Deric Bownds

Chapter 13

Theoretic Mind

We have now described many of the components that go into generating a human self, and in Chapter 12 we tried to draw together some ideas about what goes on in our narrative conscious minds. Given the fact that our modern brains are essentially those of hunter gatherers of 50,000--100,000 years ago, one could argue that any book on the biology of mind should stop at this point. We need to consider, however, the fact that modern conditions have generated new kinds of brains, even though their genetic instructions haven't changed much. Consider the well-documented and baffling fact that the IQ of the average citizen of advanced industrial countries has increased by 25 percent in this century. 1 Has each generation of children, faced with an increasingly complex technological environment, grown increasingly sophisticated brains? Consider the fact that each of us constructs brain modules that specialize in handling such recent inventions as reading and writing. Understanding these more recent developments is as much a part of studying the biology of mind as knowing how a nerve cell works. The development of reading and writing represent another chapter in the story of humans increasingly becoming artifacts of their own artifacts (earlier installments include the inventions of fire, tools, oral language, and myth described in Chapters 5 and 11). The advent of writing has made what is in our heads even more symbiotic with external tools and information stores---devices that our culture uses to regulate our behaviors. We need now to bring ourselves to the present, considering first the emergence of modern minds, then some conflicts that have emerged between our Paleolithic and our modern selves, and finally the issue of humankind's further evolution: our possible futures.

Emergence of the Modern Mind

In Chapters 4 and 5 we traced several possible stages in the development of ape and hominid minds, following an outline provided by the psychologist Merlin Donald, 2 and this section draws further on his writings. These earlier stages included the episodic mind of chimpanzees, the mimetic intelligence of Homo erectus, and the linguistic mythic mind of archaic Homo sapiens. The transitions to mimetic and mythic minds occurred in biological hardware---adaptive changes in the muscular and nervous systems that were complete no later than 50,000 years ago. The last transition, to theoretic mind and culture, depends on equivalent changes in external technological hardware---specifically, external memory devices such as paintings on cave walls, scratches on clay tablets, and written texts. These external tools have made us their tools, and the development of our brains is shaped by them. The essential feature of this last transition is that it no longer depends solely on oral tradition, spoken language, and narrative styles of thought. Rather, cultural rules and procedures begin to be stored outside of individual minds, as graphical tools are used to inscribe symbolic memory representations on external storage devices.

The emergence of this theoretic culture, however, encompassed much more than the development of written language and the storage of written records in libraries. A substantial list of technological innovations came before writing: astronomical records, organized agriculture, ceramics and bricks made by heating, tailored clothing, simple maps, sailing vessels, and the like. Analog devices such as water clocks, calendars, and time sticks kept a record of time and astronomical events. These provided a foundation on which visual symbolic record keeping could develop. It seems likely that the first socially important theoretic development in human history was the science of astronomy. Many different cultures independently invented devices, such as the mounds of some Native American groups, for tracking the movement of constellations and monitoring seasons.

Graphic Invention

The earliest artifacts with purposeful graphical markings are from 200,000-year-old upper Paleolithic sites. By 60,000 years ago, sophisticated animal drawings appear. 3 The earliest writing dates to approximately 5--6 thousand years ago, when large city-states with records of trade emerged. Possession of spoken language does not automatically lead to graphical invention. Of the many thousands of languages spoken at different places and times by humans, fewer than one in ten has evolved an indigenous written form, and the number that has yielded a significant body of literature barely exceeds a hundred. Writing was not only a late development but also a rare one.

Three modes of visual symbolic invention can be distinguished: pictorial, ideographic, and phonological. Pictorial representation in Paleolithic cave art contained themes such as hunting and fertility. This is consonant with oral mythic traditions of many cultures that stress fertility rituals, animal power, and magical identifications. The next development was ideographic representation. Cuneiform lists appeared about 5000 years ago and persisted until the early Roman period. These are similar in principle to hieroglyphics (Egyptian) and ideographs (as in Chinese writing or Japanese kanji). An ideographic written language permitted China to develop an advanced bureaucratic, scientific, and literary culture in the absence of any phonetic writing system.

The phonetic alphabet that we are familiar with arose in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. Japanese kana is a similar but separate system that records syllables instead of phonemes, and the Korean alphabet is also distinct from ours. The alphabet, a simple set of phonological and letter representations invented in the first millennium b.c., represented an enormous increase in economy and speed. Written language enhanced tremendously the rise of external symbolic storage systems (such as written documents stored in libraries). Oral narrative could more easily be embedded in a larger external structure (such as a manuscript of the Iliad in the library). This period saw the development not only of language but also of other symbol storage systems, such as musical notation and scientific graphing.



Users of the phonetic Greek alphabet could become literate by familiarizing themselves with only about two dozen letters, instead of having to remember hundreds of hieroglyphics or cuneiform characters. Having to learn fewer visual symbols greatly reduced the memory load on the brain.


