PBS "The Human Spark"

Sunday November 7, 2010

So the iTunes store started renting nonfiction TV shows and I downloaded and watched PBS's "The Human Spark," a three-part series hosted by Alan Alda, that guy from M*A*S*H.  The show was trying to get at "What is the nature of human uniqueness," which is something I think about a good deal.

Naturally "language" is the biggest answer, but maybe not the only or fundamental one.  One interesting thing was that they linked, as I've seen before but hadn't been thinking about recently, other symbolism and art with the symbolism of language.  So ancient pierced shells used as decorative beads could have been worn symbolically as markers of same-grouped-ness, expanding the cooperative groups of humans beyond immediate family or whatever, allowing for trade, etc.

This reminded me of the Cosmides and Tooby paper "Can race be erased?" that showed that clothing coalitional cues strongly influence people's ideas of group belonging.

Another interesting thing was what one of the scientists on the show said: "I don't think you can separate society from technology."  He was talking about the way society, communication and sharing, spreads technology from the inventor to other users.  And now technology spreads people's social communication etc.  The social network and all that.  An interesting quote.

Another cool thing, which I may have heard before but forgotten about, is this: Dogs understand and follow human pointing, but wolves do not - even if they are raised like dogs.  It seems that the ages of domestication have bread an understanding of pointing into dogs.  Pretty crazy.  It's a kind of symbolization, like beads, language, etc.

Overall, the three shows are a fairly entertaining introduction to a bunch of neat stuff, but necessarily not very comprehensive or anything like that.  And it's a little weird how they try to make Alda some sort of "star" of a documentary.  Whatever.

This post was originally hosted elsewhere.