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A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness Paperback – June 17, 2002
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The most significant contribution yet to the rapidly growing literature of minds, brains, and consciousness. -- Steven Rose
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Top Customer Reviews
But things we do in daily life clearly require us to track things much more numerous and much longer than could possibly be accomplished by "seven plus or minus two" chunks, even with clever strategies for grouping things. Donald uses this to argue that conscious processes are very real and not to be ignored, and do play a central role in human intelligence.
Donald unflinchingly takes on the likes of "hardliners" such as Dan Dennett who argue that there is no central "meaner," no self, no little person in our heads observing the stream of consciousness in a Cartesian theater. He points out that the drafts we generate in our minds are not at all arbitrary competitors for dominance, but are distinctly related to goals and expectations. Most insightfully, he argues that discounting the role of conscious processes has dire implications for social and political philosophy and how we view human responsibility for our own actions.
In my view, Donald makes the excellent point for yet poorly understood intermediate term memory mechanisms very convincingly. I was completely persuaded that this is something we need to study to understand human abilities, and that "hardliners" views have some weaknesses I hadn't considered seriously before.Read more ›
It has become almost normative to speak of higher consciousness as modular, with each module (attention, emotion, volition and so on...) in turn, a weighted sum of parallel agents interacting in unconscious `pandemonium'. Dennett and other proponents of this view are joined by the evolutionary psychologists, who deconstruct the Purpose of human endeavor by reference to these modules, seen as vestigial survival strategies inappropriate to contemporary life, eg. the frisky male ex-hunter-gatherer dumping MDMA in the drinks of ladies who chance bearing his offspring ..well, you get it.
A picture emerges: an incontrovertibly brilliant series of contributions by `Hardliners' [philosophers, psychologists, linguists and cognitive scientists] has weakened an Emperor already hostage to the `demons' of his unruly New Mind. While holists wave hands and damn the evidence, serious observers nod in depressed capitulation. Another Postmodern Truth has displaced our helmsman to the periphery.
Donald comes to the rescue, wielding formidable expertise and sharp wit. He makes an excellent case for Autonomous Man, without soft fuzzies and without cliche. And he vigorously and cogently propounds a top-down viewpoint.
Cortical Size does count, and human consciousness is active, not a passive construction of the "real stuff" from lower hierarchical levels.
With the unitary perspective that single authorship confers, this kind of coherent articulation stands as a monument to plausible theorizing. Much what Lee Smolin's 'Life of the Cosmos' did for cosmology, 'A Mind So Rare' does for neuropsychology.Read more ›
Points: the shift of evolutionary importance from genetic to cultural in the hominid line; recognition of a fourth layer in human mental evolution, that of cultural memory (which he calls "external" memory in his fourth or Theoretic layer); and consideration of the whole of human consciousness.
Donald has expanded on his "Origins of the Human Mind" ('93) with exploring how culture has outstripped genetics in co-evolution with supporting the emergence of Homo Erectus, and then structuring the extended consciousness and symbol manipulation of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
He postulated a fourth Theoretic layer (after Episotic, Mimetic, and Mythic layers) as an "external symbolic universe", or recorded symbols, or "external memory". But before recorded symbols, the past was only recovered by recall, by both speaker and, often, the listener. Recall must be distinguished from memory (as recorded symbols), for recall of past events or thoughts or moods must be incomplete and personal, whereas using recorded symbols is about interpretation, which is as complete as the writer and reader choose to make it, and is social. If people insist in using 'memory' for 'recall', then recorded symbols should be called 'cultural memory', but it is critically different.
Donald attempts an evolutionary analysis of the integrated, whole of consciousness. Since I am more interested in the human emotional (value) systems than in consciousness, I have one critical comment.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So much information to stimulate thought. A very worthwhile book that can keep a person thinking about possibilities for years. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Shadows
Merlin Donald makes an incredibly lucid analysis of a really complex and multi-layered set of information. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Ines Monguio
Well explained the governing role of consciousness, the three levels of awareness: the basic binding, the short term control and the long term governance; and the three layers:... Read morePublished on December 20, 2013 by Jose Vargas
In this book, Donald approaches the philosophy of mind from a slightly different dynamic systems perspective than is traditionally taken - it's more of a "minds in society" dynamic... Read morePublished on November 14, 2010 by Ideophile
I found this book to be well written. The argument was tightly constructed and the content most interesting Donald challenges the notion of the autonomy of the non-symbolic search... Read morePublished on January 7, 2009 by Annie
Like Donald, Dennet, and others, I too have no idea how sentences come forth from what must be a tangle where memories, cultural conventions, and sensations converge. Read morePublished on March 19, 2008 by H. Toliver
This is a strange book, and I couldn't figure out why until about page 225. Donald starts out even on page one lumping a collection of psychologists into a group, and then... Read morePublished on January 5, 2007 by Herbert V. Leighton