Early Theoretic Societies

Ancient Greece from around 700 b.c. is regarded as the birthplace of advanced theoretic civilization in the West. The appearance of mathematics, geometry, biology, geography, and philosophy was relatively sudden. 4 (India and China were going through cultural explosions at about the same time.) These new disciplines were based on effective systems for numeration, geometrical graphing, and phonetic writing. Such tools permitted ideas to be entered into a public record so that they could be improved and refined. Central core ideas---the memes we discussed in Chapter 5---became more accurate and long-lived replicators. It is estimated that historical narratives can't last more than five hundred years in oral traditions before they are completely distorted. In contrast, today's libraries contain thousands of physical copies of the exact words of Herodotus's histories, and many more translations, summaries, commentaries, and so on, even though the original manuscripts turned to dust centuries ago. The core ideas, or memes, have been subjected to very different "selection pressures"---for logical coherence or explanatory power, for instance, instead of rhyme or integration with tribal rituals.



Ideas have always been replicative units, or memes, transmitted by gesture or speech from generation to generation, but with the advent of theoretic intelligence their vehicles changed. They began to be transmitted also by pictures, writing, and artifacts, instead of just by speech.


The transition from mimetic to mythic culture put great demands on biological memory. Theoretic culture reduced this load somewhat by shifting some storage tasks to the newly developed recording media. Now the short-term memory of the frontal lobes could work with externally stored information, and humans could engage in cognitive projects that were just too large and complicated for the oral-mythic mind. The brain may not have changed in its genetic makeup in going from mythic to theoretic culture, but this new link to an accumulating external memory unquestionably expanded its cognitive powers.

Merging of Individual Minds and External Memory Stores

Each human brain becomes part of a network when it operates in the context of an external symbolic storage system. Its memory structures are expanded, and the location of cognitive control shifts. Memory can reside at many locations in the network, as Figure 13-1 suggests. In early cultures, only the elite (such as scribes) were trained to deal with this system, while most of the population remained fundamentally oral-mythic, dominated by ritual and tradition. In modern society this has changed; even episodic event reporting is heavily dependent on electronic media (as when we watched the first moon landing live on television).

Because of the limitations of our consciousness, the connection between an individual's memory and external memory stores is always brief, but it can be repeated frequently, and any truly creative thought is an iterative process, where the thinker returns to the external database again and again---verbalizing, sketching ideas, thinking internally or aloud, referring to past outputs, revising, and cleaning up---until a satisfactory resolution is reached. This is very different from having the working-memory system of our frontal lobes be our only arena for performing complex mental tasks. This memory is distractible and transient, and it cannot sustain the cumulative building of the complex layers of knowledge needed to support theoretic society. 5

Figure 13-1

Expansion of the power of the brain's working memory is made possible by exchanging information back and forth with local devices, such as personal computers and books, and also with more global information stores, such as libraries and worldwide computer networks. Memory and cognitive control comes to reside in the whole network.

When we connect to our external memory networks---that is, when we read, write, draw, or calculate---we really are like computers plugged into a network, and our skills and powers are determined by both the network and our own biological inheritance. These networks can be assembled from many different kinds of hardware, some of which we barely recognize as technological: books, costumes, posters, traffic signs, vinyl audio recordings, punched paper tape, knotted strings, CD-ROM. When we deal with one of these objects or read a book, we enter a cognitive state in which our biological minds can be brought temporarily under the dominance of an external memory device: Our minds can literally be "played" by a book, moved into a state crafted by the author. The same thing happens when we succumb to the fascination of surfing the World Wide Web. (In this sense, cyberspace is a few thousand years old and doesn't so much replace literary culture as make it much more widely available.)



There is no difference in principle between a cuneiform scratch on a rock and information held in the many computers that constitute the Internet.


Many ordering rules and search functions that used to be entirely internal to our biological memory now reside in external memory systems. Programs are designed to explore computer networks for us, asking our questions and retrieving relevant answers. One challenge facing cognitive scientists is to describe what happens to our individual minds as we tie them to electronic media---media that are themselves becoming global and active. Are the virtual selves that we can invent as personae in computer networks going to become more real to us than our biological selves?

Parallel Expression of Ancient and Modern Minds

The advent of our theoretic minds has given us a final mode of representational thought, encapsulating the episodic, mimetic, and mythic minds characteristic of earlier stages in our evolution (see Figure 13-2). Each of these has been a way of representing the world, a way that could support a certain level of culture, a survival strategy for the human race then present. Each style of representation that we acquired along the way has been retained, like the growth rings of a tree---only in us the older rings are still alive. The result is a system of parallel representational channels of mind that can process the world concurrently. As you look at a television program, you marshal mimesis, narrative, and logic in parallel to serve the common end of modeling ideas.



