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Donald, M. (1991) Origins of the modern mind: three stages in the evolution of cognition and culture. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Chapter 1.

Author of the summary: Jim Davies, 1998, jim@jimdavies.org

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There is a need for theories of the origins of mind, as there are theories of origin in other disciplines of science. There are two kinds of theories of mind: p6:
  1. Modular: The mind is made of quasi-independent modules that interact, each responsible for a dissociable part of cognition.
  2. Unitary: All parts of mind have the same fundamental structure. (Anderson's ACT* is an example.)

Anderson's three reasons for a unitary theory (From Anderson 1983):

  1. Higher functioning has a short evolutionary history. There hasn't been time to evolve many different things (like a mathematics module, or even a language module, since language evolved relatively recently.)
  2. Intelligence is flexible in ways that evolution could not have predicted.
  3. Higher cognitive functions have many things in common.

Encephalization Hypothesis:
Encephalization is the increase in brain size over the course of mammalian evolution. The hypothesis is that human mental ability is simply a result of this trend (Jerison 1973, Passingham 1982). Our brains are bigger and thus more complex, and that can account for our greater abilities.

Evidence for the Encephalization Hypothesis: Human brain size is exactly what one would expect if you extrapolate from earlier primate brain expansions. This also hold for many substructures of the brain. There is no gross neuroanatomical evidence for modularity (that would distinguish us from earlier primates).

A strong assertion would be that humans primarily evolved a generalized capacity for cultural innovation. In support of this idea is the fact that archeological data shows that over the course of history the rate of cultural change increaced. Also, it would explain our ability for language, higher thinking and representation of the environment.

Dunbar (1990) suggested that we evolved to be in social groups, and that cultural invention may have been a by-product.

The main difficulty with the cultural evolution proposal is that it is vague about what biological mechanism could be responsible for cultural invention. The link from biology to culture requires cognitive theory.

Cultural evidence must play a role in any evolutionary theory. Certain mental functions, like reading and spelling, are not cross-cultural, and thus are a result of cultural influences.

So rather than evolving special purpose modules, special purpose modules may be learned culturally. This is supported by cortical plasticity. A young brain grows connections indiscriminately (Changeux 1985). Good brain connections are then selected (an idea similar to Hebb 1949). p16:
There were three major evolutionaary changes that made human cognition what it is:

  1. Culture (mimetic skill of re-enacting events
  2. Speech
  3. Writing and externam representation

Summary author's notes:

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