Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002
The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the birth of evolutionary psychology and the establishment of ICT in the classroom. Whilst the former has, fairly firmly, established the status of human language as a biological adaptation, demonstrated that descriptive and discursive language is probably not unique to our species, and teased out the prime role (gossip) and unstable nature of speech; provided a Pleistocene adaptation explanation of both our social structures, and liking for junk food, which provides a framework for discussions of citizenship and religion; it is silent on the origins of the adaptations that led to our curricular core of literacy and numeracy and the wider curriculum flowing therefrom. Furthermore, the field is innocent of hypotheses about technology – and thereby ICT – as an adaptation, except to infer that it is post-Pleistocene. The exponential growth of technology, and its scientific foundation, over the past two centuries has characteristics in common with a speciation event. In an education system that focuses on language, the question of wherein lies the intellect of technology remains unaddressed. Given that graphic symbolic representation does appear to be unique to us, as a species, it is suggested that an examination of the relationship between graphics and our capacity to adapt, rather than adapt to, the environment may prove a fruitful point of departure.
In the year eighteen hundred and two, two centuries before this text was keyed, William Paley opened his Natural Theology with the following passage, quoted by Richard Dawkins (1988) in The Blind Watchmaker:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch on the ground, and should it be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch had always been there.
Paley’s argument in support of a necessary divine designer to create the heavens, earth, and all the life forms therein, a notion documented some five millennia previously in Sumer (Kramer 1972), has succumbed to Darwin, Mendel, and Crick & Watson. We have now the capacity to engineer new species by DNA manipulation and can plot the processes whereby single cells grow into individuals capable of researching their own genesis. In this respect, we have done much in two centuries. Yet, Paley’s watch retains its enigma.
How did the watch come about?
The word ‘technicity’ is unofficial. There exist several, linked, senses of the word, of which two are institutional: firstly, in the context of EU software patent law (FFII Software Patent Workgroup 2002) there is a test of technicity (German: Technizität) or technical character:
… technicity, novelty, non-obviousness and industrial applicability …
implying that patentable software must be more than a computer program (algorithm); secondly, in the context of the philosophy of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, where the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2000) entry includes the following:
… "technicity," the attempt of modern man to dominate the earth by controlling beings that are considered as objects.
This sense was possibly introduced by Dreyfus (2002). The original source is Heidegger’s, 1953, “Die Frage nach der Technik”, initially translated (Langan, 1959 Ch XI) as “The Inquiry into Technique,” the title is more commonly rendered “The Question concerning Technology” (Krell, 1993 Ch VII). (Although Mackenzie (2001) ascribes the term to Simondon; who wrote “technicité”, which (below) connotes meanings beyond those in Heidegger.)
A third, vernacular, sense is to be found in European, where the usage is similar to ‘hi tec’; although the use of ‘technicity’ in English versions of French websites (technicité in French, Technizität in German in ones) to describe walking boots, golf courses, musicians, media, and industrial equipment connotes technicality and professional expertise and hence an intellectual content absent in the Anglo-American term.
Heidegger related Technik to the Greek ‘techne’, that essentially human capacity to ‘let be’ the sculpture immanent within a block of marble. In common with Marx (McLellan 1999), Heidegger saw modern industrial technology as discontinuous with craftwork. He asserted that technicity, the essence of technology, was a framework that led to a constrained view of the world, where both people and the environment, with its resources, flora and fauna, are a ‘standing reserve’ ready for exploitation. He compared the farmer tending a field and letting his crops ‘be’ with the miner who ‘challenged forth’ the underground coal as energy. He also used a silversmith ‘revealing’ a chalice as a pre-technological example.
Heidegger’s claim that the ‘technic’ worldview originated in post-Socratic Greece and degenerated thereafter into the excesses of modern industry (Zimmerman 1990) is negated by knowledge both of Greece and Sumer. Greek silver involved ‘challenging forth’ of the metal from ore, which, in turn, had been challenged forth from the earth by enslaved miners who had the status of a standing reserve. The irrigation-based agriculture of Sumer (van de Mieroop, 1999) was highly technical, in the modern sense, and involved challenging forth produce from a resource depleted terrain. Here people, specifically as potential slaves, were also viewed as a standing reserve.
