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Jul 2014 by PCI College

Bite-Sized Book Review: 'A Mind So Rare' by Merlin Donald

'A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness' by Merlin Donald is reviewed this week by Dr. Derek Dorris, PCI College Head of Psychology

Merlin Donald’s “A Mind So Rare” stands as a deeply engaging and insightful counterpoint to hardline neuroscientific attempts to “explain away” consciousness as a non-functional by-product of neural activity. For a subject that has continued to defy most approaches in one major fashion or another, Donald’s unique evolutionary account of consciousness remains perhaps one of the most comprehensive approaches yet.

Referencing and examining research from the fields of neuroscience, clinical, cognitive, developmental, and cultural psychology and bridging it with data from anthropology and evolutionary biology, he takes us on a step by step tour of the building blocks of the construct across its most prominent states of definition. Donald shows us how those elements of human consciousness that we deem as special and even unique are to be found in some degree right throughout the evolutionary chain and, as we proceed up the chain towards primates and humans, what we find is an abundance of these abilities and, with them, an increasingly outward orientation and independent relationship with the environment. That is until we get to modern humans when that relationship folds back on itself.

The author makes a few leaps along the way but never loses the audience’s train of understanding and, in an audacious yet compelling attempt to explain the often dodged question of experience itself, he ultimately weaves his evolutionary model with the external world by making the tangible biological basis to consciousness and the more intangible construct of culture mutually dependent. It’s a fitting highpoint to a fascinating read.

Dr. Derek Dorris (July 2014)
Head of Psychology & Head of Academia

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