Book CoverOn The Origin Of The Human Mind
Second Edition

by ANDREY VYSHEDSKIY, PhD

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Reviews

"Boston Universityís Andrey Vyshedskiy brings a neuroscientistís perspective to the discussion of human mental history in On the Origin of the Human Mind."

—Scientific American Mind (July 2009)


“I like the idea of mental synthesis very much ... I quite agree that language evolved in a way that facilitates synthesis and transmission of the synthesized mental image. ... I don't think there can be much doubt, purely conceptually, that language was a late arrival. Whatever mutation provided the key to it would have had no selectional advantage at all, and would have just been a useless “organ,” if it could not have linked up to pre-existing thought systems.”

—NOAM CHOMSKY, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, MIT


“I found the Mental Synthesis theory stimulating and provocative. The author puts forward an explanation for the evolution of the human mind based on predator detection that led to increased visual mental analysis which set the stage for visual mental syntheses. The author presents an impressive array of recent research on the brain with up to date references that are highly relevant to his case and the origin of mind. For me, the most interesting aspect of the book centers on the significance of imagination for understanding the evolution of the mind, which, as the author states, has not been given enough attention in academic circles. This book brings forth a great deal of interesting new research that would be of interest both to the informed reader and the general public.”

—DEREK HODGSON, Professor of Cognitive Archaeology, University of York


“I strongly recommend this book to everyone interested in the human evolution, primarily on the strength of (1) the author’s original thesis that detecting hidden motionless predators was a driving force for the evolution of mental synthesis, and (2) the author’s overall coherency and clarity in integrating a sufficiently wide range of evidence for his mental synthesis theory (such as research on language, vision science, neuroanatomy, evolutionary history of primates, and archaeological/paleontological evidence of tool and art creation and usages).”

—RICHARD J. HARRINGTON, Professor of Anthropology, Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine


“It is with great enthusiasm I recommend this book to everyone interested in the study of the human mind. The theory of integration of neuronal ensembles allowing for a uniquely human experience of “mental synthesis” is fascinating and is presented in a clear and easy-to-understand language. Author’s diverse background in neuroscience, bioengineering, and humanities allowed him to integrate all these fields into a coherent and fascinating text. His contribution to our common knowledge of evolutionary neurobiology will be extremely valuable to established neuroscientists, medical and graduate students and interested people of all professions alike.”

—MARIA K. HOUTCHENS, M.D., MMSc, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School


“I read the book in one sitting, which was an easy task owing to the author’s concise writing and knack of explaining science with simple clarity.”

—NICHOLAS J MULCAHY, Hon Research Fellow, Univ. of Queensland, Australia


“I enjoyed a lot reading Vyshedskiy’s book. I’m impressed by the quality of the book on its main topic: qualitative differences between human and animal brains and the role of ‘mental synthesis’. The book devotes a lot of pages to the importance of neural synchronisation. This is a strong point to my view, as I share with the author the idea that (group/phase) synchronisation plays a major role in feature binding and consciousness. The book makes also a strong point about mental synthesis. I made a similar point (though with less emphasis) in Why we talk (2007; 2000, French version). The book is very didactic and well-documented on various topics, especially brain functional anatomy. It is also excellent on evolutionary facts. I learned from it, and I will certainly recommend it to my students at least for this reason. One can only admire the author for the breadth of his knowledge and the clarity of his account.”

—JEAN-LOUIS DESSALLES, Professor at Telecom ParisTech, author of Why We Talk: The Evolutionary Origins of Language


“I like this book very much. Like the first edition, it is engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. I have to say that I am not entirely convinced that mental synthesis is what distinguishes the human mind, but the author does make a good case.”

—MICHAEL CORBALLIS, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Auckland, author of The Recursive Mind


"I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I think the idea about "mental synthesis" is brilliant and that it should enter the literature as an alternative to the other theories that explain the origin of humans."

—Dr. Fred Wasserman, Associate Professor, Boston University.


"This is a book with a sweeping scope and a grand vision. It incorporates insights from neuroscience, linguistics and anthropology, which can only be achieved by someone with rigorous scientific training who is at the same time courageous enough to cross many boundaries between academic disciplines."

—Dr. Jen-Wei Lin, Associate Professor, Boston University.

 

about the book

The origin of the human mind remains one of the greatest mysteries of all times. The last 150 years since Charles Darwin proposed that species evolve under the influence of natural selection have been marked by great discoveries. However, the discussion of the evolution of the human intellect and specific forces that shaped the underlying brain evolution is as vigorous today as it was in Darwin's times. Using his background in neuroscience, the author offers an elegant, parsimonious theory of the evolution of the human mind and suggests experiments that could be done to test, refute, or validate the hypothesis.

