Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. But who is it doing the thinking? An estimated 30-50% of people have an inner monologue, as in regularly hearing your own voice in your head, with the rest mostly thinking in abstract thoughts. Hulburt says having an inner monologue can make it easier for people to create a sequential plan and solve logical problems, but if most people don’t have it, it’s clearly not necessary for our ongoing survival. Consciousness seems all important to those of us who are, especially considering we seem to be the only beings to have achieved it. However it’s an extremely costly feature to develop from an evolutionary standpoint. We believe that our conscious brain decides to do something of our own free will, and passes the message along to the body to execute, but as documented in many studies, behavioral scientists have shown it’s actually our subconscious that decides, with the conscious brain inventing a justification after the fact. So why did consciousness arise?
Being conscious, we make the egotistical mistake of assuming that individual consciousness must have come first, or that it is the fundamental form of consciousness. In fact, it’s understanding what’s in the minds of others – ‘theory of mind’ – that would have been most evolutionarily useful. We see rudimentary forms of this ability in a highly cooperative few species, such as elephants, dolphins, crows, and primates. Steven Mithen proposes the emergence of more systematic hunting practices 40,000 years ago were the product of a change in the architecture of the human mind. Our new capacity to emulate the feelings of others in our tribe so as to cooperate more effectively was a huge evolutionary advantage. Dr Christopher DiCarlo argues that as human consciousness evolved and developed, so too did our ancestors' capacity to consider and attempt to solve environmental problems in more conceptually sophisticated ways. Additionally, anthropomorphism – projecting ‘theory of mind’ on to animals – allowed hunters to identify empathetically with hunted animals, and better predict their movements.
Surprisingly, introspection – turning our capacity for ‘theory of mind’ back on ourselves – may not have developed until as recently as 3,000 years ago. As Jayne observes, “The characters of the Iliad do not sit down and think out what to do. They have no conscious minds such as we say we have, and certainly no introspections. […] The beginnings of action are not in conscious plans, reasons, and motives; they are in the actions and speeches of gods.” As we developed a more complex civilization, the ‘bicameral’ or two chamber mind couldn’t keep up. The magical words in our heads that we ascribed to the gods receded for the average person, and special status was conferred to those who still claimed to hear them: prophets, priests, oracles. As we achieved deeper stages of consciousness, the voices in our heads became our own. In effect we became our own gods.
A Bell Curve: The Rise and Decline of Traditional Religion
A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life
Cogito, ergo sum
DO YOU HAVE AN INNER MONOLOGUE? LET’S FIND OUT
Does everyone have an inner monologue?
How Problem Solving and Neurotransmission in the Upper Paleolithic led to The Emergence and Maintenance of Memetic Equilibrium in Contemporary World Religions
Human Consciousness: Where Is It From and What Is It for
Not Everyone Conducts Inner Speech
The Bicameral Mind and Our Constant Inner Monologue
The Co-Evolution of Consciousness and Language and the Development of Memetic Equilibrium
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
The prehistory of the mind : a search for the origins of art, religion, and science / Steven Mithen.
THE VOICES IN OUR HEADS
There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought