The Evolution of Mind

The Evolution of Mind

The Evolution of Mind

The Evolution of Mind

Synopsis

Our understanding of the human mind has radically changed in recent years--from the unified mind once envisioned by Rene Descartes over three hundred years ago to a new understanding of mind as a set of specialized cognitive components gradually accumulated in our evolutionary past. As a result, many scientists and philosophers now believe that our minds emerged out of the same type of evolutionary processes that have shaped our bodies. In The Evolution of Mind, outstanding figures on the cutting edge of evolutionary psychology follow clues provided by current neuroscientific evidence to illuminate many puzzling questions of human cognitive evolution. With contributions from psychologists, ethologists, anthropologists, and philosophers, the book offers a broad range of approaches to explore the mysteries of the minds evolution--from investigating the biological functions of human cognition to drawing comparisons between human and animal cognitive abilities. This interdisciplinary work presents a comparative and evolutionary perspective on a wide variety of topics, including mental algorithms for reasoning about contingencies, quantities, social norms, and the minds of others; social play and communicative abilities; thought and language, and the role of Darwin's theory of natural selection in evolutionary psychology. Written in a highly readable style, The Evolution of Mind will appeal to a broad range of researchers and students and help set the agenda for the field for years to come.

Excerpt

Denise Dellarosa Cummins & Colin Allen

This book is an interdisciplinary endeavor, a collection of essays by ethologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers united in the common goal of explaining cognition. the challenge facing the reader of interdisciplinary works is to develop greater sophistication in fields beyond one's academic speciality. There are sometimes terminological barriers to comprehension of other disciplines, but we hope that this volume has minimized those. in other cases the barriers are ideological. For instance, those with backgrounds in philosophy and psychology are often prone to regard the human mind as a pinnacle of evolutionary development. Biologists, however, frequently point out that all forms of intelligence on this planet are specially engineered solutions to specific ecological problems, all of which have been developing for exactly the same amount of time.

Taking an evolutionary approach to the explanation of cognitive function follows naturally from the growing body of neuroscientific evidence showing that the mind is divisible. the picture that is emerging from both noninvasive studies of normal brain function and from clinically defined syndromes resulting from brain damage from strokes, injury, and neuro- developmental disorders is one of different neurological substrates serving different cognitive functions. This picture has provided philosophers a glimpse into the possibility that Descartes was mistaken about the unity of consciousness. the neurological divisibility of mind also provides the key to understanding its evolution. the Cartesian view of a seamless whole makes it hard to see how such a whole could have come into being, except perhaps by an act of divine creation. By recognizing the modularity of mind, however, it is possible to see how human mentality might be explained by the gradual accretion of numerous special function pieces of mind.

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