The Emergence Of The Human Mind
The Emergence of the Human Mind
Discussing the mind will inevitably lead to a messy and perple conversation and conclude with no definitive answer. This paper cannot possibly expect to settle the complex questions that arise from the conversation of the mind. It is the purpose of this paper to discuss Steven Mithen s ideas on the evolution of the human mind with the supplementation of other theories used to critique his theory. Because the term mind is such a foggy one I think that it useless to go searching through numerous theories when you do not even understand one. This is why I limited my research and chose instead to learn from a few sources and then see how I could critique them and possibly link them together.
Why ask an archaeologist about the mind?
It would seem logical to study the mind through the fields of psychology or philosophy given that the mind could be considered a concept, thus intangible. In discussing the evolution of the mind Noble, a psychologist, and Davidson, a archaeologist, share a commonality in their interest of communication using symbols and the implications of mindedness from communication (1996:xi). Using the archaeological record to evaluate how, in a context of natural selection, did such a capacity emerge.
Mithen feels that the field of archaeology is essential to the study of the mind because one can only understand the present through researching the past, for evolution does not have the option of going back and re-modeling it can only build on or modify what has already evolved (Mithen 1996:9). He agrees that concept of the mind is vague but feels that "with this struggle we have the archaeological record, the empirical evidence, perhaps worth more then all the theorizing by philosophers and psychologists" (Mithen 1996:150).
What is the mind?
Evolutionary change in the hominid skeleton is well known during the last 2 million years, but little of it is closely related to the archaeological evidence of behavioral changes.
Mithen discusses two views of the mind. The Standardized Social Science model, which represents generalized mentality and the Evolutionary Psychology , which represents specialized mentality (see fig. 1).
Mithen believes the new evolutionary psychologist s view of the mind is the key to unlocking the nature of both the pre-historic mind and the modern. In this view it is proposed "that our biological makeup has major influence over the way we think" (Mithen 1996:14) and constituted by a series of specialized intelligences each with their separate domains.
Noble and Davidson on the other hand seem to take the opposite stand and believe in the social science model. "Considered this way, minded behavior is linguistic in nature; thus, human minds are socially constructed (1996:14)."
Robert Foley recognizes the debate between specific and generalized intelligence and suggests that further a investigation, on whether cognitive characteristics of the modern human mind evolved as a response to a number of different selective pressures, or whether there is a greater degree of integration both neurobiologically and in terms of selection, could ease the debate (Foley 1992:64). Mithen and Noble and Davidson s work, combined, seem to address
Foley s recommendation. ????
How do they relate their models to the archaeological record?
Nobel and Davidson state that by characterizing minded conducts as that which occurs in linguistic interaction, and observable through products fashioned according to plan, we establish criteria for signs of mind that may be found in the archaeological record" (Nobel and Davidson 1996:105). Although they admit that the central location of language is found in the physical brain they believe "as piano playing is not found in the hands, nor is walking found in legs, so, we will conclude, forms of thinking are not found in the brain" (Nobel and Davidson 1996:93-94), and is instead found in the evidence of mindedness.
Tools as evidence of mindedness
The planning of an artifact springs from interactive behavior based on the use of communicative signs symbolically. "The products of such planning nonetheless powerfully reflect back on the mentality of their producers" (Noble and Davidson 1996:227).
When discussing the archeological evidence such as tools Nobel and Davidson are concerned with the means by which the instructions to make the tools are relayed. Approximately, 2mya the Oldowan industry emerged.
The principle tools of the Oldowan are choppers, usually made on waterworn, fist-size stones...Choppers are primitive tools, but when newly-made are surprisingly effective for a number of purposes such as skinning and cutting meat off a carcass...Oldowan industry also contains a number of other tools such as scrapers, burins or chisels (Leakey 1978:7).
The question for Noble and Davidson is how did the instructions for Oldowan tool making get passed from generation to generation? The answer is that changes in the anatomy, such as tendency for larger brains thus shorter gestation period, delayed learning of locomotion, and hairlessness caused a longer dependency period, which in turn gave the infants more opportunity for observational learning (Noble and Davidson 1996:171).
After examining two major classes of evidence, acquisition of food form animals and tools, Noble and Davidson concluded that there was little sign of behavior that necessarily required the sort of planing that could be attributed to the use of language (1996:205).
The actual production of language is not the question .
The nature of uniquely human behavior of symbol use, in connection with
Mithen suggests that a specialized domain of social intelligence emerged 55mya, which gradually became more complex along with the capacity for general intelligence (1996:94).