 

The basis of the theory is a simple, yet fundamental question: what happens neurologically when two objects, never before seen together (say, an apple on top of a whale), are imagined together for the first time. The scientific consensus is that a familiar object, such as an apple or a whale, is represented in the brain by thousands of neurons dispersed throughout the posterior cortex. When one sees or recalls such an object, the neurons of that object’s neuronal ensemble tend to activate into synchronous resonant activity. The neuronal ensemble binding mechanism, based on the Hebbian principle “neurons that fire together, wire together,” came to be known as the binding-by-synchrony hypothesis. However, while the Hebbian principle explains how we perceive a familiar object, it does not explain the infinite number of novel objects that humans can voluntarily imagine. The neuronal ensembles encoding those objects cannot jump into spontaneous synchronized activity on their own since the parts forming those novel images have never been seen together. The author argues that to account for imagination, the binding-by-synchrony hypothesis would need to be extended to include the phenomenon of mental synthesis whereby the brain actively and intentionally synchronizes independent neuronal ensembles into one morphed image. Thus, the apple neuronal ensemble is synchronized with the whale neuronal ensemble, and the two disparate objects are perceived together. The synchronization mechanism of mental synthesis is likely responsible for many imaginative and creative traits that scientists have recognized as being uniquely human, despite not having a precise neurological understanding of the process.

 

How did humans acquire mental synthesis? As of 100,000 years ago, hominins had already evolved both a greater control of perception by the prefrontal cortex and a nearly modern speech-production apparatus. However the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the posterior cortex remained asynchronous; the prefrontal cortex was unable to synchronize independent neuronal ensembles, speech remained finite and non-syntactic: one word was only able to communicate one image. At that time, a single mutation delayed the ontogenetic development of the prefrontal cortex and permitted the newly invented syntactic speech to train the synchronous connections between the prefrontal cortex and the posterior cortex. This allowed the acquisition of mental synthesis and propelled humans to behavioral modernity. These behaviorally modern humans excelled at performing mental simulations, which resulted in the dramatic acceleration of technological progress; the human population exploded and humans quickly settled most habitable areas of the planet. Armed with the ability to mentally simulate any plan and then to communicate it to their companions, humans rapidly became the dominant species.


Reviews

“I like the idea of mental synthesis very much ... I quite agree that language evolved in a way that facilitates synthesis and transmission of the synthesized mental image. ... I don't think there can be much doubt, purely conceptually, that language was a late arrival. Whatever mutation provided the key to it would have had no selectional advantage at all, and would have just been a useless “organ,” if it could not have linked up to pre-existing thought systems.”

—NOAM CHOMSKY, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, MIT

“I found the Mental Synthesis theory stimulating and provocative. The author puts forward an explanation for the evolution of the human mind based on predator detection that led to increased visual mental analysis which set the stage for visual mental syntheses. The author presents an impressive array of recent research on the brain with up to date references that are highly relevant to his case and the origin of mind. For me, the most interesting aspect of the book centers on the significance of imagination for understanding the evolution of the mind, which, as the author states, has not been given enough attention in academic circles. This book brings forth a great deal of interesting new research that would be of interest both to the informed reader and the general public.”

—DEREK HODGSON, Professor of Cognitive Archaeology, University of York

“I strongly recommend this book to everyone interested in the human evolution, primarily on the strength of (1) the author’s original thesis that detecting hidden motionless predators was a driving force for the evolution of mental synthesis, and (2) the author’s overall coherency and clarity in integrating a sufficiently wide range of evidence for his mental synthesis theory (such as research on language, vision science, neuroanatomy, evolutionary history of primates, and archaeological/paleontological evidence of tool and art creation and usages).”

—RICHARD J. HARRINGTON, Professor of Anthropology, Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine

“It is with great enthusiasm I recommend this book to everyone interested in the study of the human mind. The theory of integration of neuronal ensembles allowing for a uniquely human experience of “mental synthesis” is fascinating and is presented in a clear and easy-to-understand language. Author’s diverse background in neuroscience, bioengineering, and humanities allowed him to integrate all these fields into a coherent and fascinating text. His contribution to our common knowledge of evolutionary neurobiology will be extremely valuable to established neuroscientists, medical and graduate students and interested people of all professions alike.”

—MARIA K. HOUTCHENS, M.D., MMSc, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School

“I read the book in one sitting, which was an easy task owing to the author’s concise writing and knack of explaining science with simple clarity.”

—NICHOLAS J MULCAHY, Hon Research Fellow, Univ. of Queensland, Australia

“I enjoyed a lot reading Vyshedskiy’s book. I’m impressed by the quality of the book on its main topic: qualitative differences between human and animal brains and the role of ‘mental synthesis’. The book devotes a lot of pages to the importance of neural synchronisation. This is a strong point to my view, as I share with the author the idea that (group/phase) synchronisation plays a major role in feature binding and consciousness. The book makes also a strong point about mental synthesis. I made a similar point (though with less emphasis) in Why we talk (2007; 2000, French version). The book is very didactic and well-documented on various topics, especially brain functional anatomy. It is also excellent on evolutionary facts. I learned from it, and I will certainly recommend it to my students at least for this reason. One can only admire the author for the breadth of his knowledge and the clarity of his account.”

