I’m currently (mostly) utterly absorbed in Matthew Johnson’s excellent ‘Archaeological Theory: An Introduction’ , but have stopped, as is my wont, to ponder a little. It’s all very well using current-day hunter-gathers as a kind of living experimental archaeology, but why has our society moved away from that method of subsistence? How did that happen here and not there?
Those who know me, know that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about population density and growth and its effects on various things. Not, I hasten to add, based on anything scientific, or any knowledge, but just an instinctive feeling that the number of humans that interacts together is important. Largely based on ideas from chemistry and physics, but also based on how people differ when put in groups to think things through together.
It started me wondering if innovation and change are a result of human interaction: whether jealousies, friction and, above all, discussion are required to interrupt the equilibrium of an otherwise stable situation. I certainly know from my own experience that umpteen daft ideas pop into my head per day, and that I use social interaction to evaluate the worth of these ideas (my friends tell me not to be so daft). This interaction stops me wasting time on the ideas that will not lead anywhere, leaving me more time to think about the ones that might. I’m actively using people as a technique for forced evolution of ideas.
I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that the best method I’ve found for refining an idea or design is to *play* with it. Children play instinctively and without external influence. Imagination and creativity is what allows their developing mind to understand and make room for what they have learned, and to find uses for it. Playing lets you test out scenarios and ideas, without risk of rejection or derision as it is understood that you are ‘only playing’. But really successful play requires the interaction between people (whether real or imaginary!); a solitary child will often anthropomorphise their toys in order to bring in the element of discussion and interaction, even if both sides ultimately derive from themselves. Playing at interaction also allows the development and testing of empathic behaviours.
I think it was the superlative Terry Pratchett who suggested that ideas flow through the universe, striking people’s minds at random. That’s as good an explanation as any I’ve heard for how ideas start. I’m more interested in how they spread. How does the notion to chip just a little bit more off the flint tool, just *there*, suddenly spread? How do they become accepted, common, and then the subject for future dissatisfaction and enhancement? Is it human nature to become bored of ideas and seek new ones, is it an indication of available leisure time to think, is it an indication of pressures within society that caused something to give? At this point in my education I have more questions than answers.
I normally approach an analysis task by constructing some characters that might be participating in the system, and how they might think and react. When analysing extinct societies, all bets are off. I can’t use my modern empathy to attempt to gauge motivating factors and thereby attempt to predict reactions. I just don’t have the same life experience as Neolithic man. So how do I work out how change might happen and be managed?
I caused myself fits of giggles at the bus stop this morning by imaging a conversation between a stone age innovator and the rest of his tribe. I had played to the typical stereotype of superstitious, gods-fearing, unsophisticated primitive man and therefore determined that any alteration to the Way Things Are Done would lead to ostracism and eventual banishment. My innovative friend moved off, to another tribe, where his innovations were welcomed as a gift from the gods, and my friend revered as having the powers to connect with the gods. Is this likely? Who knows. My foray into prehistoric empathy just served to demonstrate to me that I don’t have enough data to start writing user stories.
What started me on this rambling train of thought was the idea that it was isolation and therefore lack of external (to your tribe) influences that suppressed the human urge to innovate. If this *is* a human urge, perhaps that in itself is up for debate. If change is threatening (as it can be for modern humans), what factors would cause it to become nonthreatening and even welcome?
I’ve a long way to go before I can start thinking about this properly!