Does the idea that previous stages in the development of our human intelligence persist in our modern minds make sense to you in terms of your own experience? Pause for a moment and think about distinguishing moments when your experience is mainly episodic (present-centered, limited mainly to feeling sensations), mimetic (nonverbal social exchange, body language), mythic (telling stories infused with meaning that define your place in the world, rich in metaphor and analogy), or theoretic (analysis, abstraction, dissection, generalizations that ignore mythic significance).


Figure 13-2

Different varieties of human intelligence, with later stages encapsulating earlier ones. The model is that the intelligences that evolved earlier are under the governance of later-appearing capabilities but that they also can have semi-independent exchanges with the environment on their own (arrows) .

Conflict of Paleolithic and Modern Minds

This book has now sketched out two seemingly disparate threads. One is the evolutionary story that halts our genetic evolution in the Paleolithic, leaving us with many psychological mechanisms appropriate to that time, not to the present. The other is the advent of our 21st-century mind that knows itself to contain no "I," that knows itself to be one of many possible generated selves---a mind that faces the prospect of merging with computer networks that leave our obsolete bodies behind. Can these two descriptions be integrated?

Paleolithic Adaptations

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We can start by noting some of the consequences of having theoretic minds in bodies whose psychology, physiology, emotions are adapted to the Paleolithic, not the present. Our late-afternoon drop in blood sugar probably derives from rhythms of hunter-gatherers on the savannah 200,000 years ago, and our preferred temperature range, 60--85{deg}F, reflects the climate then. We raise "gooseflesh" to erect fur that disappeared long ago, and we have emotional response systems that can be a complete mismatch for the modern world. Hormone cycles and mental alertness that used to be tuned to the natural light-dark cycle are now compromised by the use of electric lighting to shorten our periods of sleep. 6 Our bodies are designed for a more stable social environment than exists in the modern world. We have to make do with a patched-together set of reactions to constant change.

Our modern minds still work best as detectors of abrupt changes, paying more attention to an isolated terrorist event than to the gradual thinning of the ozone layer. Culture changes even more slowly than the environment, and we haven't yet evolved institutions that force us to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. The adaptability that permitted our transition to modern culture may also contain the seeds of its destruction. Just as frogs sitting is a pan of water that is slowly heated will sit there, oblivious, until they die, we tolerate small, incremental degradations in our environment that may ultimately lead to our extinction. If the world's human population continues to double every 41 years, we will reach the biological limit to growth and will start fighting each other, in deadly earnest, for the decreasing slice of the pie. Over the geological time scale, there have been at least seven major extinctions that wiped out 90 percent of the species present. The rapidity of the current wave of extinction currently under way is unprecedented. Are we about to become number eight? 7



The Paleolithic mind did not need to react to changes that took place over years or decades, and it is through such slow changes that we are destroying our own environment.


Mythic Components of Modern Intelligence

In many archaic systems, social order and coordination were modeled on the universe---the relationships among the planets and stars---and their mythology posits a natural harmony between humankind and the cosmos. Our modern secular world has lost this sense of unity, and many people turn to science as the only field through which the dimension of mythology can be again revealed. This may be one reason why science programs on public TV are so popular; perhaps scientists are the closest equivalent we have to a modern, global priesthood. Another reason, of course, is that science programs appeal to our sense of excitement and of the marvelous. In this sense we are taking scientists not as priests but as modern magicians. Our natural mind, if we have one, is closer to the animism, immersion, and symbiosis of mythic culture than to the kinds of intelligence required to survive in a highly technological world. And it is the emotional, mythic mind that determines so much of what happens in affairs of state, culture, and history.

Stories are the base of our behavioral scripts, our unconscious self-images. This is why our behavior seems so resistant to "rational" analysis. It seems as though different kinds of brains are running in parallel. Our body physiology---its nervous and endocrine systems, its hardwired pathways for generating emotions---is tied to our archaic mythic mentality. Most of us probably feel robust only when these archaic functions can be expressed (as in life events or stories that purge the emotions). The overlap in our physiological, psychological, and social selves is brought home very forcefully by the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology mentioned in Chapter 10, which describes how general health, immune status, neurotransmitter chemistry, and social interactions are interrelated.



The mythic self remains a core of our personality. Stories and myths came first and theoretic analysis appeared much later.


An evolutionary perspective that links physiological wholeness with self-image and storyline suggests why positive or negative personal scripts correlate so strongly with health. It suggests an explanation for our hunger for stories that give some sense of purpose to the modern world, from traditional religions, from science-as-religion, or from cosmic evolution theories based on modern physics or Eastern mystical traditions. 8 We can see the consequences of the absence of a storyline or myth that supports morality and social order in the degraded environments that afflict many large cities. The developing nervous systems of young humans are subjected to sometimes violent and contradictory inputs that don't permit the pairing of somatic or emotional markers with different experiences so that they can be designated as either good or bad. The tools needed to construct criteria for appropriate behavior are wanting.

