am 11. Oktober 2010
In dieser interdisziplinär breit angelegten naturalistischen Studie erforscht Mithen die Evolution des menschlichen Geistes. Diesen müssen wir uns als aus "geistigen Modulen" bzw. "Fähigkeiten" oder "Intelligenzen" bestehend vorstellen, die jeweils spezifische Probleme lösen: Module für Gesichtererkennung, Raumverhältnisse, Werkzeuggebrauch, sozialen Austausch, Grammatikerwerb, Theorie des Geistes usw. In der Phylogenese wie in der Ontogenese steht am Anfang eine "allgemeine Intelligenz", auf der sich Modulbündel für spezifische Verhaltensweisen aufbauen: soziale Intelligenz > intuitive Psychologie; naturgeschichtliche Intelligenz > intuitive Biologie; technische Intelligenz > intuitive Physik; dazu: sprachliche Intelligenz. Die einzelnen Module sind "eingekapselt" und können nicht aufeinander zugreifen. In einem abschließenden Entwicklungsschritt kann das in den einzelnen Modulen isolierte Wissen integriert werden und "kognitive Fluidität", die grenzenlose Fähigkeit zu Vorstellungen und Phantasien, entsteht.
Die Evolution der Module begann vor ca. 35 Millionen Jahren mit der sozialen Intelligenz, gefolgt von naturgeschichtlicher und technischer Intelligenz. Mithen entwickelt akribisch die komplexen Korrelationen zwischen Bipedalität, Ernährungsverhalten, Gruppengröße und Cerebralisation. Die "Frühen Menschen" (homo erectus, sapiens, heidelbergensis usw.) fertigten in der Zeit vor 1,8 Millionen bis 100.000 Jahren technisch wie ästhetisch anspruchsvolle Handäxte an, allerdings mit nur geringen Variationen und nur aus Stein. Kompositwerkzeuge kannten sie nicht. Ihre naturgeschichtliche Intelligenz war weit fortgeschritten, doch Gedanken über Steinwerkzeuge waren für Gedanken über Naturgeschichte unerreichbar. Trotz hoher sozialer Intelligenz lebten diese Menschen nur in sehr kleinen Gruppen. Zwischen ihren sozialen, technischen und naturhistorischen Intelligenzen existierten unübersteigbare Barrieren. Nichts weist auf Körperschmuck hin. Sie verwendeten lediglich Ocker, was sich mit der allgemeinen Intelligenz bewerkstelligen ließ. Den Frühen Menschen fehlte kognitive Fluidität.
Diese entstand erst in den "Modernen Menschen" mit der 'kulturellen Explosion' vor ca. 40.000 Jahren. Die spezialisierten "Intelligenzen" konnten aufeinander zugreifen bzw. es formte sich ein Modul für Metarepräsentation. Soziale + naturgeschichtliche Intelligenz ermöglichten Anthropomorphismus und Totemismus. Soziale + technische Intelligenz ermöglichten Menschen als Artefakte (z.B. Statuetten) und Artefakte für soziale Interaktionen (z.B. Perlenketten). Naturgeschichtliche + technische Intelligenz ermöglichten spezialisierte Jagdtechnologien sowie Tiere und Pflanzen als 'Artefakte'. Soziale + technische + naturgeschichtliche Intelligenz ermöglichen Kunst, Religion und Wissenschaft.
Sprache war ursprünglich Sprechen über die soziale Welt. Ihre metaphorische Ausweitung auf physikalische Objekte stellte einen Überlebensvorteil dar. Das "Modul für Metarepräsentation" diente als Integrationsmechanismus modularer Prozesse und war die Voraussetzung unseres reflexiven Bewußtseins. Die menschliche Neotenie, die durch das Gehirnwachstum verursachte Vergrößerung des Zeitraumes zwischen Geburt und Reifung, erzeugte einen Selektionsdruck in Richtung Entwicklung einer propositionalen Sprache, was die Initialzündung für die Entstehung der menschlichen Kultur war: Kunst - die Fähigkeit, visuelle Symbole erschaffen und verstehen zu können; Wissenschaft - die Fähigkeit, Hypothesen zu erzeugen und zu testen und Werkzeugen, Metaphern und Analogien zu gebrauchen; Religion - Mythen zur Welterklärung, Rituale zur Einflußnahme auf die Welt, Glaube an kontraintuitive übernatürliche Akteure und an ein Weiterleben nach dem Tode. Alle singulär menschlichen Phänomene sind die Folge kognitiver Fluidität, beispielsweise: Rassismus - Gedanken über Menschen, Tiere und Gegenstände werden durcheinandergebracht, der Essentialismus der 'intuitiven Biologie' wird auf den sozialen Bereich übertragen. Humor - die Fähigkeit, nicht miteinander vereinbare Ideen originell zu verbinden. Landwirtschaft - die Fähigkeit, Pflanzen und Tiere technisch zu manipulieren, zu ihnen soziale Beziehungen zu entwickeln und sie als Mittel zu benutzen, um Macht und Ansehen zu erlangen.
