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The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved from Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans. By Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., and Stuart G. Shanker, D.Phil. Da Capo Press.

Submitted by on July 25, 2004 – 10:11 am

In the childhood of every human being, and at the dawn of human history, there is an amazing — and until now unexplained — leap from simple, genetically programmed behavior to symbolic thinking, language, and culture. In The First Idea, Stanley Greenspan and Stuart Shanker explore this missing link and offer brilliant new insights into two longstanding questions: how human beings first created symbols and how these abilities initially evolved and were subsequently transmitted and transformed across generations over millions of years. Greenspan and Shanker have formulated a startling hypothesis for which they present compelling evidence — that the critical step in symbol formation, language, and thinking is not a “genetic leap” but a learned capacity. That capacity depended on specific types of nurturing interactions and other cultural practices that were passed down and thus learned anew and further developed by each generation, dating back to prehuman and even nonhuman primate cultures.

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