The shared stories facilitated the reunion with the absent being and his persistence in the memory, beyond his material existence.
(1) In an earlier chapter we saw that the adaptation of hominins to the ecosystem of the African savannah forced them to temporary separations, to ensure, on the part of the females, the gestation, delivery and protection of the young, together with the collection of plant foods; and on the part of the males, in hunting expeditions, the critical proteins to feed brains of increasing size.
The homininos survived generation after generation to borderline situations (2), thanks to their enormous investment in social intelligence and group cohesion. Something that, centuries later, modern humans were able to forget.
Emergency and concealment of being in material culture
Some species of monkeys are capable of cultural behaviors (which are transmitted by learning and not by DNA). But they are not able to use or manufacture objects if they do not serve to achieve food or sex in the present situation. The instruments they use or build are not objects for themselves, but prolongation of their own limbs.
The hominins, however, made an important breakthrough by building tools that had utility in themselves – such as sharp edge – to be used in different situations.
For the first time, the being something (in general, as general category), separated itself from the particular.
In Chapter 1 (3) I explained that the sharp cut was hidden in the stones; and the craftsman got that sharp cut to appear. It could be seen, touched and cut other things, such as wood, meat and nerves of the hunt: everything that was softer than the stone of which it was made.
These qualities -the sharp cut and the hardness- belong to the being of things, alien to the subject. The homininos did not know it: they did not know how to speak, nor did they have words to say “cut”, “hard” or “soft”. But in practice, they knew what they were doing, because from there came a stone that cut many things. That was his being in general as a tool.
And it also had another existence in particular: to serve as an extension of the hominine right arm. It could be said that the hominino was the first cyborg (4), with an artificial arm, longer and finished in lethal weapon.
We could also say that homininos were learning practical, experimental philosophy. Many people despise philosophy believing that it is useless: because if they do not touch something or do not see it before themselves, they believe that it does not exist. They live trapped in material culture.
Being is the basis of our human condition. We are human and we know that we are because we recognize the being of things and the being of ourselves. And thanks to knowing and recognizing it, we can communicate it to other humans and facilitate their knowledge. We communicate it through human language, in a language we share. All animals have some kind of language, but none – except for humans – can know, manage and communicate the being of things.
The production of tools, weapons and tools was the first step in human material culture. It was strengthened, as we have seen, through communication within the family group as social intelligence based on the empathy between its members.
Hunting expeditions forced males to develop camaraderie and intelligence to deceive prey and predators.
Hominine women who attended their offspring without male support, had to increase mutual collaboration and trust between mothers and sisters, to dare to entrust them with their own offspring and learn and share their knowledge about plants and collection techniques , as well as building tools and weapons to use them in collection tasks and in their own defense.
The elusive nature of being
The being is shy and elusive like an elf. As soon as it appears, it is already hiding in the particular entity. Right now I am at my table. When you read “table”, you know what I mean and you can imagine a table like the one in front of me. But the table that you imagine is a particular table different from my particular table. Yours is according to your particular experiences with the tables. We can’t help it.
The being of the table lies hidden in each particular table. It belongs to the relationship with other things, such as the ground on which it rests or with those who sit, work or eat in it.
But the being, although it is hidden, has a lot of life, like the goblins that play in a forest clearing (5). Materially the being can travel like a stowaway hidden in a word; and land in the mind of a reader, embodying their expectations.
And that is what happened to those hominins when they built an ax: the “being” an ax or being a sharp cut or their hardness, they hid in the ax they had in their hands and for them it was now an extension (with teeth) of their arm. They still had no words to say “ax” and ask a neighbor to lend theirs. But that would change soon.
The being of things: elusive like a leprechaun and powerful. Stowaway hidden in any transport (in gestures, words, printed paper or digital signals). Jumping from one to another, it reproduces and multiplies as if it had life. A few years ago, we give these transvestites the name “memes” (6).
