The Human Advantage – Generational Teaching and Archiving

Reading time: 3.5 min

Teaching and archiving

Humans have the special ability of teaching and archiving knowledge with extremely high accuracy and precision. We accomplish this via verbal or non-verbal communication, writing, drawing, and recording, among others.

This allows us to pass on knowledge, skills, experience, and wisdom across many generations. This is arguably a unique advantage humans have over other highly intelligent organisms such as certain birds, dolphins, and certain primates (excluding ourselves).

When we consume such archived forms of knowledge, we are reaching across time and space, accessing the knowledge of those in the past and across the entire planet. This grants us the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. 

Libraries and in the modern day, the internet, is this advantage taken to the extreme. What other organism can, at will, draw upon the knowledge and resources created by other individuals at any point in time, to this scale?

Those who have the opportunity to access this vast net of knowledge should take advantage of it. Learning new things became drastically easier with the widespread adoption of the internet. The teachings of those in the current time and those of the past are becoming readily accessible at your fingertips.

A story about octopuses

Octopuses are intelligent creatures. They demonstrate problem-solving skills and highly adaptive behaviours. Examples include:

  • Using items in their surrounding environment as defensive tools
  • Imitating predators to ward off predators
  • Mimicking prey for easier foraging
  • Recognizing and remembering faces
  • Recognizing themselves
  • Conditional and observational learning

However, they are semelparous animals. They only reproduce once in their lifetime. Once a female octopus lays eggs, she covers and protects the eggs from predators and provides oxygenation, never leaving or eating, wasting away until the bitter end. 

Octopuses do not get to meet their children. They lack vertical transfer of knowledge, from parent to children. Without direct communication or archived knowledge that spans the test of time, each new generation starts their knowledge and skill tree from the ground up.

Other interesting things:

  • Human eyes have a blind spot. (Cover one eye, pick any one word and stare at it. Hold one finger up next to the word, and slowly move it towards the side of your open eye. If you've done it right, part of your finger will disappear.) This is because human eyes have nerve fibres in FRONT of our light-detection (photoreceptor) cells. These photoreceptor cells have to leave a gap for the nerve fibres to leave through the back of our eyes via the optic nerve.
  • We normally don't notice this as we have two eyes and each covers the other's blind spot, and our brains are brilliant at filling in the hole.
  • Octopuses, on the other hand, have eyes that are "designed correctly". They have nerve fibres BEHIND their photoreceptor cells. Hence, their photoreceptor cells do not have to leave a gap for nerve fibres to leave through the back of the eye. As such, octopuses have no such blind spot.
  • (Is this significant? Well, no. Two eyes and our brains do a sufficiently good job of covering for our blind spots. But we went on an evolutionary pathway that gave us this suboptimal eye anatomy.)

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