Technology led to more abstract causal reasoning

Peter Gärdenfors, Marlize Lombard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Many animal species use tools, but human technical engagement is more complex. We argue that there is coevolution between technical engagement (the manufacturing and use of tools) and advanced forms of causal cognition in the human (Homo) lineage. As an analytic tool, we present a classification of different forms of causal thinking. Human causal thinking has become detached from space and time, so that instead of just reacting to perceptual input, our minds can simulate actions and forces and their causal consequences. Our main thesis is that, unlike the situation for other primate species, an increasing emphasis on technical engagement made some hominins capable of reasoning about the forces involved in causal processes. This thesis is supported in three ways: (1) We compare the casual thinking about forces of hominins with that of other primates. (2) We analyze the causal thinking required for Stone Age hunting technologies such as throwing spears, bow hunting and the use of poisoned arrows, arguing that they may serve as examples of the expansion of casual cognition about forces. (3) We present neurophysiological results that indicate the facilitation of advanced causal thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Causal cognition
  • Cognitive archaeology
  • Cognitive evolution
  • Forces
  • Hominins
  • Stone napping
  • Stone tool technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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