Das Werk stellt eine geniale Integration und kreative Weiterentwicklung der Forschungsergebnisse vieler Disziplinen zu den Bereichen Anthropogenese, Evolutionspsychologie, Philosophie des Geistes und Kulturanthropologie dar. Trotz höchsten wissenschaftlichen Niveaus ist es ausgezeichnet verständlich, ja von literarischer Qualität. Ich kann seine Anschaffung vorbehaltlos empfehlen!
am 22. Januar 2000
This is a book about the evolution of intelligence. It raises an interesting question right away: Why, after humans suddenly sprouted big brains about 2 million years ago, did they do nothing in particular WITH these wonderfully big new brains until just 100,000 years ago? And then suddenly at some moment, 100,000 years ago, yesterday morning in effect, exploded into action. In other words there was vast lag between the appearance of a mature brain anatomy and any sort of vigorous, laudable mental activity. The observation makes it necessary for science to account for 1.9 million years of mental leisure, of cavemen and women just hanging out. It also calls into question the easy and commonplace assumption that we evolved a big brain in response to some extraordinary evolutionary challenge - a challenge that required us to think faster and more clearly than our near cousins, the chimps.
Books about brains are a genre, and they are as formulaic as detective novels. They always begin by setting up, in the sense of setting up bowling pins, the currently fashionable system of ideas about how the brain might work. Then comes the bowling ball - the blockbuster idea that is supposed to knock aside and supplant all of these fashionable but sadly flawed ideas. The opening critique of the fashionable ideas is usually the best chapter of a brain book, the sweet spot, perhaps because it is the most intellectually honest (ideas about the workings of the brain never add up to much) and because the hostile critique, just by the way, brings you up to date on what people have been thinking on this subject lately.
This is well written and intelligent book. There is too much coy academic nudging and winking and nodding, but when you get past it, it tells its story well. The writing is especially clear and compelling on the subject of mental development in children.
For a very different point of view read The Monkey Puzzle (Gribbin), which suggested that the big brain evolved long, long ago, probably long before we were primates - and secretly rode the genome down through the eons until it was simply re-expressed in humans, as a full blown brain, for whatever accidental biochemical reason, 2 million years ago. Per this line of reasoning Chimps have the same blueprint for a big brain written into their DNA. They just don't express it. In other words the code for a big brain does not print out as an anatomical structure in chimps, but it is in their genes. As are other ancient but silent structures, like gills and flippers.
If there is anything to this idea, then the brain has had a pre-pre-history, during which it evolved as a thinking machine, possibly underwater. And the hunter-gatherer human phase of its evolution is a trivial overlay, a scrim on the surface of this much longer evolutionary period, lost in the remote past. Texts on neurophysiology often include a famous and (once you have seen them, indelible) pair of photos of excised human and dolphin brains side by side. The structures are essentially identical. The dolphin brain is supposed to have emerged 22 million years ago, our very near replica of it, 20 million years later. This is not to say we are descended of a dolphin. Maybe we are both descended of who knows whom. Some v. sharp witted reptile.
There is a rival brain book in the current season called "How the Mind Works." The Prehistory of the Mind covers the same ground and does a better job of it. It is nice to see it out in paperback
am 5. September 1999
I read The Prehistory of the Mind when it first came out, and my copy has now been read several times. As a prehistoric archaeologist, I have found this the most exciting and richly stimulating book on archaeology that I have read during the 1990s. Steve Mithen brings together new ideas from evolutionary and developmental psychology, and produces a (controversial) theory of the evolution of the human mind. The great value of his book is that Mithen sets a theoretical sequence generalised from the work of the evolutionary psychologists into the context of the archaeological evidence, from the earliest hominids through to the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens. He seeks to relate the mental capabilities of our hominid ancestors to the ways in which they made and used stone tools. His unfolding of the evolved abilities of the modern human mind against the archaeology, art, ritual human burials etc of the European upper palaeolithic period of 40,000 to 30,000 years ago provides a convincing and at last scientific theory to underpin the idea of the 'upper palaeolithic revolution' that a number of archaeologists and anthropologists have been talking about for some years. I think that this book will prove to have a decisive influence on the development of archaeological theory, and that it will inspire archaeologists to do a lot of thinking in quite new directions, seeking to derive much more information about the mental, psychological, cultural and social behaviour of prehistoric peoples from traditional archaeological data.
