Steven Mithen

Steven Mithen is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading. He has written a number of books including The Singing Neanderthals and The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science.

Cognitive fluidity

Cognitive fluidity is a term first popularly applied by Mithen in his book The Prehistory of the Mind, a search for the origins of Art, Religion and Science.

The term cognitive fluidity describes how a modular primate mind has evolved into the modern human mind by combining different ways of processing knowledge and using tools to create a modern civilization. By arriving at original thoughts, which are often highly creative and rely on metaphor and analogy modern humans differ from archaic humans. As such, cognitive fluidity is a key element of the human attentive consciousness. The term has been principally used to contrast the mind of modern humans, especially those after 50,000 B.P. (before present), with those of archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus. The latter appear to have had a mentality that was originally domain-specific in structure; a series of largely isolated cognitive domains for operating in the social, material, and natural worlds. These are termed “Swiss penknife minds” with a set of special modules of intelligence for specific domains such as the Social, Natural history, Technical and Linguistic. With the advent of modern humans the barriers between these domains appear to have been largely removed in the attentive mode and hence cognition has become less compartmentalised and more fluid. Consciousness is of course attentive and self-reflective, and the role of the modular intelligences in neurological “Default mode” is a topic for current research in self-reflective human consciousness.

Mithen uses an appropriately interdisciplinary approach, combining observations from cognitive science, archaeology, and other fields, in an attempt to offer a plausible description of prehistoric intellectual evolution.

See also


General academic books

Technical academic books

Scholarly articles

Book chapters

Book reviews

Other publications

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