alternative uses for that object.

When we see a monkey picking up a rock to ‘pry open’ a nut, it is us who congratulate it. ‘Wow, such a smart monkey!’. For her, it was a natural thing to do. Something she had either found out by ‘mistake’ – when a rock had fallen on her toe, for instance, or by observing a more experienced member of her gang. But no monkey has yet tried to fashion a ‘proper’ tool… Just as no monkey has yet communicated more than in a ‘mechanical’ manner… In the wild they use various calls for more or less precise events and that’s it. After being taught some symbols  a few apes are now able to transmit their wishes/commands to other apes – including humans, or even to operate  various machines. But that doesn’t mean they are able to communicate impressions or to ‘talk about about something’ with a ‘friend’.

Kanzi

My point being that our very ability to use symbols to communicate among us has developed our ability to think. Because it is through thinking that we identify an object as a tool. And then expand the manner in which we use it.
You see, speaking has taught us that ‘what you hear’ almost never corresponds exactly with the ‘real thing’ … nor with what the speaker actually meant/tried to say … After millennia of conversations with our peers, we’ve learned that words/symbols are relative. That they can stand in for a piece of reality but that they’ll never be able to replace it. And that the same symbol might stand in for a lot of things….

The same phenomenon had happened with tools. After learning that one symbol might be used to represent two or more objects it was simple to put the same object to multiple uses. Even the most primitive stone axes were simultaneously used for ‘chopping’ fire wood, cracking bones for their marrow and for bashing in the skull of ‘thy neighbor’.

According to the various needs and wishes of the human agent who ‘called the shots’ in each instance.

Be it word or tool.

Hey, you said earlier that all living things use tools, not only an odd monkey and some crows…
Indeed… Have you ever watched a dog munching on a bone? Cracking it open and enjoying the marrow? Is it possible for us to consider that the dog has used its jaws as a tool?

No? Because the jaws are an integral part of its organism?
So what?

As a foolish teenager, I used to open beer bottles with my teeth.
Was I not using them, my teeth, as if they were tools?

Have a look-see at this short video.

seed developing tools

Had I not been conditioned to see it as a germination process, I might have interpreted it as the seed simultaneously developing a tool for retrieving nutrients from the soil and a solar panel to cook them with….