|A Mind So Rare
The Evolution of Human Consciousness
|A convincing reassertion of consciousness as an evolutionary triumph and the center of human genius.
For centuries philosophers, scientists, and lay people alike have assumed consciousness to be the most distinctive feature of human nature. Despite the power of that assumption, the workings of consciousness continue to elude our understanding. In recent years a number of influential scientists and philosophers have challenged the primacy of consciousness, dismissing it as a superficial by-product of evolution, or even an entirely irrelevant factor in human cognition. A Mind So Rare is a masterful critique of this prevailing view that seeks to explain away consciousness.
Drawing on his groundbreaking theory of the origins of the modern mind, Merlin Donald’s persuasive thesis presents the forces, both cultural and neuronal, that power our distinctively human modes of awareness. In this polemical new work, Donald proposes that the human mind is a hybrid product of interweaving a supercomplex form of matter (the brain) with an invisible symbolic web (culture) to form a “distributed” cognitive network. This hybrid mind, Donald suggests, is our main evolutionary advantage, for it allowed humanity as a species to break free of the limitations of the mammalian brain.
Marshaling evidence from brain and behavioral studies of humans and animals, he explains how an expansion of conscious capacity was the key to this revolutionary development, because it cuts across traditional domains of the mammalian mind and can change our mental structures by installing new skills, which then become second nature. He further elaborates the cognitive foundations of self-evaluation and self-reflection, which distinguish humans from our animal relatives and give us greater mental autonomy. Donald’s convincing discussion of the evolutionary triumph of human consciousness also insightfully projects into how the human mind might work in the future, as we fall increasingly under the spell of symbolic technology.