Extending further back, evidence in the Palaeolithic suggests (McBrearty & Brooks 2000) that the complex of behaviours that marks out behaviourally modern humans encompasses a conceptual framework that takes nature as a collection of resources for exploitation. Indeed, reflection suggests that all living organisms operate in their environment as if it is a standing reserve.
Technicity, the essence of technology, is here understood as that specific, behaviourally modern human, capacity to go beyond the biologically given – the capability to become a watchmaker.
Relative to other matters discussed here, the modern notion of evolution is recent, Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” was published in 1859 and the modern synthesis, with genetics, is a product of the last century. Similarly, science in its present sense originates with the shift from the ‘cookery’ of alchemy to atomic physics, triggered by the electrolytic dissociation of water a fortnight after Volta demonstrated his ‘pile’ in 1800 (Asimov 1990).
Darwin cites the dictum: “Natura non fecit saltum” (Burrow 1985 p 223) as a caution against falling into the discontinuity trap. Phase transition, however is a fundamental natural phenomenon: for millennia the separate natures of earth, water, and air have been recognised; and we ascribe to the Greeks the system that included ‘fire’ as the fourth element in a conceptual framework that endured for over two millennia, and was unquestioned by Newton.
The final foundation materiel is the property of matter termed entropy. Originating in Carnot’s theoretical work on steam engines, published in 1824, the entropy principle was first stated by Clausius in 1850 as the second ‘law’ of themodynamics:
Heat cannot of itself pass from a colder to a hotter body.
which rules out perpetual motion machines. A function of temperature and thereby particular motion, statistical methods were required to describe the behaviour of collections of molecules, even in an ideal gas. The statistical expression for entropy is (Stonier, 1990):
entropy = k log D
where k is Boltzmann’s constant (3.2983 x 10-24 cal/deg), and
D is a “quantitative measure of the atomistic disorder of the body in question”.
Hence, given that ‘atomistic disorder’ (number of possible microstates) includes the number of different molecules in a system, entropy is also an indicator of complexity. That heat is given up when substances change phase, e.g. the latent heat of fusion of ice, shows that entropy is also an indicator of structure. (The example given by Stonier (1990, p 48) is the denaturation of trypsin (loss of three dimensional structure), which increases entropy by 213 cal/deg/mole.) Schrödinger (1945) suggested that entropy taken in the negative sense might be considered a measure of order; and coined the phrase “Life feeds on negative entropy.” Attracted by isomorphism between the entropy formula and the measure of information developed by Shannon:
H = - i Pi log Pi
where P is the number of possible symbol combinations,
Brillouin (1962) suggested that information be considered the converse of entropy. This notion was explored further by Stonier (1990, 1997) who equated information with ‘pattern’ seen in the universe. Whilst the value of his hypothesis is uncertain, it does direct attention to the question of the entropy ‘climate’ that pertains in a given region, and to phase transitions (Jou & Pavis, 1989). The value of such considerations is illustrated by work on black holes (Hawking, 1988, p 103); a reminder that our species understands its environment not by the information available to our senses but through instruments that transduce patterns carried by the four natural forces into a sensible form. From these patterns comes information. Historically, ‘modern’ science began when electromagnetism displaced heat: heat, random motion, is incapable of conveying information; whereas the electromagnetic spectrum may be modulated to carry patterns, with messages.
