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MICHAEL C. CORBALLIS is an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The author of THE LOPSIDED APE (Oxford University Press, 1991) and FROM HAND TO MOUTH (Princeton University Press, 2002), he is a well-known speaker to both general and scientific audiences, and has made many television and radio appearances. An elected fellow of several societies and president of the International Neuropsychological Society, he has published in such well-known journals as Nature, Science, Scientific American, American Scientist and Brain, as well as in specialist psychology and neuroscience journals and in general publications such as The Times Literary Supplement.


A brilliant and witty scientist – Steven Pinker

Featured titles


The Truth about Language – What It Is and Where It Came From 


An original and provocative account of the evolution of language that makes us reconsider our place in the world and marvel at an ability we take for granted every day.


If there is one thing that separates us from other animals it is language. Even our closest nonhuman relatives, the chimpanzee and bonobo, come nowhere near being able to talk as we humans do. They can’t gossip, tell stories, let us or their mates know what they plan for tomorrow, or explain how to make a tool. The apparent uniqueness of human language has led to the widely held belief that language must have been the result of a big-bang moment, whether a gift from the deity, a fortunate genetic mutation, or a byproduct of simply having a large and complicated brain.


In OUTSPOKEN, Michael Corballis shatters this view. Drawing on decades of experience at the forefront of cognitive science, he makes sense of the complexity of human language with the help of just one powerful idea: that language evolved as a gradual process, governed by natural selection. In a fresh and impressive synthesis of psychology, neuroscience, genetics and anthropology, he reveals how we learned first to speak with our hands, not our mouths, and why our advanced language skills depend not on a universal grammar or on the inherent wordiness of our thoughts, but on our ability to imagine the past and future and to understand what others are thinking. Language, in other words, is a device for sharing our thoughts, not thought itself. What’s more, Corballis argues, by understanding the stepwise progression of our capacity to tell stories and converse with others, we can see that the possibility of animals ‘crossing the Rubicon of language’ may not be as farfetched as we had thought.


Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Published: Spring 2016

Length: 70,000 words


All rights available excluding:

US & Canada (University of Chicago Press)

The Origins of Human Language, Thought and Civilization

Corballis offers a novel synthesis of language, mental time travel, and theory of mind within an evolutionary perspective. The Recursive Mind is very well written for a general readership, but with lots of targeted references for experts – Michael A. Arbib, coauthor of THE CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY


A wonderful book by an expert writer. Corballis tracks the importance of recursion in the context of language, theory of mind, and mental time travel, and concludes that its emergence explains much about how we became human. He proposes a novel answer to an enduring mystery. This book is a significant achievement – Thomas Suddendorf, University of Queensland


THE RECURSIVE MIND challenges the commonly held notion that language is what makes us uniquely human. In this compelling book, Michael Corballis argues that what distinguishes us in the animal kingdom is our capacity for recursion: the ability to embed our thoughts within other thoughts. 'I think, therefore I am' is an example of recursive thought, because the thinker has inserted himself into his thought. Recursion enables us to conceive of our own minds and the minds of others. It also gives us the power of mental 'time travel' – the ability to insert past experiences, or imagined future ones, into present consciousness.


Drawing on neuroscience, psychology, animal behavior, anthropology and archaeology, Corballis demonstrates how these recursive structures led to the emergence of language and speech, which ultimately enabled us to share our thoughts, plan with others and reshape our environment to better reflect our creative imaginations. He shows how the recursive mind was critical to survival in the harsh conditions of the Pleistocene epoch, and how it evolved to foster social cohesion. He traces how language itself adapted to recursive thinking, first through manual gestures, then later, with the emergence of Homo sapiens, vocally. Toolmaking and manufacture arose, and the application of recursive principles to these activities in turn led to the complexities of human civilization, the extinction of fellow large-brained hominins such as the Neandertals, and our species' supremacy over the physical world.


Publisher: Princeton University Press
