Human evolution, and the problem with ‘mind’ /2009/09/09/human-evolution-and-the-problem-with-mind/

Human evolution, and the problem with ‘mind’

A passage from Volume IV of Bennett’s The Dramatic Universe, p.192…: out of context these passages might seem confusing. Actually they can jolt one into a broader perspective on the complexities of human evolution. Bennett’s approach is highy speculative, so there is no real reason to accept his model at face value, but he points to some difficult possibilities, among them that ‘mind’ didn’t evolve at all in the conventional sense.

We must stop here to decide the question: in what did the step or
steps from ape-like creatures to man consist? There must have been
several steps; the first was probably the freeing of the hands” by a
predominantly erect posture. Next, would come the use of tools and
weapons. Third, would be communication by language. This last must
be considered the decisively human step, for without it man would .not
be man. Skills as great as those required for making tools are possessed
naturally by other mammals, such as chimpanzees and beavers; or can
easily be learned, as by porpoises and dolphins.
Are we to suppose that a chance mutation induced an early Austra-
lopithecus to express itself by means of an artificially constructed set of
noises? The point here is that recognition of speech does not come
by sensitivity alone, but requires consciousness also. Over a period of
three years, the present writer had the opportunity of closely studying an
aphasic youth whose power of speech had not developed owing to a
brain injury. His sensitivity was fully normal. He could recognize and
distinguish objects and sounds. He could use his hands not only to feed
himself but to open boxes and arrange objects to his liking. But three
years’ patient effort could elicit only one recognizable sound: the
monosyllable ta which had to serve for every kind of request. It was also
very clear that the consciousness had been in some way isolated from the
Without such a personal experience, it is hard to appreciate the
extent to which human language differs from the ‘grunts and groans
of the forest’. Considered in abstraction from direct experience, language
seems to need no explanation; it can be supposed to come ‘naturally’
to creatures accustomed to use their hands to make weapons and to
hunt in groups. This is perhaps why the discovery of the use of flints
and fire is cited as evidence of progress and little is said about language,
except that its acquisition has been accompanied by changes in the shape
of the skull. These changes are commonly supposed to have followed
rather than caused the acquisition of speech.
Let us now formulate a simple hypothesis: Man learned to speak
because he had a mind.
This implies the rule: ‘no mind, no speech!’ This rule is not arbitrary.
With human beings, the mind may fail to develop from some congenital
deficiency, or it may be put out of action by disease or drugs: in all
cases speech goes with it. The sound of words may remain, but the
necessary element of communication is lost. Let it be recalled that
we have given a specific definition of ‘mind.: it is the combination of
sensitivity (E 5) and consciousness (E 4) which makes our subjective
experience possible. ‘” Together with the necessary automatisms, this is
the combination that must be present if there is to be speech.
It may be objected that all animals are able to communicate and that
human speech is only a development of the grunts and groans of the
forest. This disregards the special character of human speech that
consists in storing impressions and reproducing them by a structured
combination of sounds. There is no evidence that any animal communi-
cates in this way or can be taught to do so. It may again be objected
that we have no evidence that early man was capable of verbal com-
munication as we understand it. To this we would reply: ‘no speech,
no mind; no mind, no man.’ Mind is the mark of man and speech is the
mark of mind. The anatomy of Homo erectus is consistent with the belief
that he was capable of true verbal communication. The great step from
Australopithecus with a brain capacity of 600 c.c. or less to Homo erectus
with one of 900 to 1,000 or more would scarcely have been made without
a mind to use and enjoy the added power that a large brain has to offer.
It cannot be said that this argument is decisive. If we had been satis-
fied that all the previous stages in the evolution of life gave no evidence
of the coming of mind, we might well be prepared to agree with Teilhard
de Chardin that mind appeared after man himself-and slowly at
that. But we have seen how, stage by stage, there has been three-fold
evidence that mind was on the way. The evidence of conscious guidance
by Demiurgic Intelligence strongly suggested that the intention was to
bring consciousness into life. At the same time within life itself, we
have seen sensitivity emerging, organizing and being refined in pre-
paration for some future event. Thirdly, we have seen the development
of a variety of automatisms all of which have later proved to be sig-
nificant for the formation of the human being.

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