Modern cosmology is evolutionary in the Darwinian sense. That is, the universe has evolved without discontinuity by slow, steady processes. Within this continuity occur changes of phase. The characteristic of a phase change is that entities and behaviours exist after the phase change that did not exist before it took place and the properties of which cannot be predicted from within the prior phase. In outline, it is currently held that the following cosmological phase transitions occurred (Kaufman 1993, Longair 1996)):
Time after Big Bang
Strong atomic force
Weak atomic and electromagnetic forces
Protons and neutrons
Universe now matter dominant
(+ some lithium & deuterium)
Photons & hydrogen
Galaxies & Quasars
(Earth and solar system)
Entropy increased at every phase-change, accompanied by the potential for greater complexity, i.e. an increasing probability that highly improbable entities, like the Earth, could exist. The complex chemical composition of interstellar space (Irvine & Knacke 1989) includes many components required for replicating organic organisms. Smith and Szathmáry (1995) cite 1988 work by Wächlerhäuser, which suggests that life needs an ‘earth’ because entropy considerations favour surface bonding for the polyanionic organic compounds which might have begun the process; with liquid water as a prerequisite (Katasuki 1988; Ball 1999). Once begun, Smith and Szathmáry (1995) suggest the following phase transitions occur:
Populations of molecules in compartments
RNA as gene and enzyme
DNA + protein (genetic code)
Animals, plants, fungi
Human societies (language)
The following expansion is proposed for the last phase transition:
Homo societies (language)
Homo societies (language)
Human societies (technicity)
The coarse evolutionary sequence within the Homo phase (Leakey 1994; Lewin 1998, Smith & Szathmáry 1995 p277) is as follows:
Time before present
4.5 Ma to 2.5 ma
2.5 Ma to 1.8 Ma
650 - 800
2.2 Ma to 1.1 Ma
2.4 Ma to present
800 - 1450
The Later Homo category has the following suggested subdivisions (Lewin, 1998 p 339):
Time before present
2.5 Ma to 1.8 Ma
650 to 800
1.9 ma to 300Ka
850 to >1000
Archaic H sapiens
1Ma to 250Ka
1100 to >1400
500Ka to 30Ka
250Ka to present
Any evidence in support of a phase transition between anatomically modern and behaviourally modern H sapiens is in the existence of entities that did not exist prior to the transition and that could not be predicted from within it.
Evidence from the Levant of some 100Ka (Niteki & Niteki 1994) suggests that Anatomically Modern Humans alternated with the cold-adapted Neanderthals according to climatic conditions. However, there is no evidence of difference in behaviour or tool assemblages. Indeed, the tool assemblages of both Earlier and Later Homo show remarkable stability over time. For example, the bifacial ‘hand-axe’ of H erectus remained structurally unaltered for over a million years. Similarly, the assemblage associated with H neanderthalensis remained stable until cohabitation with behaviourally modern humans occurred some 40Ka ago. The stability of the tool assemblage suggests that the modern concept of ‘tool’ may be misleading prior to the emergence of modern human behaviour. Dawkins (1992) notion of the extended phenotype might be more useful. This would suggest the hypothesis that increased encephalization provided the capacity to hold a greater number of templates for constructing complex artefacts: a parallel with, say, birds’ nests.
In a recent survey, McBrearty and Brooks (2000) have suggested that the ‘human revolution’ evidenced in Europe some 40Ka has foundations in Africa some 250Ka earlier, based on the appearance of decoration and the use, and storage, of ochre. Deacon (1998) proposed co-evolution with language.
Language and Homo
There is a presumption that language is the highest cognitive capability of our species (Swann, 2001).
Primate precursors of human social behaviour, including tribalism, leadership, alliances, apprenticeship, warfare, relations with other species, sexual relationships, and communication are well documented (Goodall 1986; Matsuzawa 2001); including demonstrations that Pan, the primate group closes to Homo is evolutionary sequence, has a cognitive capability to use simple semantic and grammatical constructs when presented visually. The field of evolutionary psychology (Barkow, Cosmides & Tooby 1992) focuses on the evolutionary adaptations that saw these behaviours develop into human ones. Of particular importance is the evolutionary advantage of cooperation, and hence larger groups; and the competing fitness needs of the sexes in a species where, compared with apes, neonates are 12 months immature, a consequence of brain size in relation to the birth canal. In this context, Dunbar (1996) proposes that language evolved to service social cohesion and argues that the primary use of language is ‘gossip’, a vocal replacement for primate grooming. Deacon (1998), from a neurological perspective, suggests the co-evolution of brain and language. The papers collected in Harford, Studdert-Kennedy & Knight (1998) are largely supportive of this hypothesis. Stringer (2002) thinks that H ergaster could have had speech. It seems possible that language was characteristic of the whole genus Homo. This early development of speech finds support in Darwinian theory, where complex capabilities do not jump into existence fully formed but rather develop as a sequence of fitness enhancing adaptations. Pinker’s (1994) notion that language is an inbuilt instinct finds support in the human developmental sequence, where language buds and flowers between the ages of two and four following the completion on neurogenesis.
Support for the early evolution of language, possibly including grammar, is also to be found within language itself. Whilst all languages appear to operate according to an underlying universal grammar, the sounds used and surface grammar vary dramatically; yet all languages are equally capable of conveying complex ideas. The papers collected in Lock & Peters (1996) underline these characteristics of language. That language changes very rapidly temporarily and spatially is one of its defining characteristics (Nettle 1999). Each generation defines itself by its vocabulary and accent. Localities, even relatively close ones, have unique words and pronunciations. The definition of a tribe, or culture, embodies the existence of mutually incomprehensible language. An explanation for this apparently maladaptive characteristic of language is its use as a defence against freeriding.
In any cooperative group, where favours are understood to be reciprocated, the most evolutionary successful strategy is to take all and give nowt. However, when members of the group can remember that an individual never contributes, then they can withdraw cooperation. This makes freeriding not longer adaptive. However, in a larger group there is a greater chance that a freerider will avoid detection. Genetic theory (Dawkins 1989) suggests that altruism is adaptive in an evolutionary sense only for close kin. The altruism that oils human groups must, therefore, require protection against freeriding.
The danger, therefore, comes from ‘strangers’ whose reliability cannot be ascertained. In larger human groups, stranger detection strategies beyond personal knowledge are required. A local, group, dialect that gives away a stranger through divergent pronunciation is just such a mechanism. Note: only very young children can learn a second language with phonetic accuracy. This means that the stranger will be treated with caution until their cooperative credentials are assured.
The difficulties experienced by philosophers in expressing their thought in language is well illustrated by Heidegger (Krell 1993), who needed to mine ancient language in order to approach his meaning. Indeed, as Langan (1959 p 3) noted:
Heidegger recreates the German language as he writes. … Translating a philosophy that lives deep in the darkest genius of its language is no easier than translating Hoelderlin …
Hence, language qua language does not seem to have the characteristics necessary to motivate the phase transition hypothesised for behaviourally modern humans.
Graphic representation is more sophisticated that language, at least from the freerider perspective. Signs can be both public and secret. Whilst the illustrations on the cave walls at Lascaux (Delluc & Delluc 190) drawn 10Ka ago are immediately recognisable, the signs and symbols have lost meaning. Graphics are also inestimably better for representing spatial information.
Unfortunately, our understanding of drawing is minimal, as is our use of the word. At Leeds University Library on 7 Sept 2002 a keyword search of turned up 24,301 occurrences of ‘language’ against ‘drawing’ at 1,053; the indexes of a dozen introductory psychology texts produced no occurrences of ‘drawing’; and no text on evolutionary psychology considered the subject: fascinating because Evans & Zarate (1999) is cartoon-based. Where drawing is discussed, it is in the context of the development of artistic representation, e.g. Cox (1992). Yet writing, number, and geometry are founded in drawing.
Although McBrearty and Brooks (2000) trace the genesis of drawing back as far as 250Ka ago, information from both genetic and linguistic data (Cavalli-Sforza, 2000) suggest that speciation took place no later than 150Ka ago, in Africa, with radiation occurring from100Ka ago. Given that there is no great disagreement that Homo sapiens of some 300Ka had language, this suggests that drawing as an evolutionary adaptation, along with the complex of novel behaviours, the technicity, that accompanies this skill, defines modern humans. Certainly, philosophers, like Heidegger, take this to be the case: his very difficulty in bringing language to bear on ‘der Technik’ suggests that his chosen tool lacks analytical power.
As with language, we have evidence from childhood development to complement that from anthropology. Children begin to draw after they have learned to speak; at the age of four the ‘budding and flowering’ process begins and lasts until ten, as any primary school classroom wall will testify.
