Books and Writings

Prefatory remarks
New book in the publication process

A Brand New Mind
How Culture, Cognition, Myth, and Language Came Together To Make Us
What We Are, and What Has Happened in Us Since

     I am an inveterate reader; I have always enjoyed reading, and I consider it important. From fairly early on, reading has taken for me the form of a quest for the meaning of life. This led me in time to Joseph Campbell and, through him, to Carl Jung. The upshot of that was my first book, Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind [Link to Menu]. It is about the way Jungian thought conforms with modern scientific understandings, and it brought me to see that consciousness evolves. That is not to say, however, that I could envision exactly the way in which it evolves. This, I could not quite make out.

     Once the Jung book was on the ground, I turned to the question of the how of conscious evolution. The result was a comprehensive work on the interdependent evolution of genes, culture, mind, and language, titled, at least for now, How Cognition, Language, Myth, and Culture Came Together To Make Us What We Are [Link to menu, “New Book, A Brand New Mind”].

     This may seem odd, but the lynchpin of the whole thing is myth. Here’s how. One needs a mental narrative to stitch episodes of experience together into a cohesive representation of the outside world. Myth can be such a narrative. In essence, a myth is a story. The story doesn’t have to be true. What emerged was anything but; yet it is what proved to be adequate, in the evolutionary sense, to enable our present adaption to reality, whatever reality really is.

     Myth first emerged in the Middle East. According to my researches, before the arrival of the first myth, human thought was conducted in a magical spirit realm — in a stage of cultural evolution sometimes called animism. At its hub was the interdependency of life and death. As we evolved from it we entered upon a mythic form of mentation. Following upon myth, so the thesis goes, came sacrifice and religion. From there, cultural evolution proceeded in a straight line to the Bronze Age Great Mother religions that flourished in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean up into classical times.

     In the course of developing upon all this, I came to the view that fully human language, and hence “consciousness” in the modern sense, did not begin to emerge until about 12,000 years ago. Although my conclusion in this regard, and in some others as well, challenge presently entrenched beliefs, I am convinced that the argument is a sound one. As a long-time trial lawyer, having presented many arguments in tribunals of every sort, I know a solid case when I see one.

     Finally, and most importantly, all of this came about through cultural change, change that has now reached a point where culture has come to evolve on its own, freed entirely from the cumbrous mechanisms of genetic change. The process has been labeled “cumulative cultural evolution”, and it has been a part of all of that sketched out above. Operating within the framework of increasingly concentrated and integrated human interaction, culture now evolves on its own. And it is this that has brought us to the complex, technology-based civilizations of the world today. The consequence is that we have brought about a world that is changing faster than we may be able to keep up with.

     This is the most serious challenge humanity has ever faced, and it can only be met through changes in culture that only we can bring about.

Tom Lawson