The Uniqueness of the Human Mind

In an article in Scientific American (Hauser, M. (2009) The Mind. Scientific American, p. 44-51) Hauser points out that the human mind is distinct in at least four dimensions from the mind of any other animal and that this distinctiveness, which Hauser labels humaniqueness, emerged approximately 800,000 years ago “crescendoing” about 45,000 to 50,000 years ago.  The explanation for this distinctiveness is unclear and unknown (although its interesting in this context to note Terrence McKenna speculation in Food of the Gods: the psilocybine containing mushroom, and the more prosaic explanations involving the development of language.).Hauser identifies four distinctive characteristics of the human mind based on extensive research in his lab.

“The first such trait is generative computation, the ability to create virtually limitless variety of ‘expressions.’ be they arrangements of words, sequences of notes, combinations of action, or strings of mathematical expressions.  Generative computation encompasses two types of operation, recursive and combinatorial.  Recursion is the repeated use of a rule to create new expressions…from Gertrude Stein: ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’  The combinatorial operation, meanwhile is the mixing of discrete elements to engender new ideas, which can be expressed as novel words (‘Walkman’) or musical forms, among other possibilities.”

“The second distinguishing characteristic of the human mind is its capacity for the promiscuous combination of ideas.”

“Third on my list of defining properties is the use of mental symbols.”

“Fourth, only humans engage in abstract though.”  Many of our ideas have no clear connections to “sensory and perceptual experiences.”  “We alone ponder ideas of unicorns and aliens, nouns and verbs, infinity and God.”  I annotated this place in the article w “The Reality of the Unseen” the title of the third chapter in VRE.

To repeat “…it is clear from the archeological record that a major transformation occurred during a relatively brief period of evolutionary history, starting approximately 800,000 years ago in the Paleolitic era and crescendoing around 45,000 to 50,000 years ago.”

In discussing the neuroanatomical and neurophysiological commonalities and distinctions among the brains of humans and other animals Hauser notes that the neurotransmitters and the anatomy and general organization of the cortical layer are similar across monkeys and humans but that “…we differ from them in the relative size of particular regions of the cortex and how these regions connect, differences that give rise to thoughts that have no analogue elsewhere in the animal kingdom.”  “…we must confront the gap between humans and other species, a space that is cavernous…” “…we do not know much about how that difference came to be.”

It is possible that, “…through evolution, the revolutionary remodeling of our genome and its potential to sculpt fresh neural connections and fashion new neural structures.” That an even more powerful human mind may emerge.
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