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Humans and tools

tools Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash


Humans and their attachment to tools is fascinating.

Our relationship with tools dates back to the time where it first differentiated our species. Arguably, the use of tools is what set our species apart 1. The ability to make and use tools has been in our family tree as a species for millions of years. In fact our family tree may have possessed wooden tools since the ancestors of humans and chimps diverged 4 million years ago.

Tool-making seems to be highly coupled to another activity unique to the hominin lineage. There is also a body of research that seems to connect our ability to operate and develop tools and our capacity for communication through language2. Researchers believe that there are similarities in the way speech and tool-use networks have evolved and are organized in our brains.

Some researchers even posit that language evolved as a means to better use (and explain the use of) tools3. Namely that early humans would develop language to teach others how to make or use tools. Researchers, through analysis of our communication and motor systems, suggest that these two systems would were complex enough to require an evolutionary adaptive process. It is possible that there was a behavioral context that made these adaptations possible, and one of these contexts were the teaching of tool production or use.

Fast forward to today, we still have our love for our tools embedded in our brains. Scientists studied our brain and found that we react strongly to ‘seeing’ tools, suggesting that our affinity and love is hardwire into our brains.4 In a Princeton study, our brain showed more activity in response to images of tools in comparison to images of other kinds of objectives.

Part of this obsession is explained by and linked to our human dependency for stuff, which dates millions of years ago, as described by Anthropologist Ian Hodder 5 in his concept of Entanglement:

Entanglement is the idea that describes a dependency in our relationship with the things we make. We, as humans, depend on things in all sorts of ways, as tools to keep warm and gather food or as a way to show our social status. In my view, being dependent on things is what makes us human. We cannot be without things.

Tools and humans go hand in hand.

Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash

Notes