The Creative Spark, How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, an Analysis
California State University Northridge
Anth 423 Human Behavioral Evolution
Dr. Christina Campbell
December 13th, 2021
The Creative Spark, How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, an Analysis
The Creative Spark, How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional by Dr. Agustin Fuentes, is a fantastic look back through the deep Human journey into why, and how we are who we are today as Anatomically Modern Humans. Published in 2017, this book discusses the biological evolution of our species, from the start of the hominin family to Homo sapiens. We discuss art, language, cooking, hunting, and just about everything that makes a Human a Human, and what makes us similar to our Non-Human primate relatives. A great deal of our evolution and coming about is based on our genetics, and the evolution of our DNA, but so much of it is based on our environment, and the simple, yet astonishing ingenuity of the Human, and Pre-Human species. We are like no other animal, living or extant, and there are many possible reasons for this, as we expand the fossil record and learn more about our closest living relatives, certain ideas become more clear. But there is still much to learn. What do we have to learn from Dr. Fuentes, and what do our ancestors have to tell us about what makes us “exceptional”?
The important aspect that Prof. Fuentes would like us to understand for us to begin, is just what Paleoanthropology is, and how Human Origins and Evolution works, as it is understood today. About 7 MYA hominins split from our common ancestor with the Great Apes, somewhere in Africa, we believe in North Africa. Since then, there have been many fossil discoveries, depending on whom you ask, there are over twenty-five known hominin species today (others will contest this very strongly). Each one is a “missing link” in the braided human family stream. We are a mosaic of evolution, some parts of us are derived, other parts are more modern, more adapted to our environments. The study of all of this, and how we came to be how we are biologically, is dubbed ‘Paleoanthropology’. We learn what made early hominins different from our ape cousins and ancestors, and how our behavior adapted to go along with our physical changes. Being creative, as discussed thoroughly by Prof. Fuentes as the main theme of this book, is importantly pointed out as the main reason for what makes us different, what makes us truly unique. The ability to craft abstract thoughts and ideas, to communicate at such an advanced level, that no other animal that we know of can compare. It has been a long road for us Humans, and we may have a long way to go, but as we learn more about our past, it will enlighten our future.
Creativity is the force that has led and caused our evolution to continue to be spurred forward. Unlike our Ape relatives and ancestors, we think abstractly, meaning that we can have an image in our head of something that is not right in front of us, we can imagine. We can think of ways to use items around us to create other items, such as tools, advanced tools unlike any other animal had made before. Our advancements grew quickly as we soon discovered the many uses of fire. We do not know how it came to be, but there is no doubt that it was our Human curiosity and creativity that lead to our experimental use of fire, leading to our use of it in cooking. Cooking, as we learned from the Wrangham book, made it possible for us to achieve higher rates of nutrition from our raw foods and vegetables. It allowed us time to gather around, and interact with each other, form and create language to communicate, and maintain social bonds in large groups for extended periods. With the added nutrients of cooked food, our brains expanded, as well as our faculties. Tools became more complex, we can assume language did as well, although this is near impossible to determine from the fossil record. Art was invented, and traces of it pop up around South Africa 60-100 KYA during what some call the ‘Neolithic Revolution’, at least the one in Africa. There was a massive behavioral shift at this time, that truly made us Anatomically Modern Humans, with modern behaviors. What would come next, would be a level of advancement of culture and sophistication and diversity that we have yet to see in any other species, including that of hominins. Homo sapiens are truly an exceptional species. Look simply at the caves of Chauvet, and there can be little doubt.
Today, it is not uncommon for us to take advantage of, or forget how impressive the world around us is. We are so separated from the natural world, by the one that we have built around us, that we have forgotten that we are a part of it. There are downfalls of course to being such an advanced species when compared to other animals on the Earth. Advanced is a questionable term when one considers we are also the only species to destroy our own environment with abandon. Modern Culture, as we understand it has taken a long time to develop. Millions of years of biological and behavioral evolution, from the forests and jungles of Africa to the plains of North America just a few thousand years ago, have come a long way. each step has taken its toll on our species, and more so the species around us. For we are the ‘Lone Survivor’ (Stringer, 2013, pp. 1-365), the last human species on Earth. Why that is, we are not entirely sure, as Neanderthals were known to be creative as well, possessing many of the “modern” features that we have as well. (Sykes, 2020, pp. 245-250).
So what makes us so different? There are many theories, hypotheses, and ideas. Our more recent development, and spread across the world, our speed and advancement, are unlike anything else. Our unique diets, advanced language, art, and development make us who we are today. Unlike our primate relatives, we can work together, learn, and pass down information to future generations. Knowledge gained, is not knowledge lost. While we can observe some specific individuals, such as Kanze the bonobo, who supposedly has a command of many English signs, and language understanding. While this is rare, even in our ape cousins, it still does not come to a level seen in modern Humans.
In Creative Spark by Dr. Agustin Fuentes, we learn about what makes modern humans special. We learn what makes us exceptional in fact, and how we are different from not only our modern-day Great Ape relatives but also from our hominin forebearers. Our brains have developed in a way that no other animals’ have before, and we need to be thankful for that; we would not be here, or at least not in the same way, that we are today. The use of art, language, culture, food, diet, hunting, living, and just about everything we do is special and unique among the animal kingdom. It is truly imagination that makes us extraordinary. While there are many reasons and possibilities that could have led to our exceptionality, as explored by Professor Fuentes, it becomes clear, that combined with the other books we have read this semester, that Human behavior cannot be discerned by one thing or another. Rather, it is an amalgamation of factors, both environmental, genetic, and sometimes it is down to just pure luck.
We may never know the answer to some of the current questions about why we are so special, so exquisite, and exceptional. Learning how to express our newfound emotions, thoughts, loves, fears, and hopes changed how we interacted with the world around us. it separated us from the natural world that some of us are not attempting so drastically to get back to. In the Creative Spark, How Imagination Made Us Exceptional by Dr. Agustin Fuentes, we learn about the biological and behavioral adaptations and revolutions that occurred throughout our multi-million-year history that has led to how we function as modern-day animals in our modern day societies. Our social structure, as advanced as it is, has its downsides, but as we learn more about our past, and how certain aspects of ourselves came to be, we can find resolutions to these issues, and hopefully create and provide a better world for all those involved today. Humans are, for lack of any better word; exceptional.
Fuentes, A. (2017). The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional. Dutton.
Stringer, C. (2013). Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth (First ed.). St. Martin’s Griffin.
Sykes, R. W. (2020). Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art (Bloomsbury Sigma) (1 ed.). Bloomsbury Sigma.