—JEAN-LOUIS DESSALLES, Professor at Telecom ParisTech, author of Why We Talk: The Evolutionary Origins of Language

“I like this book very much. Like the first edition, it is engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. I have to say that I am not entirely convinced that mental synthesis is what distinguishes the human mind, but the author does make a good case.”

—MICHAEL CORBALLIS, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Auckland, author of The Recursive Mind

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I think the idea about “mental synthesis” is brilliant and that it should enter the literature as an alternative to the other theories that explain the origin of humans.”

— FREDERICK E WASSERMAN, Professor of Biology, Boston University

“The value of Vyshedskiy's book may rest on his highly original concept of mental synthesis and its possible neural basis. I am not a neuroscientist and cannot judge the plausibility of the neural mechanisms proposed by the author for linking sensory areas of the brain with the prefrontal cortex. But he marshals an impressive body of empirical evidence and develops a persuasive argument. If this work holds up to neuroscientific scrutiny, it will prove a valuable contribution to an account of the neural basis for displaced reference, and a nice complement to Derek Bickerton's recent work, "More than Nature Needs" (Harvard, 2014).”

— MICHAEL STUDDERT-KENNEDY, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Connecticut,
Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Yale University, co-author of Approaches to the Evolution of Language

“This is a book with a sweeping scope and a grand vision. It incorporates insights from neuroscience, linguistics and paleoanthropology, which can only be achieved by someone with rigorous scientific training who is at the same time courageous enough to cross many boundaries between academic disciplines.”

—JEN-WEI LIN, Professor of Neuroscience, Boston University

“The book is well written, and serves to stimulate consideration of what factors contributed to the emergence of ‘behaviourally modern’ Homo sapiens.“

— FRANCIS THACKERAY, Professor of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand

“I had an opportunity and pleasure to read one of the first copies of this exciting book. This is one of the few successful attempts to present a coherent model of the human mind in an engaging and fascinating manner. I’ve enjoyed the discussion of numerous animal and human intelligence experiments, as well as comprehensive analysis of the development of the visual system on the evolutionary timescale. I found the neurobiological explanation of visual object representation in human minds convincing. The book is a captivating read that ultimately leads to a well thought out theory of what makes us humans.”

—ALEX GANELIS

“... the theory of the evolution of “mental synthesis” through a refinement of the visual system and the theory of conscious thought the voluntary synchronization of neuronal ensembles were enlightening for me because they showed that a credible scientific explanation of these two facts is possible. ... I do believe now that they are within the reach of current science. Previously, these two fields were as enigmatic to me as a light bulb might have been to an Australopithecus.”

— MARTIN GORNER

“... The book presents a very logical theory of a human mind. This logic is easy to understand and follow. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious, who always wants to get to the bottom of things. The book is a lot of fun to read.”

— EDWARD KHOKHLOVICH

“On the Origin of the Human Mind is a highly important work because it sheds light on that most defining, yet elusive, quality of our nature -- the imagination. I agree with Einstein's view that imagination is more important than knowledge. I have believed this for many years, even before really being able to articulate why. Dr. Vyshedskiy's book has been a great asset to me (as well as a pleasure) because it provides a more concrete explanation for what most people only know by intuition -- namely, that the human mind is unique. By bringing together the evidence from both our species' evolutionary history as well as the latest in neurological research, I think he makes a highly compelling case for the theory of mental synthesis. This is one of those rare books that I wish I could get everybody to read!”

— DANE WOLF

Audience

The book speaks best to readers who want to approach the mind from a scientific perspective. The book is written in easy-to-read engaging style. No previous knowledge in psychology, paleoanthropology, or neuroscience is necessary.

About the author

Dr. Andrey VyshedskiyAndrey Vyshedskiy, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Professor at Boston University. Dr. Vyshedskiy was trained in astrophysics, biomedical engineering, and neuroscience. He received a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Boston University, and has conducted research in neuroscience, cardiopulmonary acoustics, and optical vibrometry. He has co-founded several successful companies, received numerous awards from the NSF, the NIH, and the DOD, and directed the development of several FDA approved medical devices. He has been teaching Human Physiology to BU students for nearly two decades. He has also periodically taught Tufts Medical School students. He has authored over 100 scientific publications, book chapters, and conference presentations. His work has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Thorax, Chest, the Journal of Neuroscience and other leading scientific journals. Dr. Vyshedskiy currently lives in Boston with his wife and two children.

 

Book Info


On the Origin of the Human Mind
by Dr. Andrey Vyshedskiy
Second edition, April 2014
ISBN: 1492963615
ISBN-13: 978-1492963615

Keywords: neurological origins of creativity, evolution of the human mind, evolution of language

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Contact the author

vysha@bu.edu