In the Light of Evolution
Volume VII: The Human Mental Machinery
CAMILO J. CELA-CONDE, RAÚL GUTIÉRREZ LOMBARDO,
JOHN C. AVISE, and FRANCISCO J. AYALA, Editors
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This volume is based on the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “The Human Mental Machinery,” held January 11–12, 2013, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, California.
The articles appearing in these pages were contributed by speakers at the colloquium and have been anonymously reviewed. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this volume are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the light of evolution / John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala, editors.
Vol. I based on a colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, held December
1–2, 2006, in Irvine, California.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Evolution (Biology)—Congresses. I. Avise, John C, 1948–. II. Ayala, Francisco José, 1934–.
III. National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
Additional copies of this book are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth St., N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 10055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu.
Cover image: Evoking a sense of beauty and wonder, this limestone carving of Buddha’s head is thought to have been part of a monumental statue from the cave temples of Xiangtangshan in China. Aesthetic values are one of the unique mental traits of humans, along with others such as self-reflection and ethics. Understanding the brain processes behind these traits and how they evolved is the topic of the Sackler Colloquium, In the Light of Evolution VII: The Human Mental Machinery. Photograph by John Tsantes (Image used with permission from the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC).
Copyright 2014 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
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The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Arthur M. Sackler was educated in the arts, sciences, and humanities at New York University. These interests remained the focus of his life, as he became widely known as a scientist, art collector, and philanthropist, endowing institutions of learning and culture throughout the world.
He felt that his fundamental role was as a doctor, a vocation he decided upon at the age of four. After completing his internship and service as house physician at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, he became a resident in psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital. There, in the 1940s, he started research that resulted in more than 150 papers in neuroendocrinology, psychiatry, and experimental medicine. He considered his scientific research in the metabolic basis of schizophrenia his most significant contribution to science and served as editor of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychobiology from 1950 to 1962. In 1960 he started publication of Medical Tribune, a weekly medical newspaper that reached over one million readers in 20 countries. He established the Laboratories for Therapeutic Research in 1938, a facility in New York for basic research that he directed until 1983.
As a generous benefactor to the causes of medicine and basic science, Arthur Sackler built and contributed to a wide range of scientific institutions: the Sackler School of Medicine established in 1972 at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel; the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Science at New York University, founded in 1980; the Arthur M. Sackler Science Center dedicated in 1985 at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts; and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, established in 1980, and the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Health Communications, established in 1986, both at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts.
His pre-eminence in the art world is already legendary. According to his wife Jillian, one of his favorite relaxations was to visit museums and art galleries and pick out great pieces others had overlooked. His interest in art is reflected in his philanthropy; he endowed galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University, a museum at
Harvard University, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art in Washington, D.C. True to his oft-stated determination to create bridges between peoples, he offered to build a teaching museum in China, which Jillian made possible after his death, and in 1993 opened the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University in Beijing.
In a world that often sees science and art as two separate cultures, Arthur Sackler saw them as inextricably related. In a speech given at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Some reflections on the arts, sciences and humanities, a year before his death, he observed: ‘‘Communication is, for me, the primum movens of all culture. In the arts . . . I find the emotional component most moving. In science, it is the intellectual content. Both are deeply interlinked in the humanities.’’ The Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia at the National Academy of Sciences pay tribute to this faith in communication as the prime mover of knowledge and culture.
Robert M. Seyfarth and Dorothy L. Cheney
George A. Mashour and Michael T. Alkire
Robert E. Clark and Larry R. Squire
Timothy A. Allen and Norbert J. Fortin
Steve W. C. Chang, Lauren J. N. Brent, Geoffrey K. Adams, Jeffrey T. Klein, John M. Pearson, Karli K. Watson, and Michael L. Platt
Serena Bianchi, Cheryl D. Stimpson, Tetyana Duka, Michael D. Larsen, William G. M. Janssen, Zachary Collins, Amy L. Bauernfeind, Steven J. Schapiro, Wallace B. Baze, Mark J. McArthur, William D. Hopkins, Derek E. Wildman, Leonard Lipovich, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Bob Jacobs, Patrick R. Hof, and Chet C. Sherwood
James L. McGaugh
Barbara A. Oakley
Sarah F. Brosnan
Erez Yoeli, Moshe Hoffman, David G. Rand, and Martin A. Nowak
Robert J. Zatorre and Valorie N. Salimpoor
Leanne Chukoskie, Joseph Snider, Michael C. Mozer, Richard J. Krauzlis, and Terrence J. Sejnowski
Oshin Vartanian, Gorka Navarrete, Anjan Chatterjee, Lars Brorson Fich, Helmut Leder, Cristián Modroño, Marcos Nadal, Nicolai Rostrup, and Martin Skov
Camilo J. Cela-Conde, Juan García-Prieto, José J. Ramasco, Claudio R. Mirasso, Ricardo Bajo, Enric Munar, Albert Flexas, Francisco del-Pozo, and Fernando Maestú
Biodiversity—the genetic variety of life—is an exuberant product of the evolutionary past, a vast human-supportive resource (aesthetic, intellectual, and material) of the present, and a rich legacy to cherish and preserve for the future. Two urgent challenges, and opportunities, for 21st-century science are to gain deeper insights into the evolutionary processes that foster biotic diversity, and to translate that understanding into workable solutions for the regional and global crises that biodiversity currently faces. A grasp of evolutionary principles and processes is important in other societal arenas as well, such as education, medicine, sociology, and other applied fields including agriculture, pharmacology, and biotechnology. The ramifications of evolutionary thought also extend into learned realms traditionally reserved for philosophy and religion.
