Baby slings & cyborgs

One of the major ways we get around the smart biped paradox is by growing infant’s head after birth… And that means that you are coping with an ever more helpless child. So the argument is that the baby sling is invented by bipedal Australopithecine females because they need that for their energy equations… Once you have solved that, it doesn’t really matter whether you keep its bum in a sling for a week, a month or a year. And therefore you have opened the way for selection pressures to actually act on increased intelligence…

[I]t’s the other way round to the way we normally think about it. We normally think about intelligence developing until we got smart enough to invent things. I’m arguing that in fact we’ve got to see very dexterous relatively small-headed bipeds doing inventing which leads to the terms of evolution changing. And that process I believe is still going on.

Archeologist Timothy Taylor argues that the invention of the baby sling lead to our ancestors evolving larger brains. More interestingly, he argues that this is still going on: we are developing technologies that change the way we evolve.

Coincidentally, the word “cyborg” was coined fifty years ago, and to celebrate Tim Maly of Quiet Babylon is curating 50 Posts About Cyborgs. I’m slowly making my way through them. Highlights so far are Tim’s own post, What’s a Cyborg?, and Kevin Kelly’s Domesticated Cyborgs.

So how did I get from baby slings to cyborgs? I’ll let Kevin Kelly tell you:

If a cyborg means a being that is part biological and part technological then we humans began as cyborgs, and still are. Our ancestors first chipped stone scrapers 2.5 million years ago to give themselves claws. By about 250,000 years ago they devised crude techniques for cooking, or pre-digesting, with fire. Cooking acts as a supplemental external stomach. Once humans acquired this artificial organ it permitted them to evolve smaller teeth and smaller jaw muscles and provided more kinds of stuff to eat. Our invention altered us.

We tend to think of our relationship with technology as something recent, as shiny and new as an iPhone. That’s not the case. It has been this way from the beginning, since before we became human. We like to think that we’ve created the technologies we use, but increasingly it looks as if they created us.

Also related: Your Posthumanism Is Boring Me