ISBN: 9780262319300 | 208 pp. | August 2014

The Conscious Mind


How did the human mind emerge from the collection of neurons that makes up the brain? How did the brain acquire self-awareness, functional autonomy, language, and the ability to think, to understand itself and the world? In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Zoltan Torey offers an accessible and concise description of the evolutionary breakthrough that created the human mind.

Drawing on insights from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and linguistics, Torey reconstructs the sequence of events by which Homo erectus became Homo sapiens. He describes the augmented functioning that underpins the emergent mind—a new (“off-line”) internal response system with which the brain accesses itself and then forms a selection mechanism for mentally generated behavior options. This functional breakthrough, Torey argues, explains how the animal brain's “awareness” became self-accessible and reflective—that is, how the human brain acquired a conscious mind. Consciousness, unlike animal awareness, is not a unitary phenomenon but a composite process. Torey's account shows how protolanguage evolved into language, how a brain subsystem for the emergent mind was built, and why these developments are opaque to introspection. We experience the brain's functional autonomy, he argues, as free will.

Torey proposes that once life began, consciousness had to emerge—because consciousness is the informational source of the brain's behavioral response. Consciousness, he argues, is not a newly acquired “quality,” “cosmic principle,” “circuitry arrangement,” or “epiphenomenon,” as others have argued, but an indispensable working component of the living system's manner of functioning.

Table of Contents

  1. Series Foreword
  2. Preface
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. 1. Introduction
  5. 2. Background to the Brain: The Identity of Consciousness
  6. 3. Neoteny: The Breaking of the Hominid Impasse
  7. 4. The Nuts and Bolts of Language
  8. 5. Cognitive Bootstrapping: The Epigenesis of Language
  9. 6. A Device to Move Mountains: Dual Output, Single Focus
  10. 7. Language: The Trojan Horse of Negative Entropy
  11. 8. What Is This Thing Called Mind?
  12. 9. The Alchemy of Self-Deception: Introspection at Work
  13. 10. Functional Autonomy: The Triumph of Evolutionary Bootstrapping
  14. 11. About the Self: Fiction and Fact
  15. 12. Unfinished Business: Skeletons in the Closet
  16. 13. At the Edge of Comprehension
  17. Glossary
  18. Notes
  19. Further Readings
  20. References
  21. Index