THE APE THAT SPOKE: Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind by John McCrone

THE APE THAT SPOKE: Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind

Email this review


A science/technology writer based in England, McCrone here offers a blinkered look at the human mind. McCrone puts his cards right on the table: ""self-consciousness, memory, and higher emotions are al simple language-driven abilities which we pick up as children,"" and we differ from animals only in our possession of this ""cultural inheritance."" To back up his thesis, McCrone attempts on the one hand to trace the evolution of mind through toolmaking, fire-mastery, and the rise of language, and on the other hand to limn the workings of the mind, especially its ""not-forming properties."" All of this intrigues, and McCrone has a knack for carving a clear path through thorny science, but he seems to be writing in a cultural vacuum, unaware of current thinking in psychology, philosophy, and many another ""soft"" discipline. As a result, he posits views--that the mind contains no inherent archetypes, that conscience is a ""habit of thought"" begun with primitive taboos, that mind itself is no more than ""a convenient label for describing the brain at work""--that many readers will find hopelessly out-of, date. Indeed, the crux of his thesis--that consciousness and other ""higher"" capacities depend on language--has been recently challenged, perhaps demolished, in studies of languageless adults (e.g., in Schaller's A Man Without Words, p. 1520). An example of the defects that arise from narrowness of vision. McCrone has some talent, but next time should invest in a richer palette. Until then, the classic text remains Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Natural History of the Mind (1979).

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow