Darwin-L Message Log 5:201 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<5:201>From TOMASO@utxvms.cc.utexas.edu  Fri Jan 28 13:53:42 1994

Date: Fri, 28 Jan 1994 13:19:40 -0600 (CST)
From: TOMASO@utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Subject: Re: DARWIN-L digest 131
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

This post concerns the current thread on Tools and Evolution.

A related discussion is currently occuring on ANTHRO-L (@UBVM).  Being involved
in that one, I thought I might contribute something to this one.

At the core of this argument are a few simple themes:  technology (or, less
broadly, cultural materials), adaptation, and culture.  The question then,
seems to hinge on one of the many (and old) definitions of what culture might
be:  "Man's (sic) extrasomatic means of adaptation"

This definition warrants some deconstruction.  First of all, it was authored at
a time when the term 'man' actually meant '_Homo sapiens_', but also alludes to
the very much male centered view of tool use and its effect on the species that
was prevalent at the time.  While it is equally easy to produce a more or less
convincing coevolutionary argument for female tool use and the evolution of the
species, or both sex's use of tools, for that matter, what is the sense?

In place of 'extrasomatic' read 'conscious'.  The rest of the definition is
self-explanatory, if you know your evolution.

If this definition has any utility, then what does it tell us about 'stopping
evolution'.  We can read its implications at least two ways:  'We no longer
need biological evolution, since we adapt culturally' (and I admit this sounds
/ is ridiculous) or 'we effect the process of selection by means of culture'.
I hold that the latter statement has some merit.

On ANTHRO-L, there is currently a debate concerning whether cultural materials
are even part of culture.  The positions expressed have ranged from social
evolutionary to post-modern, but the fact that the debate is even occuring is
very interesting.  To be blunt, several of the writers seem obsessed with the
idea that cultural materials are not a component of cultural materials.  Why is
this?  Is there a fear that we might start having to make statements like "all
animals that make tools have culture"? or "Culture can be expressed in relation
to concrete objects"? - What do we do, in this case, with the fact that many of
these 'tool-using animals' actually have rather complex social organizations.
Does this mean that social/cultural anthropologists should really consider
reading primate behavioral studies?  Or even studies of carnivore behavior?

If you've gotten this far into this post, perhaps you will even have the
patience/tenacity to try to grapple with this question:  What if we reduce the
argument and invert it such that we can look at culture itself as nothing more
than a kind of dynamic technology, or an 'apparatus of adaptation'?


Matt Tomaso
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin



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