We might regard our mimetic and mythic bodies as locked in a previous time, whereas our evolution is now proceeding at the level of symbolic manipulation. One requirement for preserving the richness of our lives might be to ensure that our symbolic evolution doesn't make our robust physiology wither away. Computer addicts who live on junk food, caffeine, and the Internet need to attend to their physical and emotional well-being if they are to avoid becoming analogs of the emaciated Hindu or Buddhist ascetics who have "transcended the body." We can allay fear of physical obsolescence if we realize that our bodies are a central component of the mythic personality that vitalizes our physiology. This mythic personality may underlie the enormous interest the public shows in media accounts of our mythic origins: the overwhelming reception of the PBS series by Bill Moyers on the work of Joseph Campbell, interest in matriarchal societies, and fascination with man the hunter-warrior described in John Bly's book Iron John. It may also explain the widespread formation of support groups of both men and women in an effort to develop their true archaic male or female selves. 9 In our mythic selves, there may be an evolutionary ultimate cause of our individual need to have meaning---a story or script to fit into.

Addressing Pluralism

We reason much better than Paleolithic humans, but our emotions, especially our social bonds, seem to have changed very little since our mimetic and mythic brains were formed. The main driving force in the evolution of modern humans was probably competition with other groups of humans. 10 The xenophobia (fear or hatred of anything strange or foreign) and genocidal behavior exhibited by groups of humans seems basic and constant, and it is similar to the behavior we observe in our nearest primate relatives, the chimpanzees. Is it possible that, just as a cat must still play at hunting when its belly is full, and scratch its declawed paws against the wall, so the human brain's "threat" or "fear" agents must have their exercise, regardless of whether there is, in the external environment, an objective reason for this activity. Can we grasp this and override those primitive instructions? The fact that the identity, rituals, and perceived purpose of a human group must be enforced in order to maintain the social cohesion of that group, 11 but also that the structures of different groups vary greatly, works against tolerance. To tolerate is to admit the relativity of at least some of the values of one's group, and such open-mindedness can threaten group cohesion. This is why different religious traditions can have a history of bitter opposition.



The myths with which we maintain our personal, tribal, and national stability can work both for and against us, because one of their functions is to maintain the integrity of the group by denying the validity of novel perceptions that clash with the world view and traditions of the group.


The social units and their associated cohesion mechanisms that we discussed in the sections on mimetic and mythic mind in Chapter 5 are what have evolved to become tribes or nations in the modern world (as distinct from states, such as the United States, France, and so on). There are about 5000 such units in the world today united by language, culture, territorial base, political organization, or accepted history. Few of these were given a choice when they were made part of one of the 190 states of the world, the majority of which have been around only since World War II. Examples include Catholics in Ireland or Ethnic Albanians in Serbia. Most of the shooting wars in the world today are being fought between nations and the states that claim to represent them, or between nations who come into conflict over their territory and identity. 12

Ancient and Modern Minds in an Electronic Age

The model we have been building is that we all have episodic, mimetic, mythic, and theoretic minds acting simultaneously and in parallel; that control rests sometimes, but not always, with the higher (that is, more recent) levels of encapsulation; and that our brains can spin a very large number of possible selves. Our individual minds then link to worldwide networks, most recently through electronic media. Such worldwide networks have the potential of acting to counter the tribal mentalities that ensure conflict between different groups as they scapegoat or demonize each other. 13 These networks increasingly bring knowledge of the diversity of humanity to all, which may enhance tolerance for diversity. Certainly, they offer economic benefits for participation. Greed isn't pretty, but it's usually better than hatred.



The World Wide Web now forms a very thin veneer, or epidermis, covering the immense variety of peoples and cultures, 14 but it may eventually become part of the backbone of a common world culture that offers an antidote to the multiple territorial-kinesic (mimetic) or linguistic (mythic) systems that underlie tribal cohesion and also are at the base of the many wars between tribes currently in progress across the globe. 15


The on-line community is not, at present, really a community, because it is missing an essential ingredient of our traditional meeting and work spaces: chance encounters where a flicker of body language, a nod, or a glance communicates something very important. We want to see what other human animals look like when we talk with them. No one needs to look anyone else in the eye in cyberspace, and a sense of membership in larger communities can be lost. Insults are easier to hurl. Studies suggest that people who spend several hours a week on-line experience higher levels of depression and loneliness than others. Isolated individuals can form isolated communities that don't have to rub elbows with others, facilitating the growth of hate groups. This can translate the xenophobia of traditional cultures to virtual reality. On the other hand, the Internet has strengthened social support for people who wish to share their personal stories of life, disease, and death in a way that is not possible in regular day-to-day social contacts. There is now an outpouring of books on the new cyber-reality, some warning of coming doom and some wildly optimistic about the human transformations it might facilitate. The history of society's reaction to the introduction of the telephone, radio, and television suggests that it takes at least 20 years for the effects of innovative technologies to sink in. Given that the World Wide Web is only about 3 years old at this writing, we can do little now but wait and see. 16

