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What makes human beings so innovative, so adept at rapid, creative thinking? Where do new ideas come from, and once we have them, how can we carry them mentally into new situations? What allows our thinking to range easily over time, space, causation, and agency-so easily that we take this truly remarkable ability for granted? In The Origin of Ideas, Mark Turner offers a provocative new theory to answer these and many other questions. While other species do what we cannot-fly, run amazingly fast, see in the dark-only human beings can innovate so rapidly and widely. Turner argues that this distinctively human spark was an evolutionary advance that developed from a particular kind of mental operation, which he calls "blending": our ability to take two or more ideas and create a new idea in the "blend." Turner begins by looking at the "lionman," a 32,000-year-old ivory figurine, one of the earliest examples of blending. Here, the concepts "lion" and "man" are merged into a new figure, the "lionman." Turner argues that at some stage during the Paleolithic Age, humans reached a tipping point. Before that, we were a bunch of large, unimaginative mammals. After that, we were poised to take over the world. Once biological evolution hit upon making brains that could do advanced blending, we possessed the capacity to invent and maintain culture. Cultural innovation could then progress by leaps and bounds over biological evolution itself, leading to the highest forms of human cognition and creativity. For anyone interested in how and why our minds work the way they do, The Origin of Ideas offers a wealth of original insights-and is itself a brilliant example of the innovative thinking it describes.
Mark Turner, Ph.D., is Institute Professor and Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University. He is the founding director of the Cognitive Science Network and co-director of the Red Hen Lab. His most recent book publications are Ten Lectures on Mind and Language and two edited volumes, The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity, from Oxford University Press, and Meaning, Form, & Body, edited with Fey Parrill and Vera Tobin, published by the Center for the Study of Language and Information. His other books and articles include Cognitive Dimensions of Social Science: The Way We Think about Politics, Economics, Law, and Society, The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language, Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science, and Death is the Mother of Beauty. He has been a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Advanced Study of Durham University, and the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He is a fellow of the Institute for the Science of Origins, external research professor at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study in Cognitive Neuroscience, distinguished fellow at the New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology, and Extraordinary Member of the Humanwissenschaftsliches Zentrum. In 1996, the Académie française awarded him the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la littérature françaises.