On the surface, our psychological and neurological knowledge helps little in understanding how a drawing is done. Perception and motor control are well documented; the problem is what happens in between. For language, we may propose an ‘association’ between (spoken) word and object, or even concept, based on a mapping from the one to the other. This is not true for drawing. The processing of visual input entails a breaking down into features (Hubel 1996). It has been suggested (Carpenter & Grossberg 1987) that perceptual neurosystems function, not by analysing the input data from the senses, but by postulating that data and carrying out discrepancy analysis. For an organism that has evolved in a stable, therefore anticipated, environment, i.e. all organisms, this is a reasonable hypothesis. (If our visual perception does work this way, it can explain why proofreading ones own work is so difficult.) If the brain does actively synthesise data to match the features derived from input, at say the retina, then the brain has the capability to represent, as opposed to react in a stimulus-response manner to, the external environment. That is, the brain constructs its own reality.
Drawing, compared to language, is innovative. A competent speaker (Chomsky 1965) is capable of generating infinitely many grammatically correct utterances. However, no speaker can generate novelty in the sense that a draughtsperson can. Drawing can catalyse technological and cognitive innovation, normally taking the ‘state of the art’ a step further. Note: drawing includes writing, so the application of the graphic arts to language may be the source of innovation in ‘technique’ in literature.
The neurological structures required for drawing are unknown (Carter 2000) and nerological models undeveloped (Arbib 1995, Deitmar, Humphreys & Olson 1999). It is necessary, therefore, to invent a model for ‘discursive’ purposes. Taking as a premise the notion that neurosystems are constructive, i.e. propose input and then check for discrepancies, accepting the natura non fecit saltum dictum but also noting that phase transitions are a natural phenomenon: Paley’s watch is taken to be evidence of new entities signalling a new phase. A neurological mechanism is required to generate these entities. Taking together: the high degree of connectivity from the much enlarged frontal lobes to older parts of the brain (Deacon, 1998); the reduction in brain size of modern humans; the greater variability in graphic capability compared with language; the highly developed musical, drawing, and calculation skills of (autistic) savants; and the relatively low correlation of non-verbal compared to verbal intelligence tests with academic attainment (NFER 2002); the very short evolutionary timescale for the development of technology; and the conundrum of drawing, some neural change must have crystallised at the point of speciation. Ó Dúill (2001) has proposed resurrecting Maxwell’s Demon as an aid to thought. The suggestion is that a part of the brain, disconnected from older parts evolved to process information from the internal and external environment, has became a ‘brain within a brain’ creatively freewheeling without the constraint of verification against input from the environment. This is our Demon. Its environment is not the world and the body but the older brain. It can take input from the sensory processing systems, recombine them, and output novel combinations through the effectors back into the world. This will create a novel entity in the world. Darwinian principles of natural selection are all that is required, in principle, for the operation of this inarticulate intelligence to increment technology. The relationship with language then becomes extremely interesting because, once an entity is extant and operational, language can describe and discuss its properties. (Though the reluctance to coin neologisms rather and a preference to extend the meaning of extant words suggests some inhibitory factor.) The speculation, above, is just that: speculation. However, in the absence of an alternative, speculation provides a suitable starting point for further work.
History, originally oral and later a written record, is coloured by the evolutionary origins of the language medium. Its adaptive purpose, social cohesion, becomes maladaptive when an accurate record is required. The systemic effect is similar to that of the preferences for high value foods evolved in the Pleistocene in an environment where such foods are plentiful – the junk-food problem. Similarly, the ‘gossip’ basis of language leads to over representation of the activities of, ancestors, leaders, warriors, and the influences of tribal mythology. The history, archaeology, of epochs before to the advent of oral tradition is rooted far more in the environmental conditions that drove adaptation. It will be useful briefly to sketch such an analysis for the modern era.
