At the heart of our understanding of All That Is — the Universe around us, the Gods, the daily news — is cognition. How we think. What our minds do with what our senses offer as input and what we have already processed and stored, whether we remember it or not. And it turns out that humankind developed our current capabilities in cognition over eons — indeed, we wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but, of course, we take it for granted.
The video below is the first in a series by Prof. John Vervaeke, of the University of Toronto Psychology Department and Cognitive Science Program, laying out the details of our human cognitive development against the history of human development.
And this brought to my mind the course in Pagan Apologetics I took at Cherry Hill Seminary, taught by Dr. David Oringderff of Sacred Well Congregation, the premise of which was that Paganism is the indigenous religion of humankind.
There is a lot of content in this video, delivered in straight lecture style in front of an almost-useless whiteboard. Conveniently, YouTube lists the books Vervaeke mentions:
- Michael Anderson – After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain
- Barry Boyce (Editor) – The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life
- Andy Clark – Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence
- Michel Ferrari and Nic Weststrate (Editors) – The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom: From Contemplative Traditions to Neuroscience
- Harry Frankfurt – On Bullsh*t
- David Lewis-Williams – The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art
- L. A. Paul – Transformative Experience
- Massimo Pigliucci – How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
- Matt Rossano – Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved
- Daniel Siegel – Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
- Steve Taylor – Waking From Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make Them Permanent
- John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, and Filip Miscevic – Zombies in Western Culture: A Twenty-First Century Crisis
- Michael Winkelman – Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing
- Susan Wolf – Meaning in Life and Why It Matters
Just as we did in Pagan Apologetics, Vervaeke looks back to our primitive human ancestors, the physical traces they left, and the differences between those who came before and those who came after. He focuses in this episode on the transition from the middle- to the upper- paleolithic, about 45,000 years ago, as the Neanderthal population faded out and the human population expanded out of Africa.
What I want to do is point to a time when many people think our humanity, the kind of people we are now, came into form. Not fully like the way it is now, because of course there’s been lots of historical and cultural processes, but the kind of humanity that we would recognize as “us” and how much this was bound up with meaning making in the way that I’ve been talking about.Episode 1
This episode is just under one hour, and it moves quickly. The second half gets into the details of the upper paleolithic transition, focusing on the work of the shaman, on ritual, and on the various ways of knowing. It is better experienced than read, but the transcripts are available.