MITHENS S THREE-PHASE SEQUENCE OF THE MIND S EVOLUTION
Through borrowing Steven Mithen s metaphor of a church I will discuss the evolution of the mind by identifying a series of architectural phases. "With joint effects of variation caused by random genetic mutations, inheritance, differential reproductive success, and constant environmental change, the suite of architectural plans evolved" (Mithen 1996:65). He develops the hypothetical framework on the basis of recapitulation sating that "recapitulation proposes that the sequence of developmental stages that a juvenile of a species goes through, its ontogeny, reflects the sequence of adult forms of its ancestors, its phylogeny" (Mithen 1996:62).
Minds dominated by a domain of general intelligence a suite of general purpose learning and decision making rules. Their essential features are that they can be used to modify behavior in the light of experience in any behavioral domain. But they can only produce relatively simple behavior- the rate of learning would be slow, errors would be frequent and complex behavior patterns would not be acquired. 68
Supporting Archaeological Data
The processors of the minds that are represented by phase one lived 4.5 million years ago. These were Australopithecus ramidus, A. anamensis and A. afarensis. It is thought that these early hominids created tools out of stone, but were so simple that they are often indistinguishable from worn rocks in the archaeological record. A few wooded artifacts, which are thought to be spears, have been found in the archaeological record and have been dated at this time period. However, because wood deteriorates so quickly these artifacts are very rare.
Due to the challenge of finding artifacts dating between 6 mya 4.5 mya it is useful to look at chimpanzees for evidence of general intelligence. Chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor 6-5 mya and as a result we share 99% of our DNA with them. They appear to be likely candidates to do comparative research as their brain size is approximately 450cc, "not significantly less than australopithecines" (Mithen 1996:73).
The architectural plans of this phase were designed while people were living as hunter and gatherers. The previous architectural plans, that were general, were now supplemented by multiple specialized intelligences. Mithen proposes that they may have been present within the mind during phase one, but were scattered through out rather then grouped together in "appropriate specialized isolated intelligence" (1996:68). Each specialized intelligence looks after a specific domain of behavior with each intelligence working in isolation from others. Based on the intuitive knowledge of biology, physics, and psychology still present in the modern mind, Mitten suggests that these were the three dominant intelligences that evolved in the second phase.
The traces the intuitive specialized intelligences, biology, physics and psychology, found in the modern mind suggest that because they were used on a day to day basis they evolved and remained part of the modern human mind. Intuitive biology implies that intelligence of natural history was used to understand and interpret their surrounding environment, which was crucial to these hunter-gatherers. Intuitive physics is represented by technical intelligence that would have been essential for the "manufacturing and manipulation of stone and wooden artifacts, including those for throwing such artifacts" (Mithen 1996:69). The remnants of intuitive psychology suggest a social intelligence used in the form of mind reading was used for communicating and living in social groups.
It is important to note that during this phase the walls between the specialized intelligences were thick, and thus limited. In function, this means that knowledge could not be combined together. In addition, the intelligences were limited to those intelligences alone and were rarely crossed over into other intelligences.
Mithen proposes there may have been a fourth intelligence in this phase. The fourth intelligence being a linguistic intelligence. However, could linguistic intelligence actually be specialized, as it is used to communicate many intelligences?
The archaeological data suggests that the owners of the minds that are represented by phase two began to exist at about 2.5 mya with the later australopithecines and the early members of the Homo lineage. "The fossil fragments of these show significant anatomical and thus behavioral developments, such as the appearance of bipedalism" (Mithen 1996:95). Due to the more substantial fossil remains found belonging to H. habilis they will be the focus of the archaeological evidence.
Do the Oldowan Tools Represent Technical Intelligence?
Mithen asks the question: "In the 4 million years that have elapsed since that ancestor, has evolution created a technical intelligence" (1996:96)? The main evidence found representing this time period and possibly representing technical intelligence is a series of stone tools of the Oldowan industry.
These stone tools can not be considered made by chimpanzees, or early australopithecines, because of their similar intelligence, for several reasons. Firstly, Oldowan tools are thought to have been made to make other tools, this act is unknown among chimpanzee (Mithen 1996:96). Secondly, the process of making Oldowan tools requires the maker to be familiar with angles, such knowledge is not used by chimpanzees to make their tools (i.e. termite sticks). Nicholas Toth proved through experiments done with the chimp Kanzi that chimpanzees were not Oldowan tool makers because Kanzi "never developed the concept of searching for acute angles, using flake scars as striking platforms, or controlling the amount of force in precussion. (Mithen 996:97).
