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Landscape of the Mind: Human Evolution and the Archaeology of Thought [Hardcover]

by John F. Hoffecker
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 31, 2011 023114704X 978-0231147040 1

In Landscape of the Mind, John F. Hoffecker explores the origin and growth of the human mind, drawing on archaeology, history, and the fossil record. He suggests that, as an indirect result of bipedal locomotion, early humans developed a feedback relationship among their hands, brains, and tools that evolved into the capacity to externalize thoughts in the form of shaped stone objects. When anatomically modern humans evolved a parallel capacity to externalize thoughts as symbolic language, individual brains within social groups became integrated into a "neocortical Internet," or super-brain, giving birth to the mind.

Noting that archaeological traces of symbolism coincide with evidence of the ability to generate novel technology, Hoffecker contends that human creativity, as well as higher orderconsciousness, is a product of the superbrain. He equates the subsequent growth of the mind with human history, which began in Africa more than 50,000 years ago. As anatomicallymodern humans spread across the globe, adapting to a variety of climates and habitats, they redesigned themselves technologically and created alternative realities through tools, language, and art. Hoffecker connects the rise of civilization to a hierarchical reorganization of the super-brain, triggered by explosive population growth. Subsequent human history reflects to varying degrees the suppression of the mind's creative powers by the rigid hierarchies of nationstates and empires, constraining the further accumulation of knowledge. The modern world emerged after 1200 from the fragments of the Roman Empire, whose collapse had eliminated a central authority that could thwart innovation. Hoffecker concludes with speculation about the possibility of artificial intelligence and the consequences of a mindliberated from its organic antecedents to exist in an independent, nonbiological form.

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Editorial Reviews


Overall, this is a much needed addition to the area of cognitive thought, an area of research that will become increasingly important within archaeology and paleoanthropology over the coming decades.

(Samuel P. Griffiths PaleoAnthropology 2011-01-00)

Landscape of the Mind provides an innovative view on the feedback between the biological and social in human evolution.

(Matthew L. Sisk Journal of Anthropological Research 1900-01-00)

The volume would be a very good read for nonspecialists interested in cognitive evolution in general and human evolution in particular.

(Thomas Wynn Quarterly Review of Biology)


In this book, John F. Hoffecker employs his unique knowledge to address a central goal in paleoanthropology—tracking the evolution of the human mind. Others have attempted similar syntheses, but if you can read only one book, this is the one to choose for its remarkable integration of diverse archaeological observations and unusual clarity and especially for the narrative's close approximation to what actually happened in prehistory.

(Richard G. Klein, Bass Professor in Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University, and author of The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023114704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231147040
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,267,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but a bit too dry. January 15, 2012
The book is very interesting and built on sound scientific grounds, as far as I can tell (not being myself any expert on this field).

My (positively intended) criticisms are three:

(i) The style of Mr. Hoffecker is sometimes a bit dull or dry. Not that he does not know where he is leading, but in a book meant for the general public (it is certainly not a scientific paper), just a bit more rythm and readability (meaning at least a basic 'literary' speech, as opposed to the mere exposition of scientific data) would certainly have enhanced the final result.

(ii) Although the book is true to its title (the archeology of thought), the author goes on to proposing some conclusions about the development of the super brain and super mind. I found these to be the most interesting ideas of the book, and thus regret that they are not further elaborated. I assume it would probably fall beyond the scope of the book (a humble 170 pages, by the way), but at least Mr. Hoffecker has opened my appetite for more on the particular subject of human consciousness (if anyone would please suggest further reading, I'd appreciate it).

(iii) The notes and bibliography are both impressive, but some guidance would have been a plus for readers like yours truly. I accept that such a thing might not have been in the mind of the author but, again, it would improve its value for the general public.

As I said, very interesting.
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