The Evolution of Thinking?
The first modern humans evolved by approximately 200 000 years ago, in Africa. Self-preservation is a basic instinct that urged primitive man to adapt to environmental changes and group life. They started to use tools and develop hand movements, invented symbols and words that helped them to share their experiences. As a result, they adopted an evolved behavior which resulted in the development of human thinking. The transition from animal state to human state took place by converting interdepended experiences and row ideas into gestures, drawing, and language.
Archaeologists have been working hard to recreate the route of how and when humans started to think. Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, stated that 40,000 years ago a genetic mutation occurred and that caused the development of symbolic thinking. He also suggests that humans inherit their cognitive-developmental ability. The cave art provides evidence that humans weren’t randomly drawing on the cave walls, it was rather a coping mechanism for a felt need of self-expression, sharing, and caring for each other. It clearly shows us that they have figured out a way of expressing their organic raw mind.
They gathered and hunted for food in groups and depended on one another for survival. As they overcame daily challenges together, they affiliated with one another, especially when high emotional situations were experienced. The need for support and affiliation led to group interaction and development of new abilities as sharing with others and learning from one another. As a result, the most fundamental characteristic of human beings was discovered their social nature. The basic human need to belong contributed to the development of human thinking.
Let’s take a few minutes and imagine primitive man’s experience with the purity of thought?
Imagine that we are stepping into a state of a fresher mind. A mind without current content; no names, words, concepts, theories, systems, preconceived ideas, ego identity. All we can experience is seeing, hearing, touching, moving, tasting and smelling. Pure natural functioning through the 5 senses. There is no association or identification with the object of perception. We smell and taste the strawberry, but there is no name and color description attached to it. How would that be?
Later, common geometrical forms arranged in symmetrical order started to reflect the beginning of symbolic thinking. Organising and structuring their art shows how humans changed their mind from organic memory to the development of forms, signs, sounds, and symbols used later in speaking. The evolution of thought is deeply connected to the history of language development, viewed today more as an “instinctive product”.
Speaking is a human natural ability to adapt and communicate information through the use of symbols. Scientist’s Noam Chomsky point of view is that “language is the product of a well engineered biological instinct”. Language is not considered any more a cultural invention and the shaper of thought. It was believed for a long time that language and thought are the same, and that speech is the source of thought.
With the development of language, people started to create and tell stories. Through repetition, sharing and conveying, we people both into our own stories. The stories shaped our thinking, and how we perceive the world around. As you see, all that people have experienced before us is part of our consciousness and this creates our conditioned mind.
Lev Vygotsky in his work, “The Connection Between Thought and the Development of Language in primitive people“ writes; ” The language of primitive man conveys images of objects and transmits them exactly as they present themselves to the eyes and ear.” It looks like the primitive man was more mindful of what he sees and does then modern man. The main difference between a primitive man thinking and ours is that he wasn’t thinking in general concepts but focused on the futures and particularities of the object, and described an event with the finest details.
Symbolic thinking it is used in human education up to this day and varies across cultures. For example, the play is the most popular form of symbolic thought; children play by imitating their parents, friends, teachers, family life, or social environment. They imitate not only the gestures, and roles but also the words, ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Jean Piaget in his theory of “Cognitive development in humans” writes, “children are capable to imagine very well what they observe and recreate as imitated behavior.“
Piaget mentions that every child between the age of 4 and 7, goes through the stage of “ intuitive thinking” – “they want to know why things are the way they are, becoming very curious and asking many questions.” At this stage, they begin the use of intuitive thinking, and become aware that they have an immeasurable amount of knowledge, but unaware of how they obtained it. Piaget called it the “intuitive thought substage”.
“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein
In the next posts, I will go back to this point from the Yoga philosophy perspective.
HealthYoga Therapist, Teacher and Student,