General Theory of Mind

1.0 Introduction: Mathematical Elements of Cognition/Consciousness

An often overlooked aspect of the study of the mind is hypothesizing how we came to possess human intelligence. Modern evolutionary neuroscience focuses on the physical changes of the brain throughout the hominoid lineage. But the often overlooked and pivotal aspect is how we reached this level of intelligence. The ontogeny of life from early mammals, apes, and our other genetic predecessors has left physical remains which can be used to judge their respective cognitive abilities, piecing together how we developed into intelligent beings. We can then deduce this evolutionary intelligence developmental process by studying and connecting the archaeological artifacts of hominin ancestors to their respective brains.

What we refer to as conscious is also a level of intelligence. While we are the sole judges of what possesses consciousness, the factors we are looking for in living creatures are complex reactions to stimuli or intelligence. Intelligence is awareness and response to conditions and stimuli. Another additional requirement for a working definition of consciousness is that the action taken was one of many options. As in it is not the sole instinctual response.

The major point of inquiry is discovering which aspects of past hominids apply to modern humans. One is the variety of behavioral characteristics exhibited by non-homo sapien hominids deduced by using anatomical and hominid influenced remains. The other and most important aspect is the origin of modern human behavior. It is termed and often called the “great leap,” implying some sort of great change in the human cognitive process. The major theories of behavioral modernity 1 are based on events approximately 50,000 years ago. These events include burials, use of red ochre 2, venus figurines 3, cave art 4 and most importantly counting 5 6.  At this point in time, there became a decent difference between human beings of the past and human beings of the future – we had become conscious.

The discovery of counting is essential to the development of consciousness. An artifact that shows human enumeration implies that the humans that created the tool understood that the counting process was indefinite. The Lebomba and Ishango bone both show that these early humans had the capacity for infinite enumeration. While most animals, including humans, can substitize small quantities, the capability to enumerate is pivotal if they wished to mentally compute beyond a small quantity.

Continuity theorists hold that anatomic modernity predates behavioral modernity 7, and it is very possible that while early humans had the ability for infinite enumeration, they did not necessarily use the skill. Fortunately, the issue of whether the first anatomically modern humans of 200,000 years ago were physically the exact same as the first behaviorally modern humans of 50,000 years ago or that a gene mutation led to the “great leap” has no serious significance on pin-pointing the mechanism that allowed for behavioral modernity.


The study of numerical cognition is extremely interdisciplinary and asks the very important question of what the neural basis of numerosity. It also asks “What metaphorical capacities and processes allow us to extend our numerical understanding into complex domains such as the concept of infinity, the infinitesimal or the concept of the limit in calculus?”

The difficulty in finding a general theory of consciousness exists because of the seemingly endless stream of interdisciplinary collaborations necessary to develop a complete theory. These interdisciplinary collaborations are not exactly necessary. My hypothesis is that there is a single model that itself is a priori, led to the “great leap” and to humans understanding mathematics which allowed for a single theory of mind. The foundation of rationality in this model is our ability for infinite enumeration and the extension of this ability into tool making, social interaction, and all other forms of creative cognition. If the early modern human had the cognitive ability to enumerate indefinitely, the rest of human abilities are amazingly very plausible. This skill allowed for the capability for rationality, free will, creativity, and mathematics to be possible. The illusive identity of the origin of human intelligence becomes evident with this hypothesis but discovering how we came to acquire this ability or recreating it on a new substrate is not as easily deducible.


Works Cited

1 Mayell, Hillary. “When Did “Modern” Behavior Emerge in Humans?.”National Geographic. 28 Oct, 2010. Web 10 July, 2011 <>.

2 Wrescher, E. E. “Red Ochre and Human Evolution: A Case for Discussion,” Current Anthropology 21: 631-644, 1980. Print

3 Williams, Scott. “The Oldest Mathematical Object is in Swaziland.” Mathematicians of the African Diaspora. SUNY Buffalo mathematics department. , 5 May, 1997. Web. 10 July, 2011. <>.

4 Henshilwood, Christopher S., et al. “Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa: preliminary report on the 1992–1999 excavations of the Middle Stone Age levels.” Journal of Archaeological Science 28.4 (2001): 421-448

Henshilwood, Christopher S., et al. “An early bone tool industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: implications for the origins of modern human behavior, symbolism and language.” Journal of Human Evolution 41.6 (2001): 631-678.

6 Heinzelin, J. de. ‘Ishango.’ Scientific American 206: 109–111, 1962. Print.

7 McBrearty, Sally, and Alison S. Brooks. “The revolution that wasn’t: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior.” Journal of human evolution 39.5 (2000): 453-563. <>.

8 Reid GBR, Hetherington R (2010). The climate connection: climate change and modern human evolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-521-14723-9.

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