A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness

Overview

"The most significant contribution yet to the rapidly growing literature of minds, brains, and consciousness."—Steven Rose
In this masterful rebuttal to the prevailing neuroscientific arguments that seek to explain away consciousness, Merlin Donald presents "a sophisticated conception of a multilayered consciousness drawing much of its power from its cultural matrix" (Booklist). Donald makes "a persuasive case...for consciousness as the central player in the drama of mind" (Peter Dodwell), as he details the ...

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Overview

"The most significant contribution yet to the rapidly growing literature of minds, brains, and consciousness."—Steven Rose
In this masterful rebuttal to the prevailing neuroscientific arguments that seek to explain away consciousness, Merlin Donald presents "a sophisticated conception of a multilayered consciousness drawing much of its power from its cultural matrix" (Booklist). Donald makes "a persuasive case...for consciousness as the central player in the drama of mind" (Peter Dodwell), as he details the forces, both cultural and neuronal, that power our distinctively human modes of awareness. He proposes that the human mind is a hybrid product, interweaving a super-complex form of matter (the brain) with an invisible symbolic web (culture) to form a "distributed" cognitive network. This hybrid mind, he argues, is our main evolutionary advantage, for it allowed humanity as a species to break free of the limitations of the mammalian brain. "Donald transcends the simplistic claims of Evolutionary Psychology,...offering a true Darwinian perspective on the evolution of consciousness."—Philip Lieberman

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Editorial Reviews

Steven Rose
The most significant contribution yet to the rapidly growing literature of minds, brains, and consciousness.
Philip Lieberman
Donald transcends the simplistic claims of Evolutionary Psychology,...offering a true Darwinian perspective on the evolution of consciousness.
Booknews
Donald (psychology, Queen's University, Canada) challenges the prevailing view that seeks to explain away human consciousness and presents a theory on the origins of the modern mind. He describes the cultural and neuronal forces that power human modes of awareness, and proposes that the human mind is a hybrid product of the interweaving of the brain with an invisible symbolic web of culture to form a "distributed" cognitive network. Using evidence from brain and behavioral studies of humans and animals, he explains how an expansion of consciousness transcends the limitations of the mammalian mind, and elaborates the foundations of self-evaluation and self-reflection. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Although scientists and philosophers don't pretend to understand the neurological mechanism of human consciousness, they are eager to theorize about it. Donald (Psychology/Queen's Univ., Toronto) reviews the evidence and explains how he believes the brain converts sensory input into awareness. He begins by denouncing his opponents. According to the author, a school of evolutionary thinkers called the neo-Darwinians views human nature as fixed in genetic concrete. It follows from this that thinking, behavior, emotions, and language are hard-wired deep in our unconscious. Consciousness facilitates the working out of these mental processes, but it otherwise has little importance. The author disagrees vehemently with these "hardliners." He proposes instead that the human mind occupies a unique place in nature, not because of its structure but through its ability to absorb culture (i.e., the interaction of many minds): human consciousness, according to this view, is actually a hybrid product of biology and culture. As a result, the key to understanding intellect is not the design of a single brain but the synergy of many brains. Marshalling studies from neuroscience as well as behavioral research on humans and animals, the author portrays consciousness as a revolutionary development central to human evolution, and he goes on to explain how the intellect might adapt to a future of increasingly symbolic technology. Although dense with closely reasoned argument, analysis, and theory, this study rewards careful reading-but it is also a heated polemic, full of sarcasm and dripping with contempt for the neo-Darwinians (whose arguments are made to seem extreme as well as weak). An intriguingbutstrongly one-sided account.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393323191
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 388
  • Sales rank: 608,817
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Merlin Donald is a professor in the Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Ontario, Canada.

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Table of Contents

Prologue
1 Consciousness in Evolution 1
2 The Paradox of Consciousness 13
3 The Governor of Mental Life 46
4 The Consciousness Club 92
5 Three Levels of Basic Awareness 149
6 Condillac's Statue 205
7 The First Hybrid Minds on Earth 252
8 The Triumph of Consciousness 301
Notes 327
References 345
Acknowledgments 363
Index 365
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2008

    A turning point that deserves to become a classic.

