An Old Problem

So, which came first, tools or imagination? I would bet that’s an easy answer, imagination all the way. It’s safe to say that some primates are gifted with this particular feature, since using a “tool” of any kind requires a little something “extra” to use since it isn’t part of the natural body.
It probably required imagination -and- fearlessness in equal doses for the first humans to approach a burning fire for the first time. Imagination was there when the uses for fire were discovered. Imagination was there when the first questions were asked, when the first stars were seen, then used as navigational tools and season-predictability, for domestication to begin.
I guess the point is made. Fire led to cooking and I would argue that it wasn’t a long time before that happened. And there is NO argument as to whether cooking was successful or not. It changed our entire structure. And this point is seeming recently relevant as scientists hope that this event would help explain the HUGE increase in our capacities, while the brain itself not changing much in size. Worse, early man beat out other human-like competitors, some of whom had larger brains.
And yes, you’re right to guess that I’ll add imagination in there. Once curiosity started, it couldn’t be contained. Anyone with young kids knows that. And answers of any kind led to a more complex world, suddenly there were things unseen! And growing a capacity for understanding, curiosity, and imagination would have meant than further complexity was inevitable, thus leading to further developmental needs for capacity and so on.
These are nice ideas and it’s certainly a safe bet that they were a huge boost! Combined, and coupled with nearly constant adrenaline cooking the brains from all the dangers of everyday life and that’s a giant leap for mankind.
With easy-to-digest food in the belly, a fire roaring centrally to cook more, the fire aiding in both protection and lighting… And so, without so much time to have to chew raw stuffs, there was time to look around and ask “Why…?” furthering community development as they shared in the stories and food together.
Sadly, it’s a myth, though, unless you add all factors. Science may agree with chefs that cooking is tantamount to civilization and that’s a step in the right direction. But Terrence McKenna had this idea, probably early in his life, though he published a book on the subject in 1992, “Food of the Gods.”
Instead of actual food, though, he proposes it was through the discovery of and controlled use of various types of plants and fungi (metabolites) that produced altered states of being. Or, you know, drugs. His focus may have been on hallucinogenics, but the theory carries to all things used in this way.
I mean, mushrooms aside, there’s the cocaine leaves, there’s other leaves coated with resins that kill certain bacteria (antibiotics), there’s sedatives, fermentation, soothing oils, all kinds of things. And just like everything else, this required imagination and capacity to understand and control, especially since most of these things have terrible effects if abused.
And that’s why they’re forgotten. Better, some of them actively work on parts of the brain that work on perception, which means a sudden change in that. And knowing perception is the first step to knowing others, AS WELL AS their thoughts, (which is its own part of the brain), and thus controlling them. If a person has a very broad, all-encompassing worldly view, it’s not going to be very easy to coerce him.
But what was really first? Tools? Some primates use tools and some don’t. The ones that don’t have other super-specific ways of getting food (elongated finger, super-omnivorous diet, ears, etc.). The ones that use tools aren’t, well, human. They may -do- human things and even become opportunists at our expense and learn to use the tools that we leave around and I’d like to think that requires imagination. Are we facilitating a new change in some primate brains by vastly encroaching on more of their territories?
It’s necessary. They have to learn to survive as more of their land goes away, worse as more of civilization disrupts every bit of everything they’ve ever known or taught their young and now they have to learn something new. What’s next for them?
Cave living became it’s own boost, too. Suddenly it was constant protection from stuff outside, which is a lot. And storage. And it built community. Which fosters imagination, which grows complexity, which increases capacity, and so on.
The rapid rise wasn’t one thing. It wasn’t two things. It wasn’t just drugs, either, as much as they won’t get the credit they deserve, too. And it wasn’t just imagination. It was a wonderfully delightful, if not magical, amalgamation of EVERYTHING, which is the vaguest of answers. I say it that way because there are probably factors we can’t imagine yet, because we still don’t know how the brain works.
Which isn’t true. It’s a stupid piece of machinery. It’s the “How does it operate?!” that’s the question. Some of those riddles are solved.
But, I think, like particle physics, the answers are only masquerading as more questions. I’m especially interested in the right brain, simply because I want to be a writer, but also because the way it perceives sensory input is entirely a visual representation of particles in action. Which is to say energy-to-energy reactions and ultra-connections forming one static (or dynamic, +Carbon) object.
And the object is just that, objective. It’s a physical thing in a world of empty space that’s bound to travel by gravity over the horizontal dimension. That does mean that the world IS flat, despite it’s rising and falling, just that it curls over the super-heated, roiling chunk of iron in the center, which is also where all the Earth’s weight is, creating its gravity. Flatness itself being a product of gravity.
Ah, that’s way off the point. Kind of. The human eyeball perceives, oh, nearly none of the -actual- light in the world. It can’t, everyone agrees, it would be impossible to make sense of all that. Even with the left brain.
But what would a brain be like without a corpus callosum?
That’s not a fair question to ask, I mean, who knows what that is? In simplest terms, its the piece that separates one hemisphere from the other, the thing that has been shrinking over our communicative development so rapidly to allow for capacity. The capacity itself began to fill up with specialized “brain-tools” that just devoted themselves to certain actions like depth-perception, catching and/or throwing, (some) hormone regulation, or even more complex, dancing which involves movement -and- imagination. And it’s an old practice. Why, it still exists to this day!
So, the corpus callosum shrunk to make way for capacity, necessary because instead of objects, now, there became abstracts. The barrier couldn’t be as forceful to keep those thoughts apart, since now, we know that the object is just a sum, it doesn’t actually show the entire chemical or particle processes involved in keeping it in our empty space.
I was only giving myself an hour to write about nonsense, and now it’s up. I guess the final point is that science is right about celebrating that cooking food led to our development. I love to eat, for sure. But that isn’t the only reason. Imagination plays a large role, as it helped every other thing in its role. Hundreds of things. The “only explanation” is still out there and it will never be complete until we’re willing to admit to every piece’s role.
And that goes for all us in the world, too. Not in terms of using tools, but in recognizing that we all have our role and value. We won’t ever really be a “great” species (I mean, c’mon) until everyone realizes that in order to define that “greatness,” we have to find everyone’s value.
And exploit the hell out of it.
-j.
PS: Also, that last line (not the exploitation) is a paraphrase of a greater line by Dr. Jedidah Isler, who said, “We cannot be the most excellent expression of our collective genius without the full measure of humanity brought to bear.”

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