"THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Darwin, Freud, and Cranial Fire--the Origins of the Way We Think" by Robert Ornstein

"THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Darwin, Freud, and Cranial Fire--the Origins of the Way We Think"

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Writing with the same infectious enthusiasm that invests his much of his other work, Ornstein (coauthor, Healthy Pleasures, 1989, Multimind, 1986, etc.) replays familiar themes, adding some new twists. We are basically emotional animals, Ornstein says, acknowledging the importance of Darwin (through his studies of emotional expression and child development) and Freud (in emphasizing the primacy of emotional contexts). Indeed, the book is less about the nature of consciousness and the philosophical dilemmas of the mind/brain problem--very deftly delineated by Daniel C. Dennett in Consciousness Explained (reviewed above)--and more about human evolution and behavior in general. A new twist is the theory that the rapid expansion of the brain (prior to language development) had to do with the need to cool neurons in bipedal animals bereft of the circulatory mechanisms available to quadrupeds. It is a scenario about moving to the warm savannahs, tracking animals in the sun, and evolving more neurons, distributed differently, along with a cunning adaptation of venous flow to protect ultrasensitive nerve cells. Clearly the jury is out on that one. Otherwise, Ornstein reviews findings about right-brain/left-brain differences, visual processing, dreams, ""blindsight,"" subliminal perception, etc., more or less downplaying the role of conscious control and championing the old unconscious systems within us managed by ""simpletons."" This is his concept of ""multimind' (not unlike Dennett's ""demons""). Much of the concluding material amounts to a sermon on why we need to move away from bodies evolved to adapt to life 10,000 years ago and toward a new adaptation to the overpopulated, nuclear-threatened, polluted world around us. This will require ""conscious selection""--taking over from simpletons. But how? Yet another Cartesian stage manager, as Dennett might say?

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Prentice Hall Press