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Monday, March 05, 2018

A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness (2002) by Donald Merlin

Book Review
A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness (2002)
by Donald Merlin

    The field of consciousness-studies is fraught with inter-disciplinary peril, starting with the fact that the "mind/body problem" is central to the field of western philosophy and the answer to just that question has occupied over two millennia worth of highly complicated thought (see Western Philosophy, Eastern Philosophy.)   In only the past decades, the study of the brain, loosely called "neuroscience" has progressed in leaps and bounds, and has resulted in the formulation of a theory that denies consciousness exists, or rather, that consciousness is some kind of an illusion generated by brain chemistry.   In A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness, Donald Merlin seeks to take on the opponents of the existence of consciousness on their own turf, wielding the latest (circa 2000) in brain science and cognitive psychology to show that Consciousness is demonstrably a product of evolution, and that consciousness exists BECAUSE of evolution and not as some kind of freak one time exception.

   Merlin's argument works on multiple levels, but the crux is that consciousness is a function of human interaction and is essentially impossible without human community. In other words, consciousness is social, and the very idea of a human developing consciousness in the absence of community is impossible.  He develops the scientific side of his thesis by carefully comparing the human brain to animal brains, and by examining examples of non human 'consciousness' in detail.  A Mind So Rare is not exactly general audience reading.  I took a couple of survey course in brain chemistry and college and was able to follow along, but I'm sure I missed details. 

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