Landscape of the Mind: Human Evolution and the Archaeology of Thought, a new book by INSTAAR Fellow John Hoffecker, will be released next month by Columbia University Press. The book addresses the origin of the mind from an evolutionary neuroscience perspective, but also draws on linguistics, philosophy, history, and the archaeological record.
Hoffecker argues that the most significant feature of the modern human mind is creativity—the capacity for recombining large quantities of non-genetic information in the brain into a potentially infinite range of structures in the form of sentences, artworks, musical compositions, technologies, and other media. The source of this capacity, he suggests, lies in a rare ability to externalize complex thoughts or mental representations (the honeybee may be the only other animal with this capability) that evolved more than a million years ago. Characterizing modern humans as an “information animal,” he attributes the rise of their creative mind to the formation of a “super-brain”—a neocortical internet based on the sharing of mental representations—no later than 75,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa.