Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Morphology and Mind: Completing Darwin's Program

But then arises the doubt: can the mind of man, which has,
as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that pos-
sessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand
conclusions?

--Charles Darwin

Alfred Wallace, the codiscoverer of the theory of natural selection, wrote a series of letters to Charles Darwin expressing what he felt was a heretical view. Wallace denied that natural selection could account for the evolution of humans, arguing that the capabilities of the human mind could not be explained by natural selection alone.

Darwin (figure 5-1) took the opposite position. He saw no reason why natural selection could not have given rise to the basic features underlying human thought. His books The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals were dedicated to this idea.

It is important to understand Darwin's ideas on evolution and natural selection. Simply put, they state that evolution occurs as a result of competition and environmental change, both of which act on variation in populations (figure 5-2). Variation always exists in living populations, and it results in differences in fitness. Natural selection results in the differential reproduction of those individuals whose variations (read "structural and functional capabilities"--their phenotype) provide them and their progeny with statistical advantages in adapting to environmental change or in competing with individuals of the same or different species. Differential

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