The starting point for any analysis of modern human history is the Pleistocene. This is the environment within which modern humans evolved and it is the environment of this period, particularly its resources, to which successful adaptations developed. However, caution is needed in following the classic evolutionary concept of adaptation to the environment. The novel capacity of behaving with technicity directed certain of modern human behaviour towards adapting the environment: to managing and reshaping it. Any species that can afford to dispense with its covering of hair needs to ensure environmental stability, at least the individual’s microclimate.
Modern hunter-gatherer lifestyles rely on detailed mental maps of the resources of a wide area and their season. Cues to later supplies – flowers in the spring – need noting. It has become evident that during the last glacial epoch climate variation was considerable. In the period around 100Ka anatomically modern humans could only alternate with the Neanderthals in the Middle East as the climate shifted between cold and more temperate. Slightly later, however, there was radiation out of Africa, with populations of modern humans reaching Australia possibly as early as 60Ka ago. That the earliest expansion appears to have been into Asia and Australasia rather than the Middle East and Europe suggests that, what was now a technological species might well have used water as a transport resource; a resource much exploited in later periods.
The retreat of the ice sheets some 13Ka ago left a Middle East where the piedmonts with oak and pistachio woodland; large stands of emmer and einkorn wheat; field peas and lentils; wild dear, goats, sheep, aurock, boar, onager and wolf; snails; and fish in lakes; were a veritable Garden of Eden that provided a population capable of collecting, storing and processing the produce with all their needs (Bender 1975). There is also evidence, from the distribution of obsidian, that sea-borne trade was well established (Dixon, Cann & Renfrew, 1963). It should not be surprising that this environment enabled large settlements (Scientific American 1979), even cities, to develop; a process that was mirrored somewhat later in Mesoamerica.
There followed a steady move down from the hills and the development of wet, irrigated, farming methods, also paralleled in Mesoamerica. By 5Ka ago, city-states with a recognisably modern built environment, pattern of activity, and administrative infrastructure had been established in Mesopotamia (Kramer 1963, 1981; Crawford 1991). The Sumerians challenged forth the alluvial plain with great engineering works to produce agricultural excess, which they then traded for those resources of which the area was devoid. Technologies: the brick mould, oven (Levey 1959), (bronze) pickaxe, writing, shipbuilding, hydraulics, and wheeled vehicles were the foundation of the infrastructure. Energy resources were sunlight and systematic deployment of people, including slaves. Freeriding was formalised as inter-city raids and warfare with hill tribes, with treaties a countermeasure. The rule of law began to overlay anti-freerider adaptations built into language. But capricious spirits still ruled the world so Sumerian rulers, cf. Goodall’s alpha males, assumed the mantle of the gods.
Once agriculture, with its resource imbalance had developed and stabilised, another resource came to the fore. Renaissance Europe looked back to the Greek city-states for inspiration. However, the resource that the Greeks deployed was not land based: they were in the sea transport business. Comparison of the Epic of Gilgamesh (Dalley 1989) with the Odyssey (Rieu 1945) makes clear the change. Odysseus was a sailor where Gilgamesh walked and rode. Greek technology was more efficient and made more intellectual demands: wind was ‘free’ and water reduced friction; the non-verbal intelligence required to deploy these resources to effect was considerable, as were the rewards of success. The rewards, in this case, enabled Greek Citizens to deploy the resource of out-group people as slaves. The Romans complemented Greek shipping with an inland transport infrastructure, increasing transport efficiency by building innovative roads. This development was made possible by the maturation of iron working. (Production of high quality products from bloomery iron (Maddin, Muhly & Wheeler, 1977) is a considerable intellectual challenge.)
The innovation that catalysed the next developmental phase was also technological (Lindberg 1992). The mouldboard plough, capable of turning over soil and burying weeds more thoroughly coupled with the horse collar, a harness that did not constrict the animals breathing, increased agricultural efficiency by a factor of two in Europe in the twelfth century. Excess production was then a resource for trade, and Mediterranean ship owners, in the footsteps of their Greek and Viking precursors, deployed they efficiency of their transport system once more to good effect. The outcome, following Columbus first journey of 1492-3, was that in the sixteenth century maritime technology and navigational expertise made possible routine crossing of the Atlantic. Like the Sumerians of five millennia previously, the Europeans displaced the indigenous population, retaining only some of the names they used for places and items unknown in Europe. Like the Sumerians, the Europeans imposed their culture and used their technology to exploit the resources they found. The scale, however, was of a different order: Europe had acquired a continent rather than an alluvial plain.
