Re: invention of writing vs. tools (was: Evolution's Imperative)

Ami Chopine (
Mon, 29 Mar 1999 02:39:40 -0800

Hello Cummins,

What do you think of Glenn Morton's post on recent news on fossil man?

I think also, we have a problem of perspective. Currently, we are in the
information age and experiencing a tremendous growth in technology. We
can't even keep up with the new stuff coming out every year.It was not
always that way, as any perusal of known history proves.

Writing is one of those genious ideas. By that, I see an idea
and it is obvious, right in front of your face..why didn't you think of it
yourself? Looking back, since writing is such an obviously advantageous
tool, we imagine that people invented it relatively quickly. However, since
writing had not been invented yet, there was no idea that anything better
than the messenger's memory could be had. No idea at all. No plan,
purpose, nothing to reach for.

There is always a need for writing among people who have even a small desire
to be civilized. They would want to record who their leaders are.

Again, the assumption is that people knew what _modern_ civilization was.
But it hadn't been invented least not as we know it today. If they
wanted to record who their leaders were, they kept it in their oral
histories. Societies with oral histories have individuals who's role is to
keep that is a very esteemed position in the community and is
taken very seriously. They are chosen for their memory and spend years
under training. Of course it isn't as accurate as written histories, but it
was a system in use for a long time. It worked well enough. Why fix what
isn't broken?

They would want to send word, without depending on a messenger's memory.

Again, they had no idea whatsoever that there was a better way. Also,
populations were small, and I doubt there was much reason for "runners" to
pass messages back and forth between nomadic groups, even assuming they
spoke the same language. They probably would have only communicated when
they met eachother as groups, in passing or perhaps for crude trade.

There are countless reasons why even a low technology people would want to
put their language in writing.

They did not know about writing. How could they want to put their language
in writing if the idea had not even been thought of. It is a basic idea to
us, but no human on earth had ever written a thing.

Writing is a very sophisticated task. It involves being able to associate
sets of symbols with real objects. The first "writing" was probably just
tallying marks. Tallying would only have started after things needed to be
counted, and the information kept. Like larger herds. It would only have
appeared after agriculture was invented, as someone already said. I don't
see any reason for it before agriculture that oral histories could not have
filled the need for.

We are in a mindset of progress. We have the time, the resources, and the
knowledge that we can improve our technologies. Our ancient ancestors were
worried about getting enough food, shelter, water, and other necessities for
survival. They did not have an idea that their lot could be improved,
because no one's had ever been improved. Progress was not an idea yet
invented. Any semblance of civilization was out of the necessity to
cooperate for survival, with no other motives. They probably didn't even
have a formal leader...just an alpha male type.

With this scenario, I can see over 100,000 years of no agriculture, modern
civilization, let alone writing.