Future Mind

In thinking about directions in which the human mind might develop in the future, we first ask whether we are justified in taking lessons from the past or extrapolating from the present. Unfortunately, the answer in both cases is no. A brief look at human history since the Paleolithic dispels any underlying misconception that our present economic and social arrangements are in some way optimal or are even reliably heading in that direction. Evolution does not imply progress. In spite of evidence that evolution has generated human brains that are predisposed to develop a naive physics, an intuitive psychology, and language, there still is no "natural human" to return to, apart from the current cultural artifacts that we all appear to be. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of New Age gurus and the deep ecology movement advocating a return to our authentic mythic roots, there never has been a golden age---only the clear propensity for humans at any time to think things must have been better in "the good old days." The Greeks, at the height of their civilization, described with nostalgia the golden age from which they had fallen.

The unfortunate reality is that since the Paleolithic era, human groups have engaged in genocide and environmental destruction. 17 The only reason they weren't as good at it as we are is that their tools were more primitive. The documented decimation of the flora and fauna of New Zealand, Tasmania, small Pacific islands, and Madagascar by prehistoric human groups was confined to limited areas. Now our arena is the whole globe. We have a long list of examples of civilizations ruining their resource base. 18 The Middle East, center of the ancient world, used to be a lush area of wooded hills and fertile valleys until thousands of years of deforestation, overgrazing, erosion, siltation, and salinization converted the area to desert. The shift of the center of civilization to Greece and then to Rome was accompanied by similar ecocide.



Neither nostalgia for the past nor extrapolation from the present offers us much help in thinking about what human minds might be like in the future.


Apart from the global scope of modern human activity, another difference between us and the ancients is that they couldn't read about ecological disasters of the past. We can, so our continuing to hunt whales and clear tropical rain forests is based on willful blindness, not ignorance. To quote the author Lionel Tiger, "Those who do not learn from prehistory are condemned to repeat its successes." We could even wonder whether there might be a "biology of illusion." Could the insistent denial of hard reality by human groups be a universal trait that evolved because, during past human history, it has proved to be adaptive to be unrealistic and avoid facing what you don't want to know?

Our present industrial cultures, which reflect the conception of humans as ascendant managers of a separate "nature," do not contain the seeds of a sustainable future. Rather, they make it easy (if no less chilling) to imagine our moving even further toward becoming a collection of disembodied minds in a virtual reality defined by the holding of knowledge in worldwide computer networks. The technocrats, bio- and otherwise, might then rule with an arrogant pride that blocks real appreciation of the symbiosis of humans and the rest of the biosphere. 19 The 150th Anniversary issue of Scientific American, September 1995, has a number of articles devoted to key technologies of the 21st century. The unspoken assumption underlying the more than 30 contributions is that humans should manage and manipulate the geosphere and biosphere to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of us on the planet.

A slightly more optimistic view is that we are moving toward a neobiological civilization in which technology adapts, learns, and evolves in biological ways and machines become more biological in character. 20 Organic life would continue to be the prime infrastructure of human experience of the global scale, and technological networks might make human culture even more ecologically sound and evolutionary. Engineered biology and biotechnology would eclipse the importance of mechanical technology. Our knowledge of the human genome and mechanisms of brain development would allow us to begin to craft our brains to the specification we desire. The old-fashioned kind of selection and adaptation that have shaped most of human history would be tossed out the window.

Although more education and genetic tinkering would help us address our maladaptive behaviors, any vision of being able to manage our ecosystems has its detractors. A master plan for saving the planet requires abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know---and thus might destroy---the integrity of local nature and local communities. 21 The new movement of "ecopsychology" tries to soften the edges of the technocratic approach by emphasizing and arguing for restoration of the bond between species and the planet. 22 This movement invokes the biophilia hypothesis: that humans have a deep genetically based emotional need to affiliate with the rest of the living world---a need perhaps as important as forming close personal relationships. 23

Teleological Schemes

As we have seen, then, returning to the past or extrapolating from the present doesn't give us a very clear crystal ball. Another way of approaching possible futures has been to employ teleology, the attribution of some final purpose or goal to natural processes. Such schemes are offered by many of the world's religions and also in some scientific forms. The religious options avoid uncertainty, but in some cases they do so with a fundamentalism that can stifle, allowing little room to revise and refine one's positions. Outside the traditional religions, some writers try to claim the authority of science by spinning stories of the evolution of mind that parallel the evolution of the universe, with a beginning and an end. 24 The end of the evolution of mind is usually described as a dropping away of the ego, so that everyone, not just a few of the wise, attains enlightenment, and in a brilliant flash the minds of many become one; union with "larger mind" is made. These writers sometimes suggest or make reference to an Anthropic Cosmological Principle: that the universe exists and evolves so that it can know itself. Other writers suggest the existence of long-range resonance or connection between physical entities. 25 Their scientific trappings notwithstanding, these cosmic scenarios are essentially religious, and for some advocates of new-age enlightenment, they have replaced the storylines of conventional religions.