Exploitation of the American resource gathered pace during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, activity shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard. Exploitation of the Americas depended, as in Greek times, on just one resource: shipping. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the British Isles, with its long tradition of coastal shipping, fishing, relatively long coastline, and plentiful supply of trees, came to be the focus of this exploitation. These resources, the most efficient form of transport available, made viable the production of primary produce in the Americas and its refinement in Europe. Hence, a trickle, in Shakespeare’s time, of novelties from the Indies, followed by a stream of luxuries for our Pleistocene palate, such as sugar, in the eighteenth century became a river of staples in the nineteenth.
This process was accompanied by a major intellectual change (Hall 1983). The Medieval system of trade Guilds was unsuited to the pace of change taking place in navigation and greater intellectual resources were required. Hence, in the London of the early seventeenth century (Simon 1967) experts in varied technological fields became educational entrepreneurs. Technicity became important because its exercise was economically productive. No longer was it acceptable for texts to fail to represent reality accurately. (In Renaissance Italy, the recovered Classical medical works of Galen were illustrated by artistic contemporaries of Leonardo da Vinci (Lindberg 1992), who correctly represented anatomy in contradiction of the text; the text, however, was accorded academic primacy.) The eighteenth century saw glimmerings of modern science and, in the manufactory, the precursor of modern industry.
Until the end of the eighteenth century our species had only deployed environmentally available energy resources: chloroplasts in plants directly or, through meat, indirectly as a food source; mitochondria in animals, including humans as free, slave or serf labour; the climatic energies of wind and water; and latterly, in the fire-engine, the weight of the atmosphere. There was a reluctance to go beyond these forces. Gunpowder had been banned in China and James Watt believed ‘strong’ (high-pressure) steam ungodly and unsafe. Richard Trevithick, who having worked with high-pressure hydraulic pumps in Cornish tin mines had no inhibitions in deploying strong steam, took this step beyond the bounds of nature (Trevithick 1872).
With the modern steam engine the limitations set by nature on motive power were removed. This meant that human technicity could unblock the bottleneck that restricted European processing of American staple into finished goods. Marx in his superb analysis of capitalist production, whilst detailing the massive increase in productive capacity in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the human consequences thereof, chose to discount the contribution of resource generally and technology specifically, focussing only on money.
Concurrent with Trevithick’s power unit, Lancaster (Gordon & Lawton 1978) established a school to teach the skills of literacy and numeracy to the poor. These skills, those of the Sumerian administrators, were the resource that was now to become scarce. By the time Marx wrote “Capital” education in the ‘3Rs’ had become universal. Nevertheless, there was a great shortage of clerks in London at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was the biological resource restriction that ‘technicity’ now tackled (Augarten 1985). The universal machinery required was imagined by Turing (Berlinski 2000); and, shortly after 11am on the 21st June 1948, the constraint was shown to be surmountable (Anon 1998). After Noyce and Moore, in 1968 with the microprocessor, had done for computing what Trevithick had for motive power in 1797, biological limitations on information processing capacity were lifted.
Institutionalised education, OED (1999) sense 3, has at its core literacy and numeracy. These are the skills first introduce to the scribal schools of Sumer five millennia ago. Schools were, in effect, the training grounds for the crafts of writing and accounting. Their association with administration kept them close to the seats of executive power (Saggs 1995, Smith 1955). Development of writing, specifically its application to religion, increased the perceived power of the written word (Robinson 1995). In Mediaeval Europe scholars sought a measure of independence and trade protection though the Guild system, which led to the establishment of Universities (Wilds & Lottich 1970, Boyd & King 1975). Up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the 3Rs were the province of scribes, computers and scholars. Education, following the Greek and Roman model, was for the elite ‘citizens’ of the society. In England, the curriculum of the Elizabethan ‘Grammar’ school was founded in Latin and Greek, language, history, and geography, oriented towards gentleman and the professions.
