What Do We Know about the Evolution of Human Thought?

In a recent blog post I objected to Richard Lewontin's claim that we know nothing about the evolution of the human brain.  Apparently my reaction was shared by quite a few researchers in the field.  Michael Balter describes their reaction at an interdisciplinary panel that was also held at this year's AAAS annual meeting.

One thing that seems to drive some of these discussions is a difference of opinion about whether their is an insurmountable gap between human intelligence and what other animals can do.  This connects with the ongoing debate about the importance of genetic factors.  But there seems to be no doubt that this is an extremely fruitful area of research.

"How Human Intelligence Evolved--Is It Science or 'Paleofantasy'?" by Michael Balter. Science 22 February 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5866, p. 1028

Lewontin Claims We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution

Episode 30 of the Brain Science Podcast was devoted to the subject of language evolution.  In that episode, I mentioned Steven Jay Gould's claim that language was a spandrel, an incidental by-product of evolution.  Gould's co-author on his famous 1970's paper about spandrels was Richard Lewontin, who is well-known for disagreeing with prevailing opinions in evolution.  At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he reportedly gave a talk that discounted all the current theories about brain evolution.

I have not read the transcript of his lecture, but I just finished reading Georg Striedter's comprehensive textbook, Principles of Brain Evolution  (2005).  This text is highly regarded by leaders in neuroscience research like Michael S Gazzaniga.  It does an excellent job of describing both the challenges and progress in the field, as well as exploring the pros and cons of alternative theories.  I can't help wondering what Lewontin's comments contribute to the field.  Of course, it is reasonable to point out how limited our knowledge is, but to  dismiss the work of so many scientists seems rather arrogant. If anyone has access to the transcript I would like to read it.