When the stones came alive in the hands of our hominid ancestors, 2.5 million years ago, those same hands were building a human being. They did not know it, but they did it.
Homininos(1) were not Gods nor even humans: they were just animals incapable of thinking, talking, or doing many things that are easy for us. But they were the animals best prepared to take the biggest leap life has ever given on this planet.
They had the biological, anatomical, cerebral and social conditions to overcome their own limits. What a paradox! They lived in small family groups, harassed by predators better adapted than them in any aspect of life. And on the verge of extinction due to the loss of its genetic diversity.
And precisely because they lived in a limit situation (2), generation after generation, they overflowed their own limitations. With a boldness not unlike the character of Michael Caine in the movie The Man Who Would Be King, when asked by indigenous: “Are you gods?“. And he answers: “Gods no. We’re English; which is almost the same“.
The hominins had feet to walk, similar to ours; They did not have to rest their hands on the ground like the great apes. They used their hands like us to grab things. Those hands were no longer occupied in hanging from branches of the forest trees, because those trees had disappeared; nor did they facilitate feeding on fruits all day, because those fruits no longer existed in their environment. In the steppe, they would have to make a living with their hands; and that made them artisans: to men and women.
They used sticks, bones and stones to scare away other animals, dig up dirt and extract root; Kill fish with blows and break the bones left by other scavengers to extract their protein-rich marrow.
We must now put ourselves in their place, imagining that we do not know how to speak and we do not know the name of things. But we don’t need it, because in the savannah we all know each other.
How it happened or could happen (3)
a long time ago, somewhere in Africa…
The hominins know that the stones are halfway between the animals we eat and those that want to eat us, because the stones have hidden fangs and claws, like other dangerous animals.
We know that stones can bite or hurt us with a blow, but also help us get food and protect ourselves from those who want to eat us. Their teeth are stronger and go farther than ours. This is death and life in the savannah. Some fight with each other and others help each other survive.
The birth of the stones
The stones also look like us and other animals in which they have offspring. When a male penetrates a stone female, this one is born with young that, although small, are a danger, because the young of stone are born with teeth. But if they are treated well, they are our friends.
To help the stones to have their offspring, I begin by holding a female stone with my left hand and present it to the male, which is a stone somewhat smaller, elongated and without corners, which I wield with my right hand.
You have to give some smooth and precise blows. My left hand calms the female while my right hand grasps the male stone that hits again and again.
My family has been grouped around me; Children and adults watch me closely. Accompany the encounters of the stones, clapping, opening and closing the mouth to encourage the stone to open. They also imitate with the tongue the cry of the stones: tch, tch, tch… Together we help the little ones to be born.
Sometimes, the female stone changes shape with the blows and fangs emerge. But other times, the stone separates into one or more smaller stones with your teeth already ready.
When the birth of the stones is over, the whole family jumps and screams with joy. This is a good day. Now we are stronger: these sharp stones will help us to hunt and defend ourselves.
What role do the hands play?
Let us return to the scene with the mind of our 21st century, to analyze how the two hands of the craftsman have collaborated in the process of construction of the tool. Now, thanks to what we have learned since then, we know what they did not know:
That the left hand defines the action frame on the right. He does this by presenting the raw material, holding it tightly against his own body, placing it in a horizontal position so that the percusor on the right can act. Thus it channels its force, anticipates its possible effect, centers it and corrects with precision the angle of attack.
The right hand, transfers its energy to the percusor at the precise moment and with the right force, at an angle a little lower than 90º.
When I say what each hand does, I also mean what happens at the same time in the brain of the craftsman. Your left hand is controlled by the right hemisphere. In it, the same zones are activated each time the subject faces something new.
At the same time, his right hand is controlled by the other hemisphere (the left). In it, repeated activities that become routines are modeled (4). It is what we call learning.
From the experience of building primitive tools, the hominins were improving their technology day by day and generation after generation.
But in addition to tools, since then many other novelties have appeared in our species: a mind capable of thinking and talking, of telling stories, imagining ourselves, placing ourselves and others in a situation, being aware of who we are and of our memories. Able to make complex plans, make decisions in freedom (5). And feel responsible for our actions and their consequences. Organize ourselves socially, create rules to reach agreements avoiding violence and help the weakest among us.
Can we understand how all that came about: mind, language, thought, culture and human freedom? The answers to these questions are hidden in those hits given with one stone on another and we can find them in successive chapters of this essay. Thus, for example, our ability to perceive the pragnanz of new situations in which we commit ourselves has been developed by the left hand. With the right we sharpen the edge: we produce the symbols loaded with meanings; we determine partial objectives and goals to achieve them. Logic, reason, moral and mathematical rules have been built in collaboration on both sides, left and right, in a permanent dialogue between the two.
The next chapter 2: Pragnanz in the left hand, explains how the left hand was humanized, making it easier to sense what was hidden when building a tool.
See the Chapters Index.
Current chapter NOTES
This chapter contains hypotheses that have not yet been scientifically proven, although I hope they will become so with the tools already available in current neuroscience, especially electroencephalography (EEG) and various neuroimaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MEG).
(1) The hominins are a branch of the hominid primates that walked upright like us, in feet like ours. In this essay I will also refer to homo habilis and homo erectus with this name, which have already manufactured tools between 2 and 3 million years ago.
(2) See in this blog: Jaspers: The Boundary Situation“.
(3) “How it happened or could happen.” Expression in homage to Konrad Lorenz, who had to use his imagination to invent credible stories that helped us to think seriously (and humbly) about our role in the world.
(4) Elkhonon Goldberg: The left hemisphere (right hand) manages the routines. The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind. (2001)
(5) Karl Marx wrote in “The eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Bonaparte” (1852). chap. 1: “Men make their own history, but do not do it at their own discretion, under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under those circumstances with which they are directly, which exist and have been bequeathed to them by the past.”
The same can be said of all living beings under the laws of their biological evolution. But unlike other animals, we humans are able to determine our actions, based on that multitude of circumstances and their almost infinite combinations. It is what makes us responsible. We are dealing with the emergence of that freedom here.