The birth of being
On the birth of being in the consciousness of our prehistoric ancestors we can only hypothesize. Luckily, this birth is repeated every day in our environment in babies when at eight months they perform their first experiments with the being of things. Precisely they do so by putting their presence, their absence and their persistence at stake.
The child takes a familiar object – a stuffed animal, for example – and throws it with determination making it disappear. He then directs his charming gaze to the adult who takes care of him.
If the adult does not return the toy, the child will cry inconsolably, because he feels his absence as an unbearable loss. The presence of being has become the absence of being; and as an absence it is still present in the child’s mind.
But if the adult picks up the toy and returns it to the child, it makes him happy. Then he, without delay, throws the toy again. And the adult to pick it up and deliver it. And the child to throw it again, in a true “test loop” (7).
The child has just checked the persistence of being. This is so important that, from now on, he will play to pronounce single words, repeating them or inventing them. In a few months you will be an expert practicing motherese (baby talk).
How it happened or could happen (8)
Let us return to the time of our hominins who, after exercising as hunters and gatherers separated several weeks, meet again. And the first thing they do is tell stories: the events happened to each group during the separation.
And among those stories, told without words, but with very realistic voices and movements, there is one they will not forget: when a horrible beast jumped out of the water and attacked one of the hunters on the shore.
Who tells the story is horrified; and his body and face express the anguish and pain evoked. After a moment of stupor, the whole group shares the same pain, the same clamor and the same crying.
The narrator continues the story: now he represents looking for his partner and does not find him, because the beast has taken him. The screams of pain give way to an anguished silence. Everyone looks at each other and discovers… the absence of being. At that moment they feel that the entire group no longer exists. They have lost everything. The emptiness of absence overflows them. This story has not had a happy ending. Still….
…Because hunting is not just a memory. The hunt is there: the hunters have brought it with them; and now you have to feed …
In this representation something else has happened that I have not yet told: that this hunter, in particular, had the peculiarity of being one-eyed.
While the narrator was telling his story, when he remembered the missing man he made a gesture: he put his hand to one eye. At that time, everyone present has recognized the one-eyed hunter, identifying him with a name. And then, while everyone eats together, at the moment when hunters usually get up to celebrate success in the hunt, the oldest has risen and covered one eye with his hand. Then, everyone has understood and stood up, raising their food (and the young on their heads). And everyone has screamed and cried and laughed with joy. Because the absent, in his absence was again there. And he had a name … And with his reunion, the group still existed.
This is how they discovered that, although the presence is followed by absence or even loss, the group remains: that is the persistence of being from collective intelligence. In the recognition of the other; and the recognition of oneself in others and by others.
And thereafter, every time they returned from the hunt and more if they all returned, while celebrating the return, there was a time when the whole group stood up remembering the absent and making them present by name. And everyone, at that moment, became a little more human.
Is this the same story that reinvents the 8-month-old baby? Here too, the group comes the rescue: the adult who returns with the lost teddy bear.
The next chapter: The separation of subject and object, will deal with the consequences of the experience of loss and recovery of being at the beginning of reason.
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) This chapter is a tribute to Victor Urrutia and to all those who, having left, are still alive in us, teaching us the deep meaning of the shared reunion.
(2) Go to Karl Jaspers: The Limit Situation
(3) See: When the stones came alive…
…the hands began to build the human being.
(4) A cyborg is a creature composed of organic elements and cybernetic devices. The term was created in 1960. If we redefine it as a creature composed of organic elements and artificial devices, ready to kill, it would encompass the human beings and hominins that opened the way for us.
(5) Heidegger, Lichtung -the forest clearing- the end of philosophy and the beginning of thought.
(6) The concept of meme was created by Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene” in 1976. See also, by Wolfgang Iser: The act of Reading.
(7) The test loop is an advanced concept of control technology. It seems logical to find him in a human baby, born prepared to learn any language and culture of the future, with the only condition of being able to establish a brain community with someone.
(8) “How it happened or could happen” is a expression in tribute to Konrad Lorenz, who had to use his imagination to invent plausible stories that helped us think seriously about our role in the world.