Mithen believes that because Oldowan tools industry was, according to the archaeological record, relatively static and showed the preference for raw materials which were easy to work with H. habilis could only be attributed "a technical intelligence beyond that of a few micro-domains (1996:98). This is despite the fact that the Oldowan industry required a more complex knowledge of fracture mechanics then was required to make the Omo tools, thus leaving these minds with more technical intelligence then the processors of phase one.
Did Natural History Intelligence Evolve?
The development of an increased special intelligence for the domain of natural history lies in conjunction with the increased consumption of meat. The brain size of H. habilis increased to over 600cc. It has been argued that this increased brain size may be due to the increased meat in their diet.
It is indeed most likely that meat eating was a regular part of the diet of H. habilis. In addition to the animal bones, sometimes showing butchery cutmarks from the stone tools found at archaeological sites, the relatively large brain of
implies the consumption of a high-quality diet measured in terms of calorific intake per unit of food (Mithen 1996:103)
Mithen concludes that in addition to what had previously evolved, an ability to construct large mental databases and maps for resource characteristics and distributions, there was supplementation of the ability to develop hypothesis concerning resource location through using inanimate objects (1996:105). In this phase the walls of natural intelligence are just beginning to go up, thus general intelligence is still playing a key role.
Evolution of Social Intelligence
The advent of living in a larger social group is accompanied with numerous of complex situations each requiring an increased social intelligence. Mithen believes along with Robin Dunbar that increased cranial volume is linked to increased group size. Dunbar used the cranial volume of a H. habilis fossil skull and then plugged the figures into an equation he derived from living primates relating brain size to group size and deducted that H. habilis would have lived in a group of about 82 individuals. There is also good ecological criteria suggesting that H. habilis would have preferred to live in large groups. Firstly, a large group would deter predators. Secondly, a large group would increase the chances for scavenging successes followed by sharing (Mithen 1996:107).
The unique function of the third phase is the ability to combine the specialized intelligences in useful ways. Mithen admits that, "it is not quite clear how this direct access was achieved" (1996:70). The minds of phase three have cognitive fluidity in that they have limitless capacity for imagination. Minds in which the multiple specialized intelligences appear to be working together, with a flow of knowledge and ideas between behavioural domians.
Within the archaeological data there is no doubt evidence for a cultural explosion during the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic. There are many different explanations to what catalysed this "explosion". Mithen argues that this "cultural explosion" was a result of the emergence of cognitive fluidity in H. sapiens sapiens.
The archaeological data that represents this phase are mainly art, tools and the debated evidence of religion.
HOW DOES LANGUAGE RELATE TO THE MIND?
"In spite of linguistic differences, all Early Humans shared the same basic type of mind: a Swiss army-knife mentality" (Mithen 1996:146). By this Mithen means that each had multiple intelligences with specific domains with little interaction between them.
(Noble & Davidson)
I think it is rather ironic that Mithen used the hypotheticle framework of a church in his quest to prove Creationists wrong. "Creationists believe that the mind suddenly sprang into existence fully formed. In their view it is a product of divine creation" (Mithen 1996:10).
Critiques Acheulian Industry, hand axe culture? Intelligence =mindedness?
Did Mithen discuss cognition or mind? What about influence of environment, such as Noble and Davidson disscuss?
"Models that seek to map and explain the evolutionary pathways from pre-human mind to the abilities of modern humans must be consistent with the only direct evidence of the timing of this evolution and the condition under which it occurred" (Foley 1993:63).
Pattern of human cognitive evolution
"no single variable can represent the character of cognition, and when several variables are used a level of independence can be observed. It is possible to show that different abilities evolved at different rates at different times."
"But to help us with this struggle we have the archaeological record, the empirical evidence, perhaps worth more then all the theorizing by philosophers and psychologists" (Mithen 1996:150). Is he not theorizing?
"In interpreting the archaeological record we have to be careful to avoid, insofar as possible, interpreting the evidence from the perspective of modern humans" (Liberman 1991:149).
"Unfortunately, the result of more than a century of evolutionary modelling is a
proliferation of conflicting scientific explanations which seemingly rival the diversity of mythological explanations and which, in many cases, are no more testable" (Gibson and Mellars 1996:1). Within science, the topic of the evolution of the human brain "is usually discussed in such imprecise terms that one cannot even be sure what exactly is at issue, and several entirely different questions are often confused" (Ruhlen 1994:1).
The door s of this new field of cognitive archaeology are just beginning to lift and diciplines are joining together. This could represent the cognitive fluidity of academia, this is promising and I believe this holistic union could answer many questions concerning the evolution of the mind.
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