am 5. August 1998
From its title, it promised to be just what I was looking for -- and I was not disappointed at all by its subject matter. On the contrary, I found it a most thought provoking and entertaining use of my reading time.
My main complaint with the style would be with the occasional feelings of arbitrariness. I'm sure, if asked, the author would have the facts to justify his opinions, but he does not always convey this impression in the text. There is a feeling that Mithen is steering the theory in one direction when the presented evidence (or lack thereof) is less persuasive. It is not always conclusive that Mithen's is the only interpretation that can be made.
But then, aimed as it is at the Popular Science market, I suppose it would be unreasonable to ask for the book to offer rigourous proof, and yet still remain a light and entertaining read.
am 26. November 1999
The nature of the human mind is a problem that has gripped our imaginations since the earliest philosophers started pondering our existence. It is a conundrum that has occupied the thinking careers of many of our finest minds, from Freud to Descartes.
With a more recent resurgence in interest in the neurosciences the search has moved from the philosophers to the biological scientists who, armed with CT, MRI and PET scanners and other acronymed equipment have attempted to unlock the brain's inner workings. Psychologists, who believe that the functions of the mind are more their territory, have tried to ferret out its secrets by methods as diverse as electrocuting rats to devising intricate tests for toddlers. Steven Mithen has now turned another spotlight of inquiry onto the matter, that of archeology. He seeks to use the evolution of humanity and it's brains to explain what we now have sitting in our craniums. In this way he stands on the shoulders of such developmental giants as Piaget, Fodor and Gardner. Mithen has developed a theory that the hominid mind consists of several discrete intelligences, concerned with social interaction, natural history (animal hunting/ geographical knowledge etc..) and technical knowledge. In addition he suggests that there exits a generalised intelligence that applies fairly rigid rules to solve simple problems (the sort of intelligence seen in non-primate mammals). According to Mithen these intelligences developed over the course of human evolution from our common ape ancestor to modern man. However for much of this evolution they remained discrete entities, unable to interact. The evidence for this he draws from archeological research. For instance early humans such as Homo erectus used stone for tools (so using technical intelligence) but did not use bone or ivory for similar structures. This, he suggests, is because bone and ivory were dealt with by natural history and therefore H. erectus was unable to conceive of them as tools- these intelligences operating on a subconscious level. As humans developed these intelligences began to integrate and interact so allowing knowledge and experience from one area to influence actions in another. This interaction eventually produced the behaviors characteristic of modern Homo Sapiens sapiens. As social and natural history interacted the characteristics of humans and animals became 'confused', producing anthropomorphism and totemism. It is also this sort of interaction that, Mithen suggests, produced the art and cultural explosion of 30 to 40,000 years ago. An interaction of social, natural history and technical intelligences produced the cave paintings and intricate carvings that distinguish us from Neanderthals. One of his most interesting ideas is about the evolution of language. Building on the theories of Robin Dunbar, Mithen asserts that language initially served as a social tool used to facilitate social positioning when group sizes rose above numbers where grooming was a practicable form of interpersonal communication (as seen in chimpanzees). This language then crossed the boundaries of the intelligences as the boundaries between them became more fluid. The arrival of language brought with it the emergence of full consciousness, producing the modern mind now seen. Whilst these theories are attractive they remain just that, theories. Mithen provides no mechanism for how these intelligences arose, they just appear to pop out of thin air. And whilst the concept of various types of intelligence is enticing, he provides little evidence that such entities exist outside of the pontifications of psychologists. So what we are presented with is a very neat idea but one that is inherently untestable, unless someone finds a hither to undiscovered tribe of austropithelicians. However the main strength of the book lies not with its intriguing theories, important as they are, but with the style in which is it written. He allegorises human evolution to a four act play, where in each act the level of light ( a metaphor for the amount of archeological evidence) increases so illuminating further each stage of evolution. His ability to write clearly and in an enjoyable but unflippant style makes this book a pleasant break from other "popular science" books which all too often charge off into poorly written jargonised justifications of the author's pet area of interest. He neatly marries archeological, psychological and neuroscientific evidence and with the intelligent use of metaphorical construction produces a well informed and accessible read. This is a provocative contribution to the ongoing debate, and one that should be born in mind by other researchers sweating over a hot PET scanner.
