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

The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, And Intelligence Evolved from Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans Book Cover The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, And Intelligence Evolved from Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans
Stanley I. Greenspan, Stuart G. Shanker
Da Capo Press
August 3, 2004

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.

Drawing on fascinating evidence – not only from their research and collaborations comparing the language and intelligence of human infants and apes, but also from the fossil record, neuroscience, and Greenspan’s extensive work with children with autism – Greenspan and Shanker offer a radical new direction for evolutionary theory, developmental psychology, and philosophy.

Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School and Chairman of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders. The world’s foremost authority on clinical work with infants and young children, he has founding president of Zero to Three: The National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Dr. Greenspan, whose work guides the care of infants and children with developmental and emotional problems throughout the world, is the author of thirty-seven influential books translated into over a dozen languages, including The Growth of the Mind and Building Healthy Minds.

Stuart G. Shanker, D. Phil., (Oxon), is Distinguished Research Professor at York University in Toronto and co-chair of the Council of Human Development. One of the world’s leading authorities on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, he has been at the forefront of ape-language research and child-language studies. Dr. Shanker is the author of over twenty highly praised books, including Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundations of AI, and is co-general editor of the ten-volume Routledge History of Philosophy.