Our ability to think is one of our most puzzling characteristics. What would it be like to be unable to think? What would it be like to lack self-awareness? The complexity of this activity is striking. Thinking involves the interaction of a range of mental processes — attention, emotion, memory, planning, self-consciousness, free will, and language. So where did these processes arise? What evolutionary advantages were bestowed upon those with an ability to deceive, to plan, to empathize, or to understand the intentions of others? In this compelling work, the author embarks on an evolutionary detective story to try and solve one of the big mysteries surrounding human existence — how has the modern human being’s way of thinking come into existence? He starts by taking in turn the more basic cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, then builds upon these to explore more complex behaviours, such as self-consciousness, mind reading, and imitation. Having done this, he examines the consequences of ‘putting thought into the world’, using external media like cave paintings, drawings and writing.
My aim in this book is to describe how uniquely human thinking has emerged. I view knowledge as biologically grounded and I will start from the theory of evolution. However, as I shall argue, the biological foundation does not conflict with a humanistic outlook. On the contrary, I want to show that much of a humanistic worldview can be derived from an evolutionary story of our origins. I have dual objectives for the book. On the one hand, I want to present my own theory of the evolution of thinking. The theory is a synthesis of material from several scientific disciplines. On the other, I want to tell a story about how the cognitive capacities of Homo sapiens were shaped in a way that is accessible to a general audience.