ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside September 2009

The Origin of the Mind

The first step in figuring out how the human mind arose is determining what distinguishes our mental processes from those of other creatures

More In This Article

Not too long ago three aliens descended to Earth to evaluate the status of intelligent life. One specialized in engineering, one in chemistry and one in computation. Turning to his colleagues, the engineer reported (translation follows): “All of the creatures here are solid, some segmented, with capacities to move on the ground, through the water or air. All extremely slow. Unimpressive.” The chemist then commented: “All quite similar, derived from different sequences of four chemical ingredients.” Next the computational expert opined: “Limited computing abilities. But one, the hairless biped, is unlike the others. It exchanges information in a manner that is primitive and inefficient but remarkably different from the others. It creates many odd objects, including ones that are consumable, others that produce symbols, and yet others that destroy members of its tribe.”

“But how can this be?” the engineer mused. “Given the similarity in form and chemistry, how can their computing capacity differ?” “I am not certain,” confessed the computational alien. “But they appear to have a system for creating new expressions that is infinitely more powerful than those of all the other living kinds. I propose that we place the hairless biped in a different group from the other animals, with a separate origin, and from a different galaxy.” The other two aliens nodded, and then all three zipped home to present their report.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American MIND iPad

Give a Gift & Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now >>

X

Email this Article

X