Are humans just a network of relationships rather than single minds?

What are some of the main hypotheses and research conclusions (so far) in the research literature above for the question of how we have evolved as a “symbolic species”?

I was particularly interested in the notion that cultural networks are the vital link in the human cognitive process as stated in “Social Brain Matters.” This paper reminded me of the about Steven Johnson’s book, “Where Good Ideas Come From” in which he explains that innovation erupts often from highly dense, networked systems where there is an “adjacent possible” to every situation. This concept is built upon the notion that within complex systems, there is oppertunity to have something an alternate route to a solution. He writes, “The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table,” (42).

Within several of the readings this week, I felt that the idea that the brain itself is not the reason for cognitive expression through symbolism, but rather that culture was. Through the archeological records it showed that there may have been a few isolated instances of symbolic expression on tools since the dawn of the Homo Sapein 195,000 years ago, but that only as populations went up and began to cluster into social networks 40,000 years ago did humans make “the Great Leap.” The Tasmanian example of limited tool and symbolic expression on the island thousands of years after the separation from the main continent struck me as another example of cognitive expression existing due to dense networked systems. When populations dwindled on the island, it was clear that the advanced practices subsided. 

This can be seen today in our innovative spaces. In the last 200 years, our extensive technological boom has been occurring in highly competitive and population spaces. Our cities are our cultural and therefore technological capitols.

Could it be said that the the statement “signs are not things, they are relationships” has a larger meaning in which human minds are not things, but solely the relationships we have. Do we only have the capacity to think as our beings as relational to everything else and that is the meaning of human consciousness?

The readings explain that our brains, built in a modular structure, at some point formed a “language of thought” which allowed for cross domain reasoning. In what way does this biological ability also cause the extended mind? Is the assumption that other beings exist in modular thought with a “non-extended mind”? Can they not see themselves relationally?

“Homo sapiens have been able to colonize the world by engaging with representations of reality rather than with reality itself,” (Barrett). On this mind blowing note, here is a video about chimpanzees using tools. While reading Social Brain Matters, I understood the vast differences between the ape mind and the human mind, but I can’t help but wonder about how they view reality and relationships as a “non-symbolic species.”



John C. Barrett, “The Archaeology of Mind: It’s Not What You Think.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23, no. 01 (2013): 1-17.

Merlin Donald, “Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain,” from Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition, ed. Oscar Vilarroya, et al. Amsterdam: Rodophi, 2007.

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

Colin Renfrew, “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage.” In Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, edited by Colin Renfrew, 1-6. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1999.