(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The British archeologist Steven Mithen has found evidence in archeology that "cognitive fluidity" caused the modern mind to arise.
First came social intelligence, the ability to deal with other humans; then came natural-history intelligence, the ability to deal with the environment, and tool-using intelligence; last, language.
Once the ability to fully connect all these faculties developed, the modern mind was born.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens appeared 100,000 years ago and initially behave like Neanderthals, showing little intelligence. Two momentous transformations in human behavior occurred with art and technology (60,000 years ago) and with farming (10,000 years ago).
In order to explain these breakthroughs, Mithen resorts to Jerry Fodor's modular model of the mind. Initially, human minds were dominated by a general-purpose form of intelligence. Then a module appears that was specialized for socializing. The social intelligence module is shared with other primates so it must predate humans. Then other modules were born, each specific to one domain, around the main general-purpose module. The modules evolved separately. Eventually, Mithen admits four types of intelligence (four modules in the mind): social, technical (tool-making, house building), natural-history (e.g., animal behavior) and linguistic. These modules were not connected, these intelligences were not communicating.
Mithen can thus explain why there is no archeological evidence of social life when (judging from brain size) social intelligence must have been already quite developed: a cognitive barrier between social and technical intelligence made it impossible for humans to conceive of tools for social interaction. The hunters-gatherers of our pre-history were experts in many domains, but those differente expertises did not mix, just because the minds of those humans could not mix different types of intelligence.
"Cognitive fluidity" (mixing intelligences) changed that and caused the cultural explosion of art, technology, religion. Suddenly, humans acquired minds in which modules have been connected. For example, tools started being use to transform nature. Religion was a by-product of mixing these intelligences, because mixing intelligences one can produce supernatural beings.
Farming was also a product of cognitive fluidity and in turn caused a redefining of intelligences (emergence of new intelligences, disappearance of old ones).
The factor that contributed or caused cognitive fluidity may have been the dawning of consciousness. Self-awareness may have integrated intelligences that for thousands of years had been kept separate.
Mithen's evolutionary theory mirrors in many ways Annette Karmiloff-Smith's theory of child development.