One version of the new-age creed professes that if we could only break the fetters of our false selves and see through our socially conditioned illusions, then a transcendent self would emerge in its final glorious form. This faith in some sort of innate, benign unfolding of wisdom or inner perfectibility to come is analogous to nostalgia about a golden age long gone. Unfortunately, our minds are as likely to harbor deceit, suspicion, paranoia, and aggression as parts of their intrinsic original nature as they are to evince curiosity, generosity, and love. Many of our less desirable features are a read-out of our Paleolithic minds; they enhanced our survival then, even if they are less adaptive now.

It seems unlikely that human egos have seen the last of the batterings they have undergone through history. Greek science through Copernicus made all matter subject to the same laws, the Darwinian revolution identified humans as derivative of animals, Freudian psychology and modern neuroscience put humans under the domination of fundamental drives, and now modern technology is increasingly subordinating humans to machines. 26 There are signs in many contexts that the coupling of humans and machines in a virtual reality has begun to replace real life. 27 Shopping malls contain computer games that completely enclose us in a computer visual world that we can manipulate with our head and hands, a very sophisticated version of arcade games. In Tokyo, sensorama machines invite the overstressed worker to crawl in and be transported into a soothing physical environment with massage, sound, music, and smell---perhaps giving the body physiology for a moment the Paleolithic social and endocrine environment it desires! The extreme of this trend would be for the social body to be rendered obsolete, as telecommunications replace physical contact and vastly diminish the sense of community among humans. 28



The increasing integration of humans and their machines can lead to the unsettling vision of completely merging our individual identities into the virtual reality of technology and computer networks.


The Theme of Encapsulation

The theme of encapsulation of lower by higher levels of organization that we have traced throughout this book, continuing through the transitions of hominid evolution, can be carried on to the description of larger and larger group "minds." Each new level of integration reached by human culture has retained vestiges of its previous forms. We might consider an emerging stage to be a planetary consciousness, reflected by portable telephones that can be used anywhere on the earth's surface to reach any telephone number in the world. Each small component of this total ensemble thinks it has purpose and uses models of the past to structure its activities, even while it is really performing in a new order that has emerged. (Examples might include maintaining the form of nation-states, even though political and economic control has passed to a worldwide network of corporations, and maintaining the form of universities, even though an increasing fraction of new ideas and techniques are being developed elsewhere). The outcome of the whole is described only with statistics. This could be pictured as a return to symbiotic unity, a confluence of humans with the environment like that which prevailed at the beginning of human evolution---a cycling of human history. We fantasize that we are in control of our human institutions, corporations, and governments, just as Paleolithic humans thought their magic rituals appeased and regulated the behavior of the gods.

The Evolution of Evolution

Are there useful rules for change? Can we describe how a future human mind might be shaped, even if we can't specify the outcome of the process? This is equivalent to asking whether our picture of evolutionary processes is clear enough to be a real, operational model of them. The description of many of these processes has been one thread running through this book; to offer a brief summary is probably the best we can do to suggest not the form a future human mind and its environment will take, but rather how it may get there. 29 Recall how, in the first chapter, we saw that to make predictions, we need not just general laws but also details about the circumstances under which those laws are acting. The one idea that seems to unite all complex adaptive systems, be they temperate forests, eyeballs, developing kangaroos, or tidal pools, is that of the Darwin Machine, which can be applied to all levels of physical, biological, and cultural organization. Stable entities that can reproduce themselves---whether macromolecules, organisms, or cultures---are modified as new variations are tested from generation to generation.

The study of complex adaptive systems has revealed that they share a number of features. 30 Many are descriptions of how a Darwin Machine must work. Complex systems are distributed over a multitude of smaller units, and control rises from the bottom-up interaction of these units. Growth occurs by chunking, adding small new parts or changes and testing them. Some of these innovations originally arise as errors, and the small number that make the system work better are preserved. The survival and reproduction of complex structures requires that they serve many goals. Changes that serve one goal superbly may compromise the achievement of another, so that the actual course taken is to satisfy a multitude of functions in a way that seldom optimizes any one but serves all "well enough." Too much constancy and too much change are both a bad thing. Systems that endure are stable enough to hold together but also are poised so close to the edge of instability that adaptive change can occur. Finally, the survival of a system such as an animal species clearly can depend on accident and luck. If our species had existed about 60 million years ago and had been confined to the Yucatan peninsula, the asteroid impact that contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs would surely have taken us too.



Perhaps the most heated debate in current thinking about evolution is over the relative importance of adaptation and Darwin Machines versus chance, accident, and the structural constraints inherent in complicated systems.


