Apr
06

Upcoming Lecture: Tools, Language, and the Evolution of the Human Mind

Filed Under (Archaeology, Classics) by rhdell on 06-04-2017
Thursday,  4/13/2017, 7:30 pm

Room: 201 — Paulus Lecture Hall

Kathleen Gibson
University of Texas (School of Medicine)

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, co-discoverers of the principle of evolution by natural selection, held starkly contrasting views about the origins of the human mind. Wallace considered the human mind to be qualitatively distinct from that of other animals, while Darwin postulated that animal and human minds differ in degree but not in kind. Darwin’s position, but not Wallace’s, represented a sharp break with traditional Cartesian views that human behavior is rational, but animal behavior is instinctive.

Controversies over the nature of animal/human mental distinctions continue to this day. Many, perhaps most, students of human evolution have continued to hold Cartesian views of human uniqueness. When, in the 1960s, great apes successfully challenged traditional views that humans are the only animals that can make tools or use symbols, anthropologists, psychologists, and linguists were quick to define new areas of human uniqueness such as theory of mind, cooperation, and syntax. These, too, have now been challenged by great apes. Hence, while many scholars continue to argue that human mentalities are qualitatively unique, others now advocate a more Darwinian approach. They accept that great apes possess the rudiments of many object-manipulation, social and communicative behaviors once considered unique to our species, but recognize that human abilities exceed those of the apes in each of these domains. This presentation argues that humans possess increased information processing capacities across a variety of behavioral domains. Hence, humans can construct more information-rich and hierarchically organized motor sequences, objects, communications, and socially-cooperative actions.

Qualitative gap models have also tended to dominate interpretations of the archaeological and paleoanthropological records. Not so long ago, it was nearly universally agreed that the first manufactured stone tools were produced by early members of the genus, Homo, and that fully modern mental abilities arose very suddenly about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago with the appearance of the Upper Paleolithic. New findings challenge these views. These include manufactured stone tools from Lomekwi, Kenya (3.3. mya), complex tools from Africa which long predate the Upper Paleolithic, Indonesian paintings dating to about 40,000 years ago, and increasing evidence of Neanderthal “symbolic” activities and of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. This talk discusses this new evidence in light of continuity versus qualitative gap perspectives of human/animal and modern human/fossil hominin mental differences. It concludes that much of what we see in the archaeological record accords with an increased information processing model of tool-making, cooperative, and communicative abilities, and, hence, with Darwinian views that differences of degree, rather than of kind, distinguish human from animal minds (and by extension modern human minds from those of other hominins).



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