In 1870, in England, the nature of education changed, with the introduction of universal elementary education. The core curriculum was that of the Sumerian scribal school, with the same objective in mind but at the level of the whole society. Further and higher education remained in grammar schools and universities, where it changed little. However, the later nineteenth century saw the introduction of technical subjects and design through the Mechanics Institute movement and Art Colleges. These were incorporated into the higher levels of elementary education. In parallel, the deeds grammars schools were being amended to permit science to be taught. However, the subject that rose to greatest prominence was English. The University system also expanded to encompass ‘scientific’ subjects, introducing the Batchelor of Science, in the Victorian era. Technical subjects, however, remained outside the academic sphere until relatively recently. If a fairly long view is taken of education over the last couple of hundred years, culminating with the National Curriculum for England at the end of the twentieth century, taken with the current proposals for specialist schools, it appears that universal elementary school curriculum has largely displaced that of the grammar school but that the structure and academic focus of the Mediaeval university has displaced the ethos of the technical college. Hence, education at the beginning of the twenty-first century retains the orientation of Sumerian scribal schools: human mental information processing (Barber 1996).
Education, it appears was remodelled to serve the needs of an industrial society. However, this did not involve significant change, simply incorporating subject matter previously the province of trade and craft institutions. This should not be surprising as industrialisation only involved motive power. The difficulties encountered in writing the Technology National Curriculum (Graham 1993, Dainton 1996)) support the notion that there was little cognitive depth to the incorporation of technology in the school curriculum.
The introduction of ICT, which performs information processing operations that formerly could only be carried out mentally, poses rather more complex and unavoidable questions. Now classic conundrums are: the calculator, text-to-speech, speech-recognition, and language translation. There are also questions around the development of the battery of cognitive skills that are required effectively to deploy the resource of high-speed complex information processing systems. That there is beginning to be an appreciation that ‘office automation’ requires process re-engineering at least on the scale required by the industrial revolution. The steps required to ensure that children to develop the thinking required to deconstruct large scale systems and incubate the skills needed to break complex processes down into small, independent but linked operations, cf. the manufactory, when the present curriculum expects them to develop directly applicable mental processing skills, is uncertain. There is the possibility that both curriculum and teaching method will require major revision. The notion that education might need to undergo a phase-change requires serious consideration. The first step along this road is to develop and understanding of that capacity for technicity that allowed the possibility that Paley might pitch his foot against a watch.
Were Paley’s watch itself not a significant sign, the gathering pace of exploitation of genetic material, should assure us that humanity represents a new phase in the evolutionary progress. In one improbable corner of the universe life is adapting, rather than adapting to, its environment. Both evolutionary and developmental sequences suggest that language preceded drawing as a human adaptation; and that, of the two, drawing represents the higher, most characteristic, cognitive capability of our species. Drawing is associated with a complex of behaviours for which the term ‘technicity’ is proposed. Technicity is the motor of the (new) phase of environmental management. Newton’s use of tangent drawing to develop calculus; the sojourn of Einstein in a patent office; and acceptance that the Turing machine is the most elegant representation of computability all add credence to this notion. Unfortunately, knowledge of the psychological, pedagogical, neurological, and cognitive characteristics of drawing, let alone the wider creativity of technicity, is poor. Given that ICT systems evidence great technicity and that interaction with them has become increasingly graphic, more research, even basic research, is needed.
Four lines of enquiry suggest themselves:
cataloguing extant work on drawing and construction as a cognitive capability, with its neural correlates;
work to determine the relative power of language and graphic representation in a range of contexts;
exploration of the consequences for curriculum and method of applying currently rejected ICT capabilities in the classroom; and
an evaluation of the resource, including infrastructure, required to trigger a phase transition in education from text to ICT as the pedagogic medium.
It might then be possible to determine whether education needs to undergo a phase transition or whether ICT is complementary to current practice. For our species, we may speculate whether the phase transition from organicity to technicity occurred at the moment of speciation or over the last two centuries.
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