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Human intentionality seems to offer a basic criterion of differentiation. Certainly, the sense of aboutness characteristic of human craft and design must be very different from the relationship between an animal and the nest it builds for shelter. But we will argue in the following that if human intentionality is to offer a useful criterion of human mentality, it is not because of the ways it embodies prior planning and mental representations, but rather because of the way human intentional states are directly embodied and realised in the hybrid space of situated action see also Suchman ; Malafouris c ; Gallagher , Perhaps then it is not our notion, Homo faber , that is problematic but the way we approach and make sense of it through the anthropocentric separatist logic that prioritises evolutionary continuities over discontinuities and vice versa.

Our suggestion is that maybe the question and the ensuing debate is framed in the wrong way. Clearly, questions of continuity or discontinuity are inherently imprecise because they presuppose that we can readily determine that there is some general fundamental difference or similarity between humans and other entities human or non-human.

We suggest that any two life processes can be both continuous and discontinuous relative to some aspects. It all depends on the exact nature of the question or issue we are trying to understand. There is no exact measure for continuity or diversity. In any case, the interesting question is not whether human and animal tool-using abilities are continuous or discontinuous they are clearly both , but rather, how they impact the process of evolution in different species and what makes a valuable comparative analysis.

Rather it is because no less than It is the persistent practice of percussive stone tool making that generates continuity by bringing forth a network of recurrent sensorimotor and kinaesthetic contingencies with sufficient unity, not the way genes code for traits. Of course physiological differentiation is not to be disregarded. Homo sapiens , now long evolved differently than our cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos, have small molars and small jaw muscles, have lost sagittal crests and have much smaller guts than any ape relative.

One anthropological theory, from Richard Wrangham , relates this to differentiated eating habits, or what could be called culinary technics.

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Food, too, is after all material, and a cooking and preparing process a praxis. Today we recognise that early hominins may well have used complex food processing techniques and tools to make food more easily digestible than without preparation Zink and Lieberman , this before fire and cooking which then further transforms food. To discover what are the continuities and discontinuities that matter, we need an approach that will allow us to see and to explore, on the one hand, how different forms of materiality present and affect the bodies and the senses of different animals, and on the other hand, why and how different bodies and forms of embodiment associated with different animals invoke or afford certain ways of engaging and using specific forms of materiality.

So, we use the term Homo faber to signify difference not in the sense of sterile exceptionalism that views human beings as a species of a different kind with a special set of pre-defined properties. Instead, we use the term Homo faber to signify distinction in the enactive anthropological sense, concerned to understand the modes of being and becoming in humans and other species.

As we saw, careful examination of the long and multiple evolutionary history of tool-related behaviours reveals that the kind of minds we have depend on the kind of tools we make and use the word tool here is used in its broader sense of technical mediation. In many ways, not always well understood, human intelligence is the product of fabrication as much as it is the product of Darwinian evolution by means of natural selection. Latour , , , ; Verbeek , ; Wheeler and Clark However, a persistent misconception in this context that often passes unnoticed has been to see human becoming as ontologically separated, albeit engaged in some kind of epiphenomenal dialogue or interaction with technical mediation.

For instance, it is common to talk and think about evolution or to describe the co-evolution of the humans and their relevant built or natural environment as an adaptation. Darwinian evolutionary thinking sees that adaptation as unidirectional Mesoudi whereas more recent evo-devo co-evolutionary frameworks and theories of niche construction would recognise the causal reciprocity and interaction involved Laland et al.

Still, even from such an interactive perspective, the notion of adaptation implies a process by which two or more pre-formed entities, i. This construal seems to allow the possibility of two separate processes, one of human evolution and one of technological evolution. The two processes may of course interact with and impact each other but they nonetheless remain largely separate. Moreover, according to the neo-Darwinian orthodox view of culture evolution, it is clearly conceivable that there can be a process of humanisation without technical mediation. The assumption is that tools evolve much like humans evolve, namely by means of Darwinian natural selection, and that the evolution of the former influence but is not really changing the other.

We argue that, ontologically speaking, the above neo-Darwinian position wrongly assumes that somehow organism and environment pre-exist their relational constitution. Both postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory aim to overcome this problem adopting an enactive and transactional approach to the study of human evolution and the meaning of adaptation Malafouris , a , b ; Garofoli By the same token, the artefacts that often embody and actively mediate those relations are not neutral or passive but shape and transform, often in unanticipated or unintended ways, human experience cf.

An implication of that is that technological change is not always progressive, linear or in any sense controlled and pre-planned. Extension and enhancement bring about dependencies and substitutions. Human evolution in the sense of becoming is not directional but inherently creative, ongoing and thus incomplete Malafouris , , a , b , c. Understanding the transformative power and potential of technical mediation, on how we live and make sense of ourselves and of the world that surrounds us, provides a point of intersection between postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory.

