Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series
 
What We Were, What We Have Become: Human Cognitive Evolution
 
A Presentation by Merlin Donald
Department of Psychology
Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada
April 24, 1998 at 12:30 - 2:00pm
IHC McCune Conference Room, HSSB 6020
 
 
Abstract
 
What We Were, What We Have Become: Human Cognitive Evolution
 
I have proposed that the human mind evolved its basic structure after passing through two radical co-evolutionary "transitions," the first of which took place two million years ago, and the second, about two hundred thousand years ago. These two transitions established the fundamental dimensionality of the human mind, which constrains the shape of all traditional human cultures. I will discuss the nature of that basic human adaptation.

We are now passing through a third transition, which has its deep origins about 35,000 years ago, but is still gaining momentum. In purely cognitive terms, it is defined by the proliferation of external symbols, the growth of the communications media, and the introduction of "cognitive artifacts" such as computers. These have engineered a major structural change in the way both our collective and individual cognitive business is conducted. It has also radically affected the process of neural epigenesis in the individual brain; in this sense, it is literally altering our cognitive architecture.

These recent changes present traditional civilizations with some unprecedented challenges..
 
 

Merlin Donald

Professor, Department of Psychology, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

My research interests have centred mostly on neuropsychology, including (1) the neural basis of
consciousness and selective attention; (2) the bilingual brain; (3) the nature of the neural and
cognitive deficits caused by diabetes and stroke; (4) the use of case histories in neuropsychology.
Recently my research and scholarship has focused more on cognitive evolution, specifically on
hominid brain evolution, and on the effects of cultural and technological change on human cognition.
Currently I am writing a book on consciousness.
 

Fellowships and Visiting Professorships:

Selected Publications:

Donald, Merlin. The mind considered from a historical perspective: Human cognitive phylogenesis and the possibility of continuing cognitive evolution. In The Future of the Cognitive Revolution. Edited by David Martel Johnson and Christina E. Erneling. Oxford University Press, New York, 1997. Abstract.

Donald, Merlin. The neurobiology of human consciousness: An evolutionary approach. Special Issue: The biology and neuropsychology of consciousness. Neuropsychologia, 1995 Sep, v33 (n9):1087-1102. Abstract.

Donald, Merlin. "Precis of Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition" Behavioral & Brain Sciences 16. 4 (Dec 1993): 737-791. Abstract with link to full text and commentaries.

Donald, Merlin. Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. Abstract.
 

 

Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series