Homo erectus and the paradox of human tools


20 Responses to “Homo erectus and the paradox of human tools”

  1. It’s evolution, baby.

  2. digi_owl says:

    The balance of nature seems to be up there with economic equilibrium as elegant mental concepts that has exactly zero to do with reality. Nature keeps displaying large swings in population numbers. Ever so often the Lemming population in Norway will explode, and have been doing so repeatedly for so long that it has become known as a “lemming year”.

    • wysinwyg says:

      It’s been known for decades that population models display chaotic behavior such as booms and busts.  Here’s a parameter-space diagram based on the logistic function (a simple population model):link
      I’m not sure what you mean by “balance of nature” but I doubt it is news to anyone that species sometimes boom and sometimes go extinct.  Not sure that’s indicative of any deeper principal.

  3. I remember Jared Diamond saying something in one of his books about how scientists can always tell approximately when humans first entered a new territory (eg Americas, Australia, New Zealand) because that’s when the mass extinctions occured.

  4. Jose says:

    “Our tools have helped us create some pretty big problems. But our tools are also exactly what we need to solve those problems.”
    So what you’re saying is: humans are a buncha tools.

  5. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Human beings are now the dominant agent of landscape change on this planet

    Does that explain the popularity of HGTV?

  6. wysinwyg says:

    Our tools have helped us create some pretty big problems. But our tools are also exactly what we need to solve those problems.

    Some of the tools you’re talking about are the methods of manufacturing consent used by think tanks, advertising firms, and media companies.  As long as some people benefit from the problems or causes of the problems these tools can be used to divide and confuse the rest of the population.  This is happening right now.

    Tools are like the force.  Using them productively requires restraint; using them destructively doesn’t.  Humans are not good at restraint.

  7. E T says:

    Maggie: Could you please give examples of  “But our tools are also exactly what we need to solve those problems.”  Cases where our tools are helping solve large scale, long term problems without creating even more, similar problems – problems such as resource depletion & species extinction.

    • NelC says:

      The ozone holes? Our phyical tools caused the problem in the first place, but the analytical tools we’ve created enabled us to spot the problem before it got obvious and really serious, and the social tools worked to start to undo that problem.

      • E T says:

         Only one example for a large scale, long term problems. I think that says it all.

        • NelC says:

           It’s the first one I thought of, but I’m not a professional journo, and I’ve no interest in further feeding a depression-troll, so you’ll have to manage on your own.

  8. David Carroll says:

    I’m a’gonna let you finish Maggie, but glacial age erosion was the biggest planet changer of all time! ;)

    • Ipo says:

      But one could argue that current flora and fauna are far more influenced by humans than by the last ice age that ended 9- to 8000 years ago. 
      I guess they are.  

    • Gunker says:

      I think the clincher is “was the”, whereas the post referred to “is the”. If you look historically, we would have asteroid strikes, continental drift that would have had a larger impact than Humans.

  9. Ted Marks says:

    What if the decline in carnivore species and the appearance of Homo erectus around 1.8 mya are both consequences of larger climatic and ecological changes? i.e. what if we didn’t hunt them down or outcompete the beasts….the big pointy stabby kitties were going extinct anyway and erectus stepped up to fill the voids? It just doesn’t seem like this study does anything to show why erectus was necessarily the thing doing the extinct-ing.

    • timmaguire says:

      I was thinking that myself–on the bare fact that we are the last omnivore standing, they have concluded that we knocked down all the other omnivores.  As too often happens in this sort of work, the data does not support the conclusion. A little self-hatred can go a long way in filling in the blanks.

      I’ll file this one with the Scientific American article of a few years back that blamed early agriculture for ending the last ice age (AGW started 6,000 years ago, wouldn’t you know).

  10. jwkrk says:

    I was talking with a co-worker yesterday, who had an interesting idea.  He maintains that the one positive ability humans bring to the planet (whether or not we choose to use it is another question) is our ability to deflect an extinction-event sized asteroid.

    Then again, if we’re the major extinction event ourselves, that might not be much consolation to other species…

  11. noah django says:

    > Our tools have helped us create some pretty big problems. But our tools are also exactly what we need to solve those problems.

    I pray that you’re right.  and I’m an atheist.

  12. mitche says:

    The arrival of humans to Australia – over 40,000 years ago – closely correlates with a mass extinction of large animals on the continent. It has been suggested that the connection is causal, either directly through hunting, or indirectly through environmental change (there was a large increase in large-scale fires at the same time).
    The theory is contraversial (of course) but the very fact that it is plausible that a stone-age culture of hunter-gatherers could alter the eco-system of an entire continent is significant.

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