Instead of looking at natural selection for understanding technological change, we should be focusing on the study of the creative abilities of human consciousness, the varieties of and changing opportunities for material engagement, and the ways those processes are embedded in specific social and historical environments. This epistemic stance promotes a clear methodological shift toward contextual and comparative anthropological and philosophical analysis.

This does not mean that technology is something that we should take for granted in its particular historical manifestations. There is nothing inherently good or bad about a new technological development, but given the importance that they have in human life and our ways of thinking, it pays to study in more detail the specific effects they might have on us. The challenge here is not how to liberate ourselves from technology: it is how to turn technology into an instrument of liberation and critical self-consciousness. Another major point of convergence between postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory is their realisation that much of what we identify as human intelligent behaviour never happens entirely inside the head of the individual but is distributed, enacted and mediated through a variety of socio-material forms and material engagement processes.

The same general premise about the extensive and transactional ontology of the relationship between the mind and the material world can also be found in different formulations and degrees in many recent dynamical, enactive, embodied and ecological approaches to the study of human mind in philosophy and cognitive science Varela et al. Still, the mentioned approaches rarely emphasise enough or take into serious consideration the importance of technique and the details of material culture.

Yet, there is very good potential for cross-fertilisation among those rapidly developing trends in philosophy of mind and beyond see Malafouris Similarly, traditional phenomenological approaches with their strong emphasis on the first-personal character of consciousness sometimes obstruct a satisfactory, truly interactive and decentralised understanding of the evolving co-constitutive relationship between mind and matter.

Postphenomenology and the material engagement approach share that interest in the exploration of how things matter in human thought and action and attempt to offer a rich account of the manifold ways in which humans and material objects are related to each other and in different contexts. The Darwinian processes and reasoning that has proven so useful in biology cannot be applied to the study of technics.

Technics are not represented or stored inside brains. Technics are enacted by situated persons. Human—technology relations are not representational relations but embodiment relations Ihde , , This basic idea has a long heritage in philosophy. From a phenomenological perspective, it can be argued that the blind man using a stick does not sense the stick, but the presence or the absence of objects in the outside environment.

Although the stick offers the actual means for this exploration, it is itself forgotten. As Merleau-Ponty describes:. In the exploration of things, the length of the stick does not enter expressly as a middle term: the blind man is rather aware of it through the position of objects than of the position of objects through it. As with many other examples of prostheses, with time and practice the stick becomes incorporated, and thus transparent. Tactile sensation is somehow projected onto the point of contact between the tip of the stick and the outside environment.

Tactility becomes a distance sense. What about the stick? Some of the most persistent questions about the emergence and evolution of human intelligence depend on precisely where one decides, implicitly or explicitly, to draw the line between the mind and the material world, and infer the direction of causality between biology and culture. Our inherent difficulty in conceptualising the ontology of the stick largely stems from the still-dominant representational habit of imagining the mind as a brain-bound computational device. The example of the blind man with a stick aims to help us break away from those habits, and redraw the line that separates brains, bodies and things.

More than a mere thought experiment, this example has been employed in the context of material engagement theory as a working hypothesis, stating that the functional anatomy of human intelligence brain and body is a dynamic construct remodelled in detail by behaviourally important experiences, which are mediated—and often constituted—by the use of material objects which, for that reason, should be seen as continuous, integral parts of the human mind Malafouris b , The transactional character of the relation between the blind man and the stick provides a diachronic point of reference for advocating an ontological continuity between mind and matter.

It also helps us to re-conceptualise the profound embodiment, ecology and plasticity of the human mind. Take for instance the tools of the Stone Age. Despite their obvious differences in terms of size, style and technique, all these tools are the products of a simple fracturing process. If, as we proposed, fabrication matters in human becoming, then artefacts like these offer the starting point for our analysis.

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Of course, tool making represents only a small island in the sea of technical possibilities. It is the durability of stone, rather than some special status or predilection for the skill of knapping, that is largely responsible for the prominent place of stone tools in the archaeological record. Knapping stone and using stone tools was simply one among many technics or forms of material culture utilised by early humans.

But leaving aside the preservation bias toward lithic artefacts in archaeology, it is a different kind of ontological bias that we found most worrying—and which we hope the example of knapping can help us expose and overcome. That is the question of the boundaries of mind. Tool making makes an interesting case for metaplasticity demonstrating the complex transformations of energies and materials between the human organism and its cognitive niche. The enormous geographical distribution—ranging across Africa, the Middle East, most of Europe and large parts of Asia—and its wide temporal distribution means that it was probably the longest-lasting piece of material culture in the archaeological record Lycett and Gowlett ; Ihde More interestingly however, given our purposes in this paper, is the controversy over the symmetrical typically teardrop-shaped form of these early bifaces.

On the other side of the debate, many archaeologists would disagree arguing that the perceived symmetry is simply a consequence of the manufacture technique, rather than a product of human intention or conscious choice on the part of Acheulean toolmakers Noble and Davidson ; Wynn And indeed, being where?

