The Lopsided Ape: The Evolution of the Generative Mind

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Oxford University Press, Jun 10, 1993 - 384 pages
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How great is the evolutionary distance between humans and apes, and what is it that creates that gulf? Philosophers and scientists have debated the question for centuries, but Michael Corballis finds the mystery revealed in our right hands. For humans are the only primates who are predominantly right handed, a sign of the specialization of the left hemisphere of the brain for language. And that specialization, he tells us, makes a massive distance indeed, as he describes what exactly it means to be the lopsided ape. In The Lopsided Ape, Corballis takes us on a fascinating tour of the origins and implications of the specialization of the two halves of the brain--known as laterality--in human evolution. He begins by surveying current views of evolution, ranging from the molecular level--the role of viruses, for instance, in transporting genes between species--to the tremendous implications of such physical changes as walking on two feet. Walking upright freed our ancestors' arms for such things as tool-making and gesturing (a critical part of early language). Corballis argues that the evolution of the brain--and language--was intimately tied up with these changes: The proliferation of objects made by early hominids, in an increasingly artificial environment marked by social cooperation, demanded greater flexibility in communication and even in thinking itself. These evolutionary pressures spurred the development of laterality in the brain. He goes on to look at the structure of language, following the work of Noam Chomsky and others, showing how grammar allows us to create an infinite variety of messages. In examining communication between animals and attempts to teach apes and dolphins language, he demonstrates that only humans have this unlimited ability for expression--an ability that he traces back through hominid evolution. After this engrossing account of what we know about evolution, language, and the human brain, Corballis suggests that the left hemisphere has evolved a Generative Assembling Device, a biological mechanism that allows us to manipulate open-ended forms of representation and provides the basis for mathematics, reasoning, music, art, and play as well as language and manufacture. It is this device, he writes, that truly sets us off from the apes. Both a detailed account of human language and evolution and a convincing argument for a new view of the brain, The Lopsided Ape provides fascinating insight into our origins and the nature of human thought itself.
 

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The lopsided ape: evolution of the generative mind

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Are humans unique and discontinuous from other animals? How did our generative and creative capacities develop? These and other questions are presented in an exhaustive, step-by-step fashion in the ... Read full review

Contents

1 Are Humans Unique?
3
2 Human Evolution
30
3 The Human Condition
52
4 Human Handedness
80
5 Human Language
109
6 The Evolution of Language
136
7 Language and the Brain
168
8 Praxis and the Left Brain
191
9 The Generative Mind
218
10 The Duality of the Brain
247
11 The Plastic Brain
280
12 Conclusions
305
References
315
Index
353
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Page 4 - And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Page 3 - I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained ; what is man, that thou art mindful of him ? and the son of man, that thou visitest him ? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Page 12 - The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal ; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in the reasoning powers of man, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and...
Page 12 - ... curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, possessing only a little more power than man ; for the belief in them is far more general than of a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator of the universe does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he...

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About the author (1993)

About the Author: Michael Corballis is Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and is the author Human Laterality and other books.

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