Merlin Donald

Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Merlin Donald obtained his Ph.D. from McGill University, Montreal, QC, in 1968. A cognitive
neuroscientist with a background in philosophy, he is the author of many scientific papers and
two influential books: Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture
and Cognition
(Harvard University Press, 1991) and A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human
(W.W. Norton & Company, 2001). He is a Fellow of the Canadian Psychological
Association, the Royal Society of Canada and the World Academy of Art and Science. He is also
Honorary Professor at Aarhus University.

Merlin Donald’s theoretical work on human cognitive evolution bridges several disciplines in the
sciences, social sciences and humanities. His main thesis is that our mental powers as a species are
closely tied to our emergence as cultural beings. The human journey has not been only about brain
evolution, but rather about brain-culture co-evolution.

The human mind is thus the middle kingdom, the joint progeny of brain and culture. The brain contributed
a source of raw biological intelligence with a potential for being rewired for symbolic communication.
Culture – especially in its techno-logical aspect but also in its key role in the invention of languages – did
most of the rewiring. In our case, the evolution of one component (mind) could not be isolated from the
other (culture). The term ‘culture’ includes material culture and technology, which have repeatedly
revolutionized the processes of thought and memory. Donald is currently trying to understand how the
slow-moving biology of the brain can deal with the rapidly changing ‘cognitive ecology’ triggered by the
new media and the Internet.

This information is accurate as of the academic year 2015-16.