Where do the mind stop and the stone tool begin? The knapper first thinks through and with the stone before being able to think about the stone and hence about himself as a conscious and reflectively aware agent. In tool making, all formative thinking activity happens where the hand meets the stone.

There is little deliberate planning involved not, at least, in the sense implied in most archaeological interpretations , but there is a great deal of approximation, anticipation, guessing, and thus ambiguity about how the material will behave. Sometime the material collaborates; sometime it resists. In time, out of this evolving tension comes precision and thus skilfulness. Knapping, then, is not about externalizing pre-formed ideas or imposing form on matter. It is this hybrid coalition that enabled the directedness of knapping , — Ihde recognised that one should study variations on both robotic and animal capacities in order to understand the different routes embodiment can take, particularly in the contemporary proliferation of new insights from both AI and animal studies Ihde , Mediated intentionality is used to express the simple fact that most of the relations we have with the world around us are either mediated by or directed at technological devices and artefacts.

In particular, intentionality can work through technological artefacts, as when we wear our glasses to read a newspaper, it can be directed at artefacts, as when we read the newspaper, and it can even take place against the background of them, as when we turn the light switch on in order to read the newspaper.

The second type is hybrid intentionality and refers to the actual merging , rather than interaction, of the human with the technological. Relevant here are also notions of enactive intentionality Gallagher and of skilled intentionality, the latter expressing the tendency toward an optimal grip on a situation by being selectively responsive to multiple available affordances simultaneously Bruineberg and Rietveld ; Rietveld and Brouwers Since early prehistory, we humans have been shaping our minds, constituting and reinventing ourselves through the stuff we make and the skills we develop in using them.

This emphasis on technical mediation and material engagement is what unites the perspectives of postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory MET. The notion of Homo faber has been used in this paper to signify this crucial aspect of human becoming. We have tried to re-approach the notion Homo faber in a way that, on the one hand, retains the power and value of this notion to signify the primacy of making or creative material engagement in human life and evolution and, on the other hand, reclaims the notion from any misleading connotations.

Our main thesis has been that fabrication lies at the heart of the human condition. This is not an argument for human exceptionalism other animals make and use tools. It is also not an argument for or against continuity between human and animal tool-using abilities no animal makes and uses tools the way humans do.

We have argued that we are Homo faber not just because we make things but also because we are made by them. People are both changing and changed by technology. The argument we have sought to develop is not one favouring technological determinism or utopianism but one that emphasises the active role of material engagement in the enactment and constitution of human life. Materiality and the forms of technical mediation that humans make and use are not passive or neutral but actively shape what we are in a given historical moment.

The challenge for us is understanding in which ways and to what degree human beings are shaped and constituted by the stuff they make.


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Why do humans care so much about things? What are the implications of that for our understanding of human becoming? Answering those questions demands cross-disciplinary collaboration that takes into account the evolutionary, historical, social, moral and political effects of technology. More important than the sheer quantity, increasing variety and dependency on material stuff in our lives is the profound complexity of our engagement with them. The devil is in the details. But it would in fact change very little.

We proposed that human becoming can be accounted better by means of technical mediation and creative material engagement than by means of Darwinian evolution and natural selection. Failure to see this basic point has been the source of much confusion among the disciplines responsible for delineating the shape of human evolution and for updating our understanding of what it means to be human.

Similarly, remote sensing, such as the Mars Explorer and most drone controlling, relies on simulation pre-training Rosenberger, Many other contemporary case studies are collected in the Lexington Books series Ihde et al.

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Cell phones, media technologies and other contemporary technologies are included. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Open Access. First Online: 30 July In this connection, two major epistemic features that unite postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory should be stated at the outset: 1. Given the ontological commitments that both postphenomenology and material engagement theory share, this question must be answered in the negative. Accepting the internalist metaphysics of mental representations would be to deny the centrality of the lived experience of knapping as a form of embody-ing and of tools as enactive cognitive prostheses Malafouris b , b.

The flaking intention is constituted, at least partially, by the stone itself. Every stroke prepares and carves the platform for the next. This by no means denies that knapping, as a form of embodied manual skill, is intrinsically associated with, follows from and leads to specific patterns of neural activation see Stout et al. However, seeing knapping in that way avoids the usual neurocentric fallacies that take the brain as the executive controller for embodied activity; rather, it is the other way around: Now embodied activity controls the relevant activation networks of the brain.

Intention no longer comes before action, consciousness is extensive, mind and action are one. Thus, the mental and the physical are not two opposite poles but find unity through the process of knapping. Similarly, there are no fixed agentive roles in this process; the stone projects toward the knapper as much as the knapper projects toward the stone, and together they constitute an extended intentional state. As Malafouris remarks: The knapper first thinks through and with the stone before being able to think about the stone and hence about himself as a conscious and reflectively aware agent.

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