Verdict: Retired psychiatrist John Wylie's thoughtful examination of human evolution and mental illness through the lens of Jungian psychology should intrigue readers with a working knowledge of, or an interest in, these subjects. And while he occasionally lapses into jargon, when the prose is personal, it's practically perfect.
Who hasn’t wondered if something separates humans from animals and, if so, what? In APE MIND OLD MIND NEW MIND, retired psychiatrist John V. Wylie translates his own years of wondering into a intriguing theory. Starting with mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia, Wylie works backward to argue that humanity evolved as a communally oriented creature that was keenly aware of an intangible human spirit, driving it together and forward through time. It’s evolutionary psychology with a Jungian flavor, and while the result is not the most accessible book ever written, it gives ready readers something to ponder on every page.
Wylie argues that the titular minds are different layers of the human consciousness, which communicate with each other and with the human community at large. When the communal “old” mind clashes with the individualistic “ape” or “new” minds, mental illness occurs—Wylie’s “emotional fossils,” so named because they relate to prehistoric functions of our brains. Wylie bases his ideas on the work of thinkers like Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin, stretching and squeezing their respective philosophies into his own investigations into the human spirit.
Those are far from his only sources. Wylie has decades of experience, and he brings in his own observations, giving the book the feel of a memoir in some spots. And, along with psychology and genetics, Wylie draws on primatology, entomology, linguistics and even classic cinema. Nowhere else have I encountered thoughts on the ritual importance of stone age hand axes in one chapter, the nature of termite hive minds in the next and an analysis of Frank Capra after that. One sometimes gets the feeling that Wylie is showing off, but can you blame him? The sources are thorough and would be interesting on their own without Wylie’s novel interpretation.
There are a few grammatical errors scattered throughout, footnotes are sometimes oddly placed and there is a curious lack of cohesion with the formatting, but these complaints are individual—some readers might not like the irregular use of pictures and graphics, but other readers might not even notice. Either way, none of this detracts from the book’s obvious merits. More frustrating could be Wylie’s occasional lapse into jargon, but he is just as likely to explain himself a paragraph later in more approachable terms. When the prose is personal, it’s practically perfect.
~Colin Newton for IndieReader