1.3 The 5 things that made our species so special in the animal world

  1. A name for a thing is not the thing. There is an unbridgeable mental gap between  the thing and the name (symbol, word, image) of it. The Afbeeldingsresultaat voor magritte ceci n'est pas une pipeFrench painter dedicated a painting to this phenomenon in 1922: Ceci nést pas une pipe. Going to live with an enrichment of our normal group animal communication with names for things has brought our species into a world of words, a spiritual (or ‘virtual) world of named things. This phenomenon has already occupied our philosophers from Plato.
    It creates a feeling of distance between the namer and the named thing: the ‘mental gap’, the human condition.
    In other words: it creates a distance between the subject (the namer) and the object (the named thing): we are distant from our environment, while normal animals willlessly remain part of it.
  2. With a name you grab the thing. You can see the name (word, symbol, image) as a handle on the thing with which you can ‘grasp’ it, get a ‘grip’ on it. You can grab the idea (the mental thing) with it and reach it out to the other person who can grasp it and gets the same idea in her mind immediately.
    With names for the things our ANBOs entered the path of ‘grasping’ (understanding) the things of their world and we are still on this path of ever better understanding the things.
  3. With the name for the saber-toothed tiger the ANBOs got mental ‘grip’ on the monster and it reduced their instinctive fear a little.
    Conversely, this also means an impairment of the named. In wild tribes one may never name an adult: one needs to describe someone (such as: father of …). Jews (being from a wild tribe culture) are not allowed to call their god by name. Muslims (being from a wild tribe culture) are not allowed to depict their founder Mohammed.
    With names for the things ANBOs got emotional power over things. This led them to use the fire instead of keeping to flee for it like all other animals. [1]
  4. With names for the things ANBOs could transfer knowledge acquired in one generation to the next. Knowledge could accumulate.
  5. Two know more than one, and with the whole group ANBOs could brainstorm, could solve big problems, could devise plans. Together with their fire the ANBOs changed from fearful troops of ape-men to the ‘hooligans of the savanna’.

As a result of these five effects of disposing of names for the things our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah.

Darwinian biologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins has introduced the concept meme as the cultural twin of the biological gen. Just like genes ensure transfer of physical properties, memes (ideas, melodies, fashions, techniques, practices) ensure transfer of cultural elements. It is important to note here that the names for things we are talking about, constitute a concept on a more fundamental level than Dawkin’s memes. In a way, this name thing – the linguistic capacity – is a condition that is necessary for, and at the root of, the development of cultural memes.

  1. with the exception of pets and … birds

 

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.

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