Celebration of Cavewoman

Woman grinding seeds between two stones
Woman grinding seeds between two stones

My daughter and I were discussing innovation and inventiveness. Well, actually we weren’t but the subject got mentioned in the context of “what if….”. What if our caveman ancestor had not banged together two rocks and invented fire starting? My opinion was that it was probably our cavewoman ancestor who did it. Our caveman ancestor would probably have banged his thumbs together between the two rocks.

This started me thinking. Inventors are usually man. Rarely, in recent times anyway, is a great inventor a woman. Why is this? Is there really a gender gap in inventiveness?

Fire making tools
Fire making tools

Thinking back to the caveman and cavewoman days, it is likely that the woman was responsible for the invention of clothing. The caveman was probably happy to chase pigs through the scrub with his dangly bits flopping in the wind, while the cavewoman would be inventing the loin cloth, which the caveman would likely adopt with glee, as it prevented his said dangly bits coming in contact with the gorse and other spiky plants. For the cavewoman there was an advantage that it hid the dangly bits from her view.

Then when the woman in the next cave over, the blonde one with the big … assets, starting wearing that fitting badger skin outfit, cavewomen had invented fashion. Hmm. The charcoal from the newly invented fire really enhanced the under eyes, and the lighter ash really made the cheekbones stand out. Your move, blondie!

Fur Coat
Fur coat

And cooking too. Caveman probably dropped his slice of bear loin in the fire and discovered that it tasted great, after you brushed the burnt bits and the ash off. Cavewoman then got a stone, put it on the fire and sizzled her steak on that. With a few grilled veges on the side, for the healthy touch.

Of course when caveman was unsuccessful in bringing home any meat, the family had to subsist on berries and seeds. Crushing the seeds between two rocks probably made them easier to eat and that a short step from grinding them up, which is a small step from mixing them with water and then dropping them on the hot stone. Somehow I don’t imagine the caveman doing that. He’d be too busy describing the ones that got away.

Tibetan flour mill
Tibetan flour mill

Then when the caveman invited next door over for tea, then something special was required. So wrap the grilled meat pieces in the flat bread, add a few herbs and spices, and hey presto! Instant cuisine. I bet blondie couldn’t even boil an egg. Oh, wait a minute, we haven’t invented boiling things yet.

What if we take that coconut shell and fill it with water and balance it on the fire? Add a few leaves from that bush over there, and we’ve invented tea. A few ground beans from that other bush and we have coffee. Hmm, let’s domesticate a goat, so that we have an assured source of meat, and hey, we can put some of the goat’s milk in the tea.

A cave
A cave

My semi-serious point is that all these things that were developed in the dim and distant past were likely invented by the women. While the men were out chasing pigs, goats, and badgers and developing weapons and warfare, and all those men things, women stayed in or around the cave inventing, well, home.

When the men came home with pig-on-a-stick, the woman would break down the animal, with a stone knife probably invented by a woman to make it easier, remove the tubes and other gruesome bits, and set it on the fire to cook. She probably accidentally domesticated the dog by feeding it the bits she didn’t want. The cat was always there.

Miling a goat
Milking a goat

Of course, when you spend your days, sitting on the ground, keeping the fire going, accidentally inventing smoking of meat by hanging it over the fire, the ground begins to get a bit, well, hard. Animals skins help somewhat, but animal skins with dried grass under them were even better! But to keep the grass from leaking out from under the skins, woman had to invent sewing.

Of course, sewing helped the skins look a lot better. Take that blonde girl. What? You bought yours! You invented shopping? Go, girl!!

I’d bet it was a woman who invented agriculture. While man was out chasing deer and tripping over rocks, while he was gathering a paleo diet on the side from bushes and shrubs, woman was at home noticing that some of the seeds gathered last year were sprouting. What if she were to scratch some shallow lines in the ground and plant those sprouting seeds? What is she were to water and weed them and, well, let’s invent a word, cultivate them? Then they wouldn’t have to go so far to find seeds when that idiot man couldn’t find any prey! And if they did grow, she’d save some seed for next year rather than just eat it all.

Wheat in field
Wheat in field

Then when the cave gets too small for a growing family, it’s the woman who looks around, finds a bigger, better cave, and pays the occupants half an antelope for it. It’s the woman who invents real estate.

It’s the woman who sticks a few palm fronds in cracks in the rock to give them shade from the sun in summer, and who piles up some rocks to block the wind in winter, it’s the woman who diverts the stream away from the living area. Yes, this cave has running water! No need to go down to the stream to drink! It’s the woman who invents home improvement.

Cave entrance
Cave entrance

Of course, my hypothesis above, that from fire to home improvement, these things were invented by women. The women were, in general, left behind while the men went hunting. The men didn’t have time to invent things, but the women were able to put their minds to work on improving things around the cave, but people give them little credit for it. But when push comes to shove it seems to me that civilisation is the greatest achievement of womankind.

