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Merlin Donald - The Definition of Human Nature

Posted Nov. 29, 2013 by dustproduction in Open

commented on Dec. 7, 2013
by frequencytuner



Merlin W. Donald is described as, "one of the more interesting people writing (see his online archives) about brain science and the philosophy of mind - see A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness." His writes in this essay that appears online that humans have developed "distributed cognitive-cultural networks" in the mind; the inner and the outer meshed together.

"We have plastic, highly conscious nervous systems, whose capacities allow us to adapt rapidly to the intricate cognitive challenges of our changing cognitive ecology. As we have moved from oral cultures, to primitive writing systems, to high-speed computers, the human brain itself has remained unchanged in its basic properties, but has been affected deeply in the way it deploys its resources. It develops in a rapidly changing cultural environment that is largely of its own making. The result is a species whose nature is unlike any other on this planet, and whose destination is ultimately unpredictable."

He adds this important point:

"The key question of human cognitive evolution might be rephrased in terms of this dichotomy: somewhere in human evolution the evolving mammalian nervous system must have acquired the mechanisms needed for symbol-based thought, while retaining its original knowledge base. To extend the metaphor, it is as if the evolving mammalian mind enriched its archaic neural net strategy by inventing various symbol-based devices for representing reality. This is presumably why the human brain does not suffer from the limitations of AI; it has kept the basic primate knowledge systems, while inventing more powerful ones to serve some non-symbolic representational agenda. But, how could the evolving primate nervous systems of early hominids have crossed the pre-symbolic gap? What are the necessary cognitive antecedents of symbolic invention? Cognition in humans is a collective product. The isolated brain does not come up with external symbols. Human brains collectively invent symbols in a creative and dynamic process. This raises another important question: how are symbols invented? "


  • frequencytuner Dec 07, 2013

    An interesting fact to ponder: Why does China, Peru and Egypt all have pyramids? The concept of plate tectonics and Atlantis can provide a cultural bridge that spans geography, but not time. The concepts of dreamtime and Akasha provide a bridge across time linking, for example the Mayans to the Ancient Egyptians to the Modern Essenes.

    An interesting notion to ponder is "ET" genetic manipulation and bioengineering at the planetary level. Again: evidence existing, evidence found and evidence unveiled are not the same thing. Would a 36 foot tall giant thrown into the mix change the way we understand history? How about reptilian humanoids? As for the actual development and evolution of human culture, what if Thoth was one of these giants or reptilians?

    This is mostly speculation of course, the same as how we speculate on whether the Philadelphia Experiment actually created an invisiblilty cloak for the ship or whether it passed through a tear in space-time or teleported to a distant port or alternate timeline or parallel universe or what the actual story is...speculation: looking because we cannot see.

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    dustproduction Dec 06, 2013

    Would it matter if there were other hominid types since the others perished. It would not change the concept of distributed cognitive-cultural network developments.

  • frequencytuner Dec 06, 2013

    My question is who is to say that the pre-symbolic hominids were the only human type species existing on earth at that time? Evidence found and evidence unveiled are not the same thing, as the "Philadelphia Experiment" proves. On the evolutionary path, humanity has been noted to have followed a step type path, taking leaps and bounds at intervals, as if in tune with some cosmic harmony. Historical figures like Thoth, Lao Tzu, Moses, Ankhenaten, Pythagoras, Jesus, Buddah, Da Vinci, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Jung, Tesla, Einstein and Mandelbrot all share certain characteristics that tie into humanity's evolving understanding of itself.

    The invention of symbols is akin to the creation of ice crystals on glass. In other words, a symbol is the crystallized form of an idea or concept. I will go back to Phi momentarily to elaborate. The pentagram is formed from using this ratio as with the golden rectangle and fibonacci spiral. These symbols - IF we have the prior knowledge base to draw from - symbolize the fingerprint of the Almighty, God, the Divine Pattern. These symbols, for example, were not invented, per-say, but rather discovered. It all falls on the cultural perceptions and collective consciousness as to how the meaning of these symbols is interpreted.

    The yin yang, tree of life, metatron's cube and flower of life, as other examples, I propose a challenge to anyone: articulate their meaning in a different form.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Dec 03, 2013

    Donald suggests that the increasing reliance on external memory media in this third stage, which applies in varying degrees to most people in the developed world, may have profound effects on our cognitive development and behavior:
    The externalization of memory was initially very gradual, with the invention of the first permanent external symbols. But then it accelerated, and the numbers of external prepresentational devices now available has altered how humans use their biologically given cognitive resources, what they can know, where that knowledge is stored, and what kinds of codes are needed to decipher what is stored.... When we study literate English-speaking adults living in a technologically advanced society, we are looking at a subtype that is not any more typical of the whole human species, than, say, the members of a hunter-gatherer group. What would our science look like if it had been based on a very different type of culture? The truth is, we don't know, but it would profit us greatly to find out, because the human cognitive system, down to the level of its internal modular organization, is affected not only by its genetic inheritance, but also by its own peculiar cultural history. (Donald 1997, pp. 362-363)

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Dec 01, 2013

    re: Thouhts?

    If IONS were to revise this site the ability to edit our comments and typos would nice.
    I hope that others here will, over time, consider this essay. The concept of "distributed cognitive-cultural networks" is worth examination

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