Humans are the only species on the planet who are not only able to invent but are also able to pass on that knowledge for others to build upon. It’s easy to illustrate this point, say in the area of communication. Think about cavemen writing on their walls, to Native American Indians using tom-tom drums, to the telegraph, the telephone, the smartphone . . . and perhaps eventually even telepathy will be within our grasp in years to come. This process is called ‘cumulative culture.’
Cumulative Culture Evolution
Only man can build walls [yes Donald Trump, we know we are capable!] and send our fellow man to the moon and back — because only we –- largely through our teachings and language can adequately transmit learned knowledge with sufficiently high fidelity.
Cumulative cultural evolution is the term given to a particular kind of social learning — which allows for the accumulation of modifications over time — involving a ratchet-like effect where successful modifications are maintained until they can be improved upon.
In essence, we ‘pool our knowledge’ and build upon it for our future generations.
Other Species can be Creative . . .
It’s fact that not all animals are equally inventive, and birds and primates are more likely to be innovative when they have larger brains.
Years of research has shown us that innovative animals can actually evolve new species. This is because creativity opens up new niches and triggers evolutionary events to occur. For example, it’s hardly a coincidence that the Galapagos islands’ finches — whose diversity aided Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution — are members of a highly innovative super-family of birds called the Emberizoidea. This group has evolved a vast number species in a process begun when different birds began to develop innovative ways of feeding.
Apes, macaques and capuchins demonstrate the greatest amounts of innovation among primates. These are the primate species with the largest brains, that are the most active tool users, have an expansive diet, and exhibit the most complex forms of learning and cognition.
Where they fall short . . .
Back to our ‘moon shot’ analogy, for all their novel-thinking, monkeys who have developed creative foraging techniques or ways of communicating, this still can’t benefit future generations. Why? Because they never redefine what went before, or the solutions of others. They learn from experience but rarely teach their young ways to take those learnings one step further. In essence, it's a status quo type of schooling.
The absence of a cumulative culture in other animals is more complex than mere creativity. Rather it’s their inability to transmit cultural knowledge with sufficient accuracy. That’s why no monkey ever wrote [or typed for that matter] Shakespeare, even when the 'infinite monkey theorem' has postulated the possibility. They may have traveled into space due to man’s intervention [and invention], but I doubt very much they were able to pass on that experience to their children and grandchildren, when they returned to Earth. No. . . our closest evolutionary cousin is just not yet up for the task — no matter how many times those ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies try to convince us otherwise.