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Human Evolution and Creativity

Creativity is a survival skill

· Organisational

"The ability to change anything was the change that changed everything " Kevin Ashton

Our ability to think creativity isn’t just a nice thing to have, it evolved as a survival skill.

Anthropologist Agustin Fuentes looks back at the world our ancestors lived in and believes creativity is the secret to what makes humans unique today. He says: “The essence of creativity is to look at the world around us, see how it is and imagine other possibilities that are not immediately present or based on our immediate personal experience. Creativity is seeing the possibilities and then trying to make those imaginings into material reality.”

Our ability to imagine and create the world we live in enabled us to survive the harsh world of predators and competitors that existed over two million years ago.

An example is found with pre-humans’ use of sticks and rocks as tools. As we progress to 1.8. million years ago, we find Homo erectus had developed the tool into a hand axe, which again lasted as the tool of choice for another million years. Interestingly, the human brain size also changed over this period, increasing to approximately 75% of modern humans.

About 40,000 years ago a creative phenomenon occurred. The crude stone tools Homo sapiens had been using changed. They began to innovate these tools, alongside other advances like throwing weapons, making art in the form of cave paintings, and the use of symbols, clothing and shelter.

The urge for Homo sapiens to make better tools gave them a massive advantage over other species they hunted for, as well as rival species of humans. They’d expanded their abilities, developing increasingly multifaceted behaviours and brain neuroplasticity. Both their brain size and complexity expanded. We also see social groups becoming more dynamic, leading to increased cooperation and communication across the species.

Creativity in the form of problem solving helped early humans in a very functional way to survive these often hostile environments. Within a few tens of thousands of years, all other humans were extinct; they were displaced by a species that was able to create and innovate.

There’s no trace in the fossil records as to what exactly created this evolutionary creative explosion 40,000 years ago. Author Kevin Ashton points to our minds as the ‘prime suspect’ and the connections between brain cells. We do know that the 150,000 years of fine tuning has had profound impact, enabling us all to have creative minds.

Today we’re surrounded by change and innovation, creating as never before. The human brain doesn’t sit passively taking in information, rather it’s constantly working over the data it receives to produce new versions. What makes our species different and dominant is the way we are driven to make things better.

An interesting link to this is found in the recent article by the John Templeton Foundation

One Million Years Ago, How Did Humans Think?