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Ancestral Voices by
Curtis G.Smith
Language and the Evolution of Human Consciousness
Published by Prentice-hall in 1985
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


Professor Smith presents a view of evolution from the perspective of brain function and language development. Usually right on target in his presentation, he gets off track only slightly when he presents the corpus callosum as a "perfect and instantaneous" channel of communication between the hemispheres of the brain. Since the corpus callosum provides a faster channel than through the eyes and hands for cross-hemispherical linkage (as proven in Sperry's split-brain experiments), Smith is correct about the speed, but compared to the intra-hemispherical linkage, the corpus callosum is a severely limited channel of communication. Its very existence leads to the specialization of hemispheres because of the limitations produced by cross hemispherical communication. With each hemisphere specializing, the communication between hemispheres occurs at a high level of abstraction (whole words and phrases from the analytical side and whole icons or pictures from the other side). Thus the very limited nature of the corpus callosum leads to brain lateralization.

Reading the first half of the book could provide one the information needed to have written the Clan of the Cave Bear. In her book, Jean Auel develops Ayla as a Cro-Magnon woman growing up in a Neanderthal society. Auel required for her novels of cave dwellers exactly the information Smith puts into the first half of his book.

The second portion of Voices deals with the brain lateralization and with the vision centers, including an excellent treatment of holographic image production.

Did language evolve from newly developed consciousness centers in the evolved brain or did consciousness evolve from the exercising of the brain caused by use of its language functions? Wisely Prof. Smith leaves the question unanswered.

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