    This book is so good and so important, rich in ideas as solid in all its construction one just cannot believe that nobody nominated it to a book award or something of the sort meanwhile all the attention seems to be directed to a bunch of rambling, pedantic and even dangerous literature on the subject of mind and consciousness. This is the kind of work and reflection that puts an order in the landscape at the same time it delivers a wonderful experience to the reader. Merlin Donald is a psychologist with an important experimental background nevertheless he achieves magnificent philosophical work reaching a level of concretion and clarity related with Wittgenstein's best insights on the true grounds that support meaning and language at the time he achieves as well -I think without realizing about it- the aim of the German thinker Ernst Cassirer in outlining a view of the unity of the multilayered human nature. This unassuming guy reaches the peak-the summit of what others only envisioned- with humility, maybe without having philosophical concerns as his prime issues. One of the Merlin's Donald great contributions is that he realizes that to defend the very idea of consciousness against the oracles of the mind that sustains it is not much more than a computational device 'those who dismiss consciousness as a mere 'folk psychology'' it is not necessary to adopt a dualist stance on the mind-body problem 'In this he converges with John Searle but with a more powerful arsenal of resources'. On the contrary on a materialistic approach it is possible to grasp the centrality role of consciousness in the human mind as the only way that it can connect and make transactions with a network of other minds in that environment known as society or culture. Thus Merlin Donald postulates a Biocultural approach, contrasting with the Sociobiology/ Evolutionary-Psychology approach 'Pinker' allies 'Churchlands' and propagandists 'Denett' whom share the problem that they can not grasp the key role of consciousness on the functioning of the mind because they cannot understand the role of enculturation as the decisive turning point in the evolution of our species. At the end their conception of the human mind is for them a solipsistic modular device, with everything already packed in it in order to work. Contrasting with that Merlin Donald shows that a community of minds 'culture' scaffolds the level of awareness of each of its nodes'individual minds'by changing their architecture and states, demanding for one and each of them consciousness process in order to follow the coordinates and cues of that artificial environment that overlaps the natural environment. Once this is established he develops its fascinating implications in the domains of human world and action. Don't waste your time on other overprized books on the subject. This one is crucial. The fact that it seldom features in 'listmanias' on mind and consciousness it is either because they are dated or just reflect uncritically the prevalent fashion on the field.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2008

    A turning point that deserves to become a classic.

    This book is so good and so important, rich in ideas as solid in all its construction one just cannot believe that nobody nominated it to a book award meanwhile all the attention seems to be directed to a bunch of rambling, pedantic and even dangerous literature on the subject of mind and consciousness. This is the kind of work and reflection that puts an order in the landscape at the same time it delivers a wonderful experience to the reader. Merlin Donald is a psychologist with an important experimental background nevertheless he achieves magnificent philosophical work reaching a level of concretion and clarity related with Wittgenstein's best insights on the true grounds that support meaning and language at the time he achieves as well -I think without realizing about it- the aim of the German thinker Ernst Cassirer in outlining a view of the unity of the multilayered human nature. In a rather unassuming fashion he reaches the peak-the summit of what others only envisioned maybe without having philosophical concerns as his prime issues. One of the Merlin's Donald great contributions is that he realizes that to defend the very idea of consciousness against the oracles of the mind that sustains it is not much more than a computational device (those who dismiss consciousness as a mere 'folk psychology') it is not necessary to adopt a dualist stance on the mind-body problem (In this he converges with John Searle but with a more powerful arsenal of resources). On the contrary on a materialistic approach it is possible to grasp the centrality role of consciousness in the human mind as the only way that it can connect and make transactions with a network of other minds in that environment known as society or culture. Thus Merlin Donald postulates a Biocultural approach, contrasting with the Sociobiology/ Evolutionary-Psychology approach (Pinker) allies (Churchlands) and propagandists (Denett) whom share the problem that they can not grasp the key role of consciousness on the functioning of the mind because they cannot understand the role of enculturation as the decisive turning point in the evolution of our species. At the end their conception of the human mind is for them a solipsistic modular device, with everything already packed in it in order to work. Contrasting with that Merlin Donald develops the thesis that a community of minds (culture) scaffolds the level of awareness of each of its nodes(individual minds)by changing their architecture and states, demanding for one and each of them consciousness process in order to follow the coordinates and cues of that artificial environment that overlaps the natural environment. Once this is established the author explores some fascinating implications in the domains of human world and action. A splendid insight indeed on what makes us human.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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