The first teachers

  1. Who were the first teachers, and what field of knowledge did they impart? Could they be called scientists in some regard?

    How was their understanding communicated? What changes initially brought upon the conditions needed for this sharing of comprehension?
  2. jcsd
  3. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 7,521
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    Before there was language, before, so it seems, our ancestors had the wit to imagine, they made stone tools. This is not a trivial task to learn. It must have been taught. Maybe there were other skills, sewing hides with gut thread and bone needles perhaps, but they have not survived and the stone tools have. BTW, the reason it is thought that those folk had no imagination is that their tools kept exactly the same design for hundreds of thusands of years.
  4. Njorl

    Njorl 818
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    I remember a documentary on the Discovery channel on just this topic. It seems that though archeological evidence scientists were able to determine that there were specialized teachers among the mature adults of homo erectus habilus. It seems that those who taught flint tool making were sometimes though of as slow-witted, but usually knew their craft. Those that taught spear throwing tended to make fun of those children who were less physically gifted. Those that taught of the tribes ancestors always seemed to get a big blotch of cave paint on their back and walk around with it for days unaware of why their students kept giggling behind their backs.

  5. How they hell could anyone figure that out?


    By "teacher", do you mean one whose profession is teaching (parents not counted)?
  6. That's exactly what I was going to ask...isn't this quite a bit of speculation?

    Also a very good question. It seems to me that apes, and even monkeys, teach their young the skills needed for survival. Also, by example, even more primitive beings (like birds, and probably fish and frogs and the like) show their young how to swim or fly or...catch a fly.

    Lastly, can it be considered "teaching" for it to be in the form of genes, instead of memes?
  7. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 7,521
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    Apes teaching, maybe I can believe, although there's a lot of hokum on this topic in circulation.

    But mother birds teaching their fledglings to fly? And insects? Try another one.
  8. We had a dog once when I was young that taught her puppy to bury Milk Bone dog biscuits. We all saw her lead her puppy to a bookcase and dig through a pile of old papers and deposit the biscuit as her puppy watched. We all laughed at this. She got embarassed and never did it again while we were watching.
    This is teaching not genetics. Most mammals have to teach their young what to hunt and eat and where to do this. We are no different in that reguard.
  9. Alright, I figured learning purely by observing one's parents might count, but it's fine if it doesn't ...I still think that apes teach others, not just their children (and these do it intentionally, such as the experiments where a group of chimpanzees have learned that they will get sprayed if they try to go after the bananas, and so they constantly stop the new member from trying to go after them). Don't these qualify as the first teachers?

    Actually, I don't know. When did chimpanzees or gorillas come into existence? They are said to have common ancestors with Homo Sapiens, right?
  10. Njorl

    Njorl 818
    Science Advisor

    It was a joke.

    Or should I say an attempted joke.

    Hey, it was late! I just pictured my junior-high shop, gym and history teachers living a million years ago.

  11. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 7,521
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    Mentat, your ape teaching story sound like some of the hokum I was talking about. There a raft of these stories, but when you check them out...

    Current thinking is that the common ancestor of chimps and humans branched of from the common line of chimps,humans and gorillas around 6 million years ago. Then the first hominids branched off the chimp-human line around 4.5 million years ago. A skull found in the Sahara desert last year (in the Pliocene era, it was fertile) is thought by many to represent an individual very close to this last split.
  12. If unsure, generalise!

    I am going to redefine teaching as inheritance of characteristics by altering environmental features, as opposed genetic inheritance. Then I can say that teaching has been here from the beginning, since the first bacteria must neccessarily have altered their surroundings, and by making their offspring adapt to that changed surroundings, passed on information to them. In essence, all of human learning is just that.
  13. Another God

    Another God 985
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    Some clan of maquak (however it is spelt) monkeys have learnt to wash potatos in the sea water, making them salty while cleaning the sand off them (or something like that). This is a tribal only thing, and no other monkeys do it. It is assuredly taught to members of the tribe.

    But to take this conversation down a new path: Instead of talking about all of the natural teachers (the parents, the tribal imparting of knowledge), I guess the first institutionalised teacher would be Socrates and the sophists... Socrates, and his intellectual progeny (plato, aristotle and many others) walked around leading philosophical discussions all their life. The sophists were people who were hired by the rish to teach all sorts of skills to them: Diplomacy, etiquette, ethics, governance etc.

    I am sure there are many examples prior to these times in which stuff was taught (religion for example: Churches in whatever form) but this is the first thing I can think of, in recorded history, in which education has been organised to some extent within a society.
  14. So this kind of experiment has never been conducted? My bad.
  15. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 7,521
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    It's not an experiment per se, but based on ape populations in the wild, and near wild (there are large populations of chimps for example in various parts of the world, which are kept in as unmodified state as possible, and observed by scientists.

    Some occasions that _might_ be interpreted as teaching in such a population in Japan were seized upon by the press, magnified and made into a just-so story ("the hundred and first chimp") and became an urban legend.
  16. How does teaching oneself differ from teaching another?
  17. Njorl

    Njorl 818
    Science Advisor

    You're referring to the bogus "hundreth monkey" idea. This is actually what an earlier poster was referring to. It was about macaques that learned to wash food - it was seafood, not potatoes. The author distorted some data to claim that once 100 macaques learned a skill, all macaques in the world mystically aquired that skill. It was very popular tripe many years ago. It was so full of holes I debunked it for a true believer in one afternoon. It was not, however, a commentary on whether animals learned from eachother or not.

    Animals do teach their young. Virtually all mammalian predators have to teach their young to hunt. They retrieve badly wounded prey for their young to practice upon. This makes them teachers in the sense that they are teaching. It does not make them teachers in the sense that teaching is their vocation. This would also eliminate farmers who teach others to farm, or blacksmiths who teach others smithing.

    The first instances of teaching as a vocation would almost certainly have been well after the agricultural revolution got underway. Most likely a class structure would need to develop. A significant number of people with the capacity to obtain excess means of survival to provide to teachers would need to exist. It would also require the existance of skills that are not common. A tribe of hunters does not need a teacher to teach hunting - they have hunters to do that.

  18. cut out the second party? Much more primitive (I use the term, "primitive", loosely in this case) animals are capable of "teaching themselves", I would think, since societal structure (of some kind) is necessary for there to be assigned "teachers".
  19. All very good points, njorl. I had thought of the lioness, teaching her young to hunt, as an example before...but I didn't know that they dragged back wounded prey for the young to practice with, so I assumed it wouldn't count as "teaching".
  20. Sticking strictly with humanoids here…
    I think it would be the first individual to ever have an original thought. He/she may likely have become the first politician, or priest.
    Crowd control.
    Yes; exploring their limited mind and the minds/behavior of others.
    Gesturing and grunting, likely with club in hand.
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