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The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science

SearchWorks Catalog Stanford Libraries. Send to text email RefWorks EndNote printer. The prehistory of the mind : the cognitive origins of art, religion and science. Imprint New York : Thames and Hudson, c Physical description p. Online Available online. Full view.

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Green Library. M57 Unknown BF M57 Unknown. Xenophobia fear or dislike of foreigners may often arise from a mistrust of strangers that was originally a protective evolutionary adaptation. But that doesn't mean we cannot overcome our xenophobia today by thinking about it rationally, or by deliberately seeking out contacts with foreigners and learning their customs and languages.

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Thus we see that many myths about evolutionary psychology can be readily dispelled. But other criticisms, with a firmer grounding in science, have in fact identified some true limitations of evolutionary psychology. The evolutionary age of primitive emotional systems is confirmed by their anatomical position in the brain.

It is now recognized that the more caudal and medial a structure's position in the brain, the older it is. Also, the earlier this structure appears in the course of an embryo's development, the more likely it is to have appeared early in the course of evolution as well. The primitive emotional systems in the brain fit both of these criteria very well. Some neurobiologists think that the most ardent defenders of evolutionary psychology push this paradigm too far.


First, these neurobiologists accuse these evolutionary psychologists of claiming that they will eventually be able to elucidate all the constituent mechanisms of human nature on the sole basis of the problems that the first humans had to face. Second, these neurobiologists argue that evolutionary psychologists fail to adequately consider the abundant neuroanatomical and behavioural data available on all mammalian species.

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But they are located in subcortical areas , are involved chiefly in emotions and motivation, and are found in all mammals. Consequently, these critics say, these subcortical circuits, shaped by evolution long before hominization, would be far more likely determinants of the essential characteristics of the human mind. Do these two diametrically opposed views of the evolution of women reflect the natural selection of two distinct modules in the cartoonists brains? The need for evolutionary psychology to consider the neuroanatomical traits present in all mammals would also apply to some specifically human capabilities such as language.

To comparative neuroanatomists, it seems likely that human language arose from the expansion not only of the cortex, but also of the subcortical systems where the need for social communication that is common to all animals originated. Thus human predispositions to acquire language need not imply the existence of cortical modules shaped entirely during hominization, but might instead simply reflect the combination of increased cognitive capabilities in the cortex with very old, non-verbal motivations to communicate.

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NOOK Book. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. Overview "A truly pioneering work, perhaps the first by a practicing archaeologist to review coherently the evolution of human cognitive abilities.

The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science by Steven Mithen

On the way to showing how the world of our ancient ancestors shaped our modern modular mind, Steven Mithen shares one provocative insight after another as he answers a series of fascinating questions: Were our brains hard-wired in the Pleistocene Era by the needs of hunter-gatherers? When did religious beliefs first emerge? Why were the first paintings made by humankind so technically accomplished and expressive?

What can the sexual habits of chimpanzees tell us about the prehistory of the modern mind? This is the first archaeological account to support the new modular concept of the mind. The concept, promulgated by cognitive and evolutionary psychologists, views the mind as a collection of specialized intelligences or "cognitive domains," somewhat like a Swiss army knife with its specialized blades and tools. Arguing that only archaeology can answer many of the key questions raised by the new concept, Mithen delineates a three-phase sequence for the mind's evolution over six million years—from early Homo in Africa to the ice-age Neanderthals to our modern modular minds.

The Prehistory of the Mind is an intriguing and challenging explanation of what it means to be human, a bold new theory about the origins and nature of the mind.

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