The least-understood aspect of evolutionary theory, and the one perhaps most important to thinking about the future of human minds, is how change changes itself---how change can enhance the ability to adapt. We touched on this issue in Chapter 6, when we discussed the evolution of plasticity in development of the nervous system. Animals that have more options in their design space are more likely to hit on adaptive tricks, so selection pressure favors genetic variation that permits even more flexibility. This is one way of changing the rules for changing entities over time. The speed of cultural evolution may have substantially reduced the importance of this mechanism, such that there probably is no longer significant natural selection for genetic differences in brain design. 31 Are we, however, about to enter another realm of changing how change occurs---using our prowess in manipulating genes to direct the evolution of ourselves and other organisms in the biosphere? Or will evolution proceed mainly at the level of our complex symbolic artifacts, with computer networks and virtual realities evolving to change how they change themselves?

Summary---The Mind's Biology

This brings us to the end of our attempt to trace some linkages among brain, body, and world and to see how our individual minds form through their confluence. We have now completed a trek through many topics germane to an understanding of the biology of mind. We started with the assertion that consciousness arises from the activity of neurons, and then we outlined evolutionary arguments that suggest we understand, in principle, how complicated brains may have evolved. After describing these plausible stages in the evolution of animal and human minds, we arrived at our own linguistic minds, whose plastic development and modular function we examined in several chapters. We now have a clearer picture of our conscious experience as a supra-individual biological phenomenon. This is because the construction of our brains during development draws not only on genetic instructions but also on programming from our physical and cultural environments. The fine details of the nerve circuits and muscles we use depend on many cultural factors, including the set of sounds emitted by our particular language and whether we are a musician, a scholar, a farmer, or an athlete. We all manage the amazing feat of growing brains and minds that can spin a story of the sort that has unfolded in this book, a story of different encapsulated minds that weave selves that strive for the certainty of a storyline or myth---a process aware of itself that is unique in the natural world we know.

We have to be impressed by the insatiable curiosity that our human species shows, by our desire to explain things. We seem hungry in particular for mechanical explanations, for "theories of everything" that protect us from having to admit the possibility that much of the way we are is due to the chance and accident of our particular history---that things might well have gone very differently. We strain to understand, and write books with titles like Biology of Mind, Consciousness Explained, and How the Mind Works, all of which promise more than they can deliver. The accounts offered by all these books will seem quaint and primitive in just a few years. In our rush to understand, we continually try to patch things together by skipping important steps. Just as evolutionary psychology criticized the sociobiology that preceded it for leapfrogging over evolved psychological mechanisms to explain culture, it can itself be faulted for assuming a detailed innate basis for evolved behavioral modules without considering fundamental information about the evolution of neurophysiological and neuroendocrine systems underlying face detection circuits, autonomic and emotional behaviors, pair bonding, social interactions, and so on.

Our evolutionary history has provided us with minds that quest for novelty and explanations, minds that invent myths, religions, and science to help us understand our world and placate our hyperactive imaginations. Our human purpose and conscious awareness are able to sample only a fraction of that world. The insights of modern neuroscience, as well as the mystical insights of the major religious traditions, point to an intelligence much greater than the narrative chatter in our heads. As powerful as our analytic mind has proved in probing the depths of our conscious experience, we don't want to slight the larger mind that generates poetry, music, art, fantasy, and an intuitive sense of wholeness. We are plunging, biotechnocratically, into a brave new world, and we must ask what this world is worth if we lose our sense of the whole of our human intelligence and compassion.

The best we can do as individuals is strive for the sort of awareness that permits our minds to appreciate both the selves that they generate and the relativity of those selves, and to feel a resulting sympathy toward self and others. We can aspire to a poise, or process, that presents a logical stance for addressing the sorts of questions raised in this book on mind, as well as for dealing with larger social issues. It permits us to face the dissonance between a psychology that, having evolved under conditions that no longer prevail, can be xenophobic and genocidal and the modern society of minds that we now know ourselves to be. This dissonance mandates the evolution of new procedures for transcending our Paleolithic minds. 32

Let's end this book with a sentence from its Preface: "Each of us is a society of minds that emerge from our evolutionary history and from the way our brains form as we grow up in a particular natural ecology and cultural setting." It is through understanding these details, and their relativity, that we have some prospect for guiding our future in an intelligent way.

Questions for Thought

1. A theme throughout this book has been that growing brains adapt to their particular physical and social environments, such that we might expect the brain of a preliterate Stone Age tribesman to be physically different from that of a biblical scholar. What functional areas would you expect to find in the latter that are not present in the former?

2. Human working memory is extremely limited in its capacity. How has its operation been influenced by the advent of external memory stores, libraries, and databases?

