Friday, July 27, 2007


Neuroscience is still trying to unravel the nature of consciousness and the origin of mind in the human animal. Here are some more theories.

This also led to speculation as to which species did or did not have theory of mind and at what point in evolution it appeared in humans (Povinelli & Preuss, 1995).

There are two distinct origin scenarios for our capacity to understand intentional agency, to create representations of other agents' behavior, beliefs, and intentions. A widely accepted social intelligence scenario is that higher primates evolved more and more complex intentional-psychology systems to deal with social interaction. Having larger groups, more stable interaction, and more efficient coordination with other agents all bring out, given the right circumstances, significant adaptive benefits for the individual. But they all require finer and finer grained descriptions of other agents' behaviors. Social intelligence triggers an arms race resulting from higher capacity to manipulate others and a higher capacity to resist such manipulation (Whiten, 1991). It also allows the development of coalitional alliance, based on a computation of other agents' commitments to a particular purpose (hunting, warfare; Kurzban & Leary, 2001), as well as the development of friendship as an insurance policy against variance in resources (Tooby & Cosmides, 1996).

Another possible account is that (at least some aspects of) theory of mind evolved in the context of predator-prey interaction (Barrett, 1999, this volume). A heightened capacity to remain undetected by either predator or prey, as well as a better sense of how these "other" animals detect us, are of obvious adaptive significance for survival problems such as eating and avoiding being eaten. Indeed, some primatologists have speculated that detection of predators may have been the primary context for the evolution of agency concepts (van Schaik & Van Hooff, 1983). In the archaeological record, changes toward more flexible hunting patterns in modern humans suggest a richer, more intentional representation of the hunted animal (Mithen, 1996). Hunting and predator avoidance become much better when they are more flexible, that is, informed by contingent details about the situation at hand, so that the human does not react to all predators or prey in the same way. [CLOSE QUOTE]

—H. Clark Barrett, “Adaptations to Predators and Prey” in Handbook Of Evolutionary Psychology, pp. 105-106

Re. the photo: Some species still don’t have a conscious mind. Think of the most illustrious of Crawford, Texas’s citizens.

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