Sappho
Sappho

 

 

Consciousness continues to amaze and elude


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I make no excuse for returning to the topic of consciousness. It’s a phenomenon that, apparently, everyone experiences, and almost certainly some animals experience it too. However, it is the ultimate in subjectiveness. No one except yourself knows how you experience consciousness.

It can’t currently be measured and we can only detect it by the behaviour of a person. The old chestnut of a comatose patient coming round with hovering relatives and medical staff is familiar to all. “He’s coming round!” says a person at the bedside as the patient’s eyes flicker and his muscles twitch.

English: Man in coma still not responding to s...
English: Man in coma still not responding to stimuli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is not a reliable way of determining consciousness. People have surfaced from comas or anaesthetics and have reported that contrary to the physical evidence they were in fact conscious for at least some of the time when they were comatose. Also, deep brain scans have shown changes which may indicate that the patient was responding to question in that his brain patterns changed, which has led to a medical furore. There is disagreement as to whether or not the changes in the brain indicate that the patient was in fact conscious.

Definition of “Conscious”
1.

a. Characterized by or having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations,and thoughts. See Synonyms at aware.

b. Mentally perceptive or alert; awake: The patient remained fully conscious after the local anesthetic was administered.
2. Capable of thought, will, or perception: the development of conscious life on the planet.

The fact that consciousness is an objective phenomenon (so far as we can currently tell) means that we can only subjectively assess if it exists in a person. Even if a person behaves as if he or she were conscious, feeling pain, drinking beer, doing all the things that a conscious person would do, how does one know that this person is actually a conscious person? It is conceivable that what looks like a person is a sort of zombie, programmed to behave exactly like a conscious person would behave.

English: zombie
English: zombie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(These philosophical zombies are not like the usual cinematic concept of a zombie – they look like ordinary people, they have not died and revivified, bits do not fall off them, and they don’t have a hunger for brains. It’s a technical philosophical term).

The short answer is that there is currently no objective was to tell. Everyone except yourself might be a zombie. Erm, although I subjectively know that I am not, which might mean that I am the only conscious person in a world of zombies. It’s probably simplest to argue, that I am conscious, and I appear to be little different to everyone else, so it would be silly to argue that everyone else is a zombie. It’s much more likely that we are all subjectively conscious in our own heads.


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Consciousness appears to be an aspect of the brain/mind. If parts of the brain are destroyed, or momentarily shocked by a blow, consciousness ceases and the person becomes unconscious. As above, though, it is conceivable that a person might not be able to move or respond, but still be conscious in the prison of their skull. It sounds like a particularly unpleasant fate.

Consciousness appears to be an emergent property of the brain/mind, because there does not appear to be a particular part of the brain that is related to consciousness as such. I think that it is fair to say this, though I haven’t delved into the subject much recently, though I do read things as I write these posts. In doing this I read an article on The Time website which hits many of the same high notes as I’ve hit here. It’s nice when I find an article that does that!

Emergent (software)
Emergent (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An emergent phenomenon is something like a family or a sports team or a termite nest. The emergent phenomenon is not implicit in individual members of the family or the sports team or the termite nest, but all the members make up a new entity which has an identity of its own.

Emergent phenomenon rely on the synergistic effect of all the members working in a concerted way to achieve more than a single individual can achieve by themselves. (Emergent phenomenon are not restricted to social interactions – water is wet, though an individual water molecule cannot really be considered to be wet in itself).

Synergy-reaching-with-kite
Synergy-reaching-with-kite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It follows that, just as the higher animals band together into families, bands and packs, which is an emergent phenomenon seen in humans societies, that the brains/minds of some animals are likely to experience the emergent phenomenon of consciousness, as they behave as if they do. It is highly unlikely that consciousness only evolved in one species, though of course it is possible.

Opponents of the idea that animals may exhibit consciousness suggest that we are anthropomorphising when we detect conscious behaviour in animals, and that they may be be zombies (in the philosophical sense of the word), and that the apparent consciousness is merely behaviours that are instinctive.

English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczare...
English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczarek niemiecki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, no one knows for sure if animals do experience consciousness or not. I rather feel that it is likely that they do, and the extent to which they do is determined by how sophisticated their minds and brains. Certainly, I feel it is unlikely that consciousness is controlled by a genetic on/off switch and that it evolved in animals in the same way as any other trait, that is gradually, and our near relatives on the genetic tree are to some extent at least conscious.

If this is so, then consciousness in animals other than ourselves inform ethics – we should treat animals as if they are conscious beings, as far as we can. I read a science fiction story once in which every being on the earth got a boost in brain function as a result of the earth leaving any area of space where a brake was put on brain function by some physical field or similar phenomenon.


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The human race immediately became super-intelligent, and apes became at least as intelligent and conscious as we were. Also other animals, which we used as food sources became to some extent aware. As the story ended one of the characters was musing on this fact and suggested that maybe a religion of self-sacrifice could be given to these animals so that we could continue to eat them. I’d suspect that, more likely, the human race would become vegetarian! Or possibly, as suggested in the story, we would employ the apes to do the dirty work for us.

Animal husbandry
Animal husbandry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)