3 This chapter presents the model that in each of us, a series of semi-independent intelligences perform in parallel: episodic, mimetic, mythic, and theoretic, with more recent stages predominating most of the time, but not always. An alternative view is that later stages may have so thoroughly intruded on and patterned the earlier ones during development that such a model is not useful. This perspective would deny the validity of comparing our episodic intelligence, for example, to that of a chimpanzee. What is your view of this?

4. We have physiologies and emotional economies that are adaptations to conditions of the Paleolithic and that are sometimes inappropriately engaged or excited in modern contexts. What techniques, perspectives, or procedures would you suggest for dealing with this mismatch between our ancient and modern selves?


Suggestions for further reading

Donald, M.D. 1991. Origins of the Modern Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. The discussion in this chapter of the transition from mythic to theoretic intelligence follows Donald's outline. More detailed critiques of Donald's ideas are aired in Donald, M. 1993. Multiple book review of Origins of the Modern Mind. Behavioral Brain Science 16:737--791.

Diamond, J. 1992. The Third Chimpanzee. New York: HarperCollins. This book gives an account of the ecological consequences of the rapid spread of humans across the planet in the past 50,000 years.

Wilson, E.O. 1998. Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Knopf. Wilson suggests that the integrative insights that have unified science, from physics through evolutionary biology, will be extended to include the humanities and social sciences.

Kelly, K. 1994. Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. This is a vision of the future in which the decentralized controls characteristic of living organisms and brain processes become models for post--Industrial Age global technologies.

Lifton, R.J. 1993. The Protean Self---Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation. New York: Basic Books. One of several recent books that discuss the mental poise and flexibility necessary to face the flux of modern life.

1. Horgan, 1995.

2. Donald, 1991. The discussion here and in the following section on the emergence of theoretic mind is a mixture of quote and paraphrase from Donald, along with material I have interjected.

3. Morell, 1995.

4. India and China were going through cultural explosions at about the same time. There is no universally accepted explanation for why culture took off all over Eurasia about 500 BC, for recording of commentaries had been going on for millennia in Egypt and Mesopotamia without producing any "golden ages." See Diamond, 1997, for discussion of some of these points.

5. See Clark, 1997, Ch. 10, for an expansion of these ideas.

6. Roush, 1995.

7. The points in this paragraph are taken from Ornstein and Ehrlich, 1989, Diamond, 1992, and Wilson, 1993.

8. Capra, 1992

9. See the review of several books by Kakutani, 1993

10. Diamond, 1992; Kingdon, 1993.

11. This point is expanded on in Goleman's book: Vital Lies, Simple Truths

12. Popular reviews of these issues are Maybury-Lewis, Utne Reader, No. 52, July/August 1992, pp. 68-79 and Clay, Mother Jones, Nov./Dec. 1990.

13. Scheflen, 1972. pg. 201

14. Havel, 1995.

15. See Barber, 1995, Jihad Vs. McWorld

16. The internet has become a computational ecosystem that invites comparison with biological systems (Markoff, 1999). "Virus" programs infect computers by attaching themselves to documents or programs that are passed along. "Worms" are self-propelling, a program sent within an attachment can then send itself along without any action by the person who receives it. These agents mimic viruses and pestilence in the biological world, with infections rapidly spreading across linked computers and sometimes disabling many individual machines .

17. Keeley, 1996.

18. Diamond, 1992, ch. 17.

19. The 150th Anniversary issue of the Scientific American, Sept. 1995, has a large number of articles devoted to key technologies of the 21st century. The unspoken assumption underlying the more than 30 contributions is that humans should manage and manipulate the geosphere and biosphere to accommodate the ever increasing number of us on the planet.

20. Kelly, 1994

21. Berry, 1993

22. see Roszak, T., 1992, and Goleman, 1993.

23. Stevens, 1993, Wilson and Kellert, 1993

24. For example, Russell, 1992.

25. See Sheldrake,R., 1988; Chopra, D.,1989; Zohar, D., 1990;Ferris,T., 1992, pg. 134 ff.; Penrose, 1989; for examples of such speculation

26. Mazlish, 1993. For related material see Johnson, 1993, Stock, 1993, and Safire, 1993

27. Slouka, 1995.

28. Dery, 1996. See the Summer 1989 issue of the Whole Earth Review which discusses this topic; also Rheingold,H. Four books on virtual reality, reviewed in Whole Earth Review, Winter, 1991, pg. 88-89; also on high tech human constructed environments as virtual realities see Mander, J. (1991).] The "brain in the vat" arguments outlined by Dennett (1991, pg. 3 ff) make such a possibility seem remote.

29. Recall how, in the first chapter, we saw that, to make predictions, we need not just general laws, but details about the circumstances under which those laws are acting.

30. See Kelly, 1994 for review.

31. Dennett, 1991, pg. 208.

32. See Lifton, 1993, as an example of several recent books that discuss the mental poise and flexibility necessary to face the flux of modern life.

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