Charles Whitehead
Evolution of the Human Brain
Journal of Consciousness Studies vol 11, no 12, 2004

pg 80


Tuscon 2004

In the 'Ethics' session, Martha Farrah noted that 'neuroscientific knowledge' has profound implications for the way we think of ourselves as moral or spiritual beings, as beings with a capacity for self-change, and as members of society. But what no-one noted is the two-way causality linking the materialistic/individualistic ethic of capitalism with the materialistic/individualistic assumptions of western science. Scientists regularly imagine that their own 'objectivity' exists in a moral vacuum. But a materialistic culture demands a materialistic science for its own self-legitimation, and this inevitably affects funding policies and job opportunities. The Galileos of this world—those who challenge the prevailing paradigm—no longer face imprisonment, but they do face excommunication.

Peter Carruthers, in the 'Animal Metacognition' session, argued that the social 'mind-reading' model of self- other awareness is much more compelling than the cognocentric 'self-monitoring' model. For example, he pointed out that humans are very good at confabulating but very bad at monitoring their own erroneous thought-processes. What he did not point out is that the mind-reading model supports social mirror theory (mirrors in the mind depend on mirrors in society), which turns the 'hard problem' on its head, because it makes the 'easy problems' of reflectivity and cognition dependent on a prior and apparently non-adaptive sentience.

Any consideration of how consciousness could evolve raises problems for materialism. The concurrent session on that theme began with my own paper— 'Evolution of the Human Brain' —which used physical data to undermine physicalist models. The currently dominant hypothesis of primate brain expansion—the social or 'Machiavellian' intelligence hypothesis—avoids the worst excesses of western individualism, but is still cognocentric, attributing human encephalization to 'intelligence' and language. A better alternative, I suggested, is social mirror theory.

The differential pattern of cortical expansions in humans is not consistent with the social intelligence hypothesis, but is consistent with a 'play and display' hypothesis of brain expansion, as predicted by social mirror theory.

Furthermore, there were two periods of brain expansion during human evolution, followed by a phase of brain contraction, as predicted by the hypothesis. Cranial cast and archaeological data suggest that song-and-dance display drove the first period of expansion, pretend play the second, and economico­moral culture brought about the final phase of brain contraction.

Ericsson-Zenith rejected physicalism on philosophical grounds. Since there is no way to explain the 'physical construction of consciousness' in non-sentient creatures, the 'primitive of experience' has to be a first-order phenomenon like matter and energy. He conceives of the primitive of experience as 'continuous and unfragmented across our physiology'. Evolved complexity acts against this a priori integration to create structured experiences of sensation and mentation. The view which is implicit in this argument—that all structure throughout the universe fragments a primordial continuum of sentience—has been presented before at Tucson, notably as the 'theory of enformed systems' (Watson, Schwartz & Russeek, 1998) which holds that systemics, the most fundamental scientific discipline, is the science of consciousness.