In 1973, Theodosius Dobzhansky penned a short commentary entitled “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Most scientists agree that evolution provides the unifying framework for interpreting biological phenomena that otherwise can often seem unrelated and perhaps unintelligible. Given the central position of evolutionary thought in biology, it is sadly ironic that evolutionary perspectives outside the sciences have often been neglected, misunderstood, or purposefully misrepresented.
The central goal of the In the Light of Evolution (ILE) series is to promote the evolutionary sciences through state-of-the-art colloquia—in the series of Arthur M. Sackler colloquia sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences—and their published proceedings. Each installment explores
evolutionary perspectives on a particular biological topic that is scientifically intriguing but also has special relevance to contemporary societal issues or challenges. Individually and collectively, the ILE series aims to interpret phenomena in various areas of biology through the lens of evolution, address some of the most intellectually engaging as well as pragmatically important societal issues of our times, and foster a greater appreciation of evolutionary biology as a consolidating foundation for the life sciences.
The organizers and founding editors of this effort (Avise and Ayala) are the academic grandson and son, respectively, of Theodosius Dobzhansky, to whose fond memory this ILE series is dedicated. May Dobzhansky’s words and insights continue to inspire rational scientific inquiry into nature’s marvelous operations.
John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,
University of California, Irvine (January 2007)
This book is the outgrowth of the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium “The Human Mental Machinery,” which was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on January 11–12, 2013, at the Academy’s Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. It is the seventh in a series of colloquia under the general title “In the Light of Evolution.” The first six books in this series were titled Adaptation and Complex Design (Avise and Ayala, 2007), Biodiversity and Extinction (Avise et al., 2008), Two Centuries of Darwin (Avise and Ayala, 2009), The Human Condition (Avise and Ayala, 2010), Cooperation and Conflict (Strassmann et al., 2011), and Brain and Behavior (Striedter et al., 2013).
In his Notebook C, Darwin gave us one of his first insights into human nature. There, referring to the human being, Darwin wrote:
He is Mammalian—his origin has not been indefinite—he is not a deity, his end under present form will come, (or how dreadfully we are deceived) then he is no exception.—he possesses some of the same general instincts, & moral feelings as animals.—they on the other hand cannot reason—but Man has reasoning powers in excess. Instead of definite instincts—this is a replacement in mental machinery—so analogous to what we see in bodily, that it does not stagger me. (Darwin, 1836–1844)
As Darwin noted, our mental machinery makes us different. For instance, it allows us to ask about ourselves, about what a human is. It enables us to question what we are and the ways in which we reached our current nature. One thing we have discovered is that humans possess
certain unique mental traits. Self-reflection, as well as ethic and aesthetic values, is among them, constituting an essential part of what we call the human condition. The human mental machinery led our species to have a self-awareness but, at the same time, a sense of justice, willing to punish unfair actions even if the consequences of such outrages harm our own interests. Also, we appreciate searching for novelties, listening to music, viewing beautiful pictures, or living in well-designed houses.
But why is this so? What is the meaning of our tendency, among other particularities, to defend and share values, to evaluate the rectitude of our actions and the beauty of our surroundings? The human mental machinery obviously refers to the brain, so the answer to the preceding questions must come from neural considerations. What brain mechanisms correlate with the human capacity to maintain inner speech, or to carry out judgments of value? To what extent are they different from other primates’ equivalent behaviors?
This collection of colloquium papers aims to survey what has been learned about the human “mental machinery” since Darwin’s insights. The colloquium brought together leading scientists who have worked on brain and mental traits. Their 16 contributions focus the objective of better understanding human brain processes, their evolution, and their eventual shared mechanisms with other animals. The articles are grouped into three primary sections: current study of the mind–brain relationships; the primate evolutionary continuity; and the human difference: from ethics to aesthetics.
The explicit objective of this colloquium—improving our knowledge of the content of Darwin’s mental machinery—constitutes an endless task. However, this book offers fresh perspectives coming from interdisciplinary approaches that open new research fields and constitute the state of the art in some important aspects of the mind–brain relationships. An intriguing contradiction seems sketched from the contributions to the colloquium. On the one hand, continuity at least exists between the mental machinery of humans and nonhuman primates. On the other hand, humans manifest conspicuous evolutionarily derived (i.e., exclusive) mental/neural traits. Darwin himself solved this apparent paradox. In chapters III, IV, and V of the Descent of Man, Darwin (1871) holds that human moral and mental faculties differ from those of animals, but not in an essential form. Coming back again to the Notebook C annotation (Darwin, 1836–1844), “[Man] possesses some of the same general instincts, & moral feelings as animals . . . but Man has reasoning powers in excess . . . this is a replacement in mental machinery.”