am 16. Dezember 1997
This is a wonderful book. It starts with the question of whether we are fundamentally different from chimpanzies in the way our mind works. Taking the perspective of an archaeologist, and blending that with the views of evolutionary biology and of human developmental psychology and cognitive science, Mithen spins an extroadinary tale. The earliest and most primative primates probably had most of their cognitive world "hard-wired." They had all the specific knowledge they needed for survival. Primates really took off from the rest of the mammals when we developed "general intelligence," which could learn from trial and error, and which could make generalizations based on experience. However, this general intelligence was slow in acquiring new knowledge. To accomplish that, specialized intelligences, or programs, needed to evolve.
The first of these was social intelligence, which was the specialized ability to read and understand social heirarchies. Early empathy and the ability to infer from your own experience what other members of your species were thinking and feeling was the greatest power this new intelligence conferred, and became the origin of consciousness. The second specialized intelligence was that of natural biology. This was very helpful in expanding our observations of the world, and increased the food sources which were available to primitive ancestors of homo sapiens. The third specialized intelligence was technical intelligence. This enabled early man to fashion tools and to use them in ever more complex ways.
To these three intelligences -- psychology, biology, and physics, so to speak -- was added linguistic intelligence. This gave the conscious mind a voice. It also enhanced the other three intelligences, especially social intelligence. Prior to the evolution of linguistic intelligence, peer communication was mostly visual and tactile. Speech was much more efficient than grooming in building and maintaining social bonds. It was also linguistic intelligence that made possible the next great leap to meta-intelligence.
Linking the four specialized intelligences, there evolved during the period leading up to 40,000 years ago, a supraordinate intelligence which permitted what we might now call multitasking, or integration among the other specialized intelligences. We see the first evidence of this in the bursting forth of art and religion at that time. None of these appear to have been present prior to that time.
Much like a simple computer, the earliest primates had a set of basic information. Then came a generalized processor. To this were added specialized programs for psychology, biology, physics, and language. Finally, true homo sapiens developed a metaprogram linking the others and permitting genuine creativity to take off.
Unlike most popular books on science for the educated layperson, Mithen does not go in for much chit chat. This is a pet peave of mine in other books, such as "Sex on the Brain," or "Why We Age." Too much irrelevant material on the appearance and personal quirks of the scientists and not enough of the science. Not so here. The writing is only a tiny bit repetitious, and is generally excellent.
A few other brief notes. Mithen explains some of the subtler aspects of upright posture, such as taking less direct sun, which permits foraging in the middle of the day. He addresses the role of a meat diet compared to a vegetarian one. He also demonstrates conclusively that while chimps and other primates have certain things in common with us, human intelligence is truly a unique phenomenon.
am 12. Januar 1997
Mithen attempts to integrate developmental psychology with the latest in archeology. Compared to most attempts at a "grand theory" of human evolution, Mithen's is admirable for its respect for the limits of the data and the novelty of its insights. Most "grand theorists" focus on one major development, e.g. language, tool-making, encephalization, or bipedalism. Mithen's strategy is to reconstruct the gradual emergence of human cognition from chimpanzee-like cognition. The cognitive structures of other hominids are based upon what the data say and do not say. Finally, he ends up with a theory about what is most _distinctive_ in modern humans, a theory that dovetails well with recent philosophy of imagination and metaphor. It is worth reading for his views on Neanderthal cognition alone! If you're interested in chimpanzee cognition, the nature of imagination and intelligence, or the evolution of hominid consciousness, I strongly recommend this book. Its only weakness is that it does not delve into morphology or neurology. And it is very well written to boot, with extensive footnotes for those who want a more in-depth treatment
am 17. März 1998
This book dovetails remarkably with G. Edelman's theory of consciousness (Bright Air, Brilliant Fire - dumb title but brilliant book) based on neurological adaptations. I hope these two guys read each others work and I hope you read them both if you are interested in cutting through the fashionable cognitive science mumbo-jumbo and getting to a theory of mind based on evolutionary embodiment. My highest ratings for both of these books and through in The Rediscovery Of The Mind by Searle for good measure to keep everybody honest.