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Does any other animal experience the richness of our inner lives-our ability to conceptualise, to plan, to dream, to create imaginary worlds? Dr John Parrington answers no, and considers how we came to be so different, even from our nearest primate relatives. In his new book Mind Shift: How culture transformed the human brain, he argues that a ‘mind shift’ occurred during our evolution, in which tool use and especially the invention of language transformed our brains, which not only became larger, but subtly altered in their structure and function, making them more ‘plastic’ and open to external influences. Words can be used for inner dialogue too, leading to the emergence of a sense of self, of conscious awareness, as a product of brain biology and social interaction. An outpouring of art, music, literature, science, and technology has been the result-but also suffering, delusions, and despair when this symphonic brain activity goes wrong. Parrington considers the evidence for this language-and culture-driven view of human consciousness, and its implications for our mental health.
John Parrington is an Associate Professor in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, and a Tutorial Fellow in Medicine at Worcester College, Oxford. He is the author of Mind Shift (OUP, 2021), The Deeper Genome (OUP, 2015), and Redesigning Life (OUP, 2016), and has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles in science journals. He has extensive experience writing popular science, having published articles in The Guardian, New Scientist, Chemistry World, and The Biologist.