Tomorrow’s Getting Closer

Humans are an interesting species. We tend to deny that which we cannot control. Ever since we set foot on the veld we have ascribed supernatural explanations to quantifiable phenomena or just said neener neener neener and hoped it would go away. Neither method has proven effective. Astronomers and priests studied the stars not to tell you how your sex life was going to work out, but to gauge the best times for planting, finding shelter, and so on. By figuring this out they were able to create calendars so the people would have a jump on things. The oldest known calendar is about 8,000 years old. And it was, and is, accurate. All of this, however, is basic science. It helped people plan and survive. It’s since been perverted to justify or explain everything from warts to progeny. And that’s not very useful.

I bring this up not to delve into the beliefs of the unenlightened, I don’t have time for that. Instead, I’m going to jump into a slightly different pool. You see, evolution is a simple concept. It’s all about survival of the fittest. That means the most adaptable, not the strongest. Homo Sapiens were weaker and less developed than Neanderthals. But we could adapt to surroundings, or adapt them to us, so we survived and they did not. Our infants, unlike theirs, were born not fully developed at birth but were, and are, able to grow and change with the environment. There’s also evidence we ate them. But that’s a side note.

One thing humans are currently ignoring, besides basic science, is that we are no longer the only sentient species on the planet. Back in September of 2015 I wrote about how monkeys had been observed entering the Stone Age.

As Eric March reports, another species has started taking steps towards sentience and climbing the evolutionary ladder.

According to a fascinating report from Collin Barras of the BBC, archeologists in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, have been digging up crude stone tools that date back thousands of years — tools that were fashioned by non-human primates.

Which means something kind of extraordinary:

“The tools are crude. A chimpanzee or monkey stone hammer is hardly a work of art to rival the beauty of an ancient human hand axe. But that’s not the point. These primates have developed a culture that makes routine use of a stone-based technology. That means they have entered the Stone Age.”

That’s right: We now how pretty solid evidence to suggest that at least some chimps are now firmly in the Stone Age.

For reference, here are a few of the things humans did during the Stone Age:

Learned to control fire.

And then learned to tiptoe away slowly when it got … a little out of hand.

Domesticated the dog.

We made this from a wolf.

Started making pottery.

And selling it at our craft stores in Mendocino.

And while Chimpanzees aren’t close to doing any of those things…

At least as far as we know.

It’s possible these creatures are a lot more like us than most of us give them credit for. And who knows where they might be in the next few thousand years?

But, and this is key, those were simians living in social situations, working together. That’s not to denigrate their accomplishments, but it seems important to note that individual chimps had not shown any such propensity.

Until now.

John Vibes notes that a monkey in China made a tool and use it to try and escape its compound.

Footage taken at a zoo in China shows a monkey using a rock to smash through a glass enclosure in an attempted escape. The incident took place at the Zhengzhou Zoo in Central China’s Henan Province on the 20th of August.

In the video, a Colombian white-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus) can be seen examining the glass with a rock in its hands. Next, the monkey begins to smash the glass, eventually causing it to shatter into pieces.

A bystander who identified himself as Mr. Wang later told reporters that the monkey was actually sharpening the stone prior to the attempted escape.

The monkey was sharpening the stone, then it started hitting it on the glass. The monkey scared itself away, but it came back to take another look and even touched it,” Mr. Wang said.

Zhengzhou Zoo staff member Tian Shuliao said that this monkey actually knows how to use tools.

This monkey is unlike other monkeys. This one knows how to use tools to break walnuts. When we feed walnuts to other monkeys, they only know to bite it. But it had never hit the glass before though. This is the first time. It’s toughened glass, so it would never have got out,” Shuliao said.

‘After it happened, we picked up all the rocks and took away all its ‘weapons’,‘ Shuliao added.

Here’s the video.

If, and this is still speculation, primates are evolving enough to problem solve this well, then the ones in the wild should be soon developing more advanced skills.

Click that link to see monkeys creating the basic elements of an assembly line to forage nuts. Some make tools, others use them, and all profit from having food.

At this point I wold be remiss if I didn’t bring up David Brin. He’s an internationally renowned, multi-award winning, science fiction author whose UPLIFT series postulated that we could speed up the evolution of certain creatures and have them become our partners in the universe. It’s an exciting read and one chock full of optimism.

The problem, of course, is humans. We have an appalling record when it comes to dealing with different societies. How do you think we’ll respond to a different species vying for our resources?

To which you cringe, but then smile. Humans aren’t silly enough to do that, you say. Why would they alter beings, or their learning patterns, to enhance their evolutionary path?

You knew this was coming.

So they could talk to dogs.

Todd Perry, over at Upworthy, has the story.

Christina Hunger, 26, is a speech-language pathologist in San Diego, California who believes that “everyone deserves a voice.”

Hunger works with one- and two-year-old children, many of which use adaptive devices to communicate. So she wondered what would happen if she taught her two-month-old puppy, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler named Stella, to do the same.

“If dogs can understand words we say to them, shouldn’t they be able to say words to us? Can dogs use AAC to communicate with humans?” she wondered.

Hunger and her fiancé Jake started simply by creating a button that said “outside” and then pressed it every time they said the word or opened the door. After a few weeks, every time Hunger said “outside,” Stella looked at the button.

Soon, Stella began to step on the button every time she wanted to go outside.

They soon added more buttons that say “eat,” “water,” “play,” “walk,” “no,” “come,” “help,” “bye,” and “love you.”

“Every day I spent time using Stella’s buttons to talk with her and teach her words just as I would in speech therapy sessions with children,” she wrote on her blog.

“Instead of rewarding Stella with a treat for using a button, we responded to her communication by acknowledging her message and responding accordingly. Stella’s voice and opinions matter just as our own do,” she continued.

If Stella’s water bowl is empty, she says “water.” If she wants to play tug of war, she says, “play.” She even began to tell friends “bye” if they put on their jackets by the door.

While attempts to get apes to verbalize communication have met with failure that doesn’t mean they’re not communicating. There have been successful attempts to get apes to use electronic media as a means of relaying their thoughts to humans.

And, since I started on this subject in 2015, I have come across numerous examples of beings on this planet who are well along their evolutionary path without our help.

Language and tools appear to be the elements needed to kick start evolution. And both are clearly on display in the above.

As we continue to make our world uninhabitable for us, that does not mean another species can’t adapt. Plus there’s nothing to indicate that some of the artificial intelligences we’re building, but not understanding, might not prefer to work with non-human partners.

It is pure hubris to assume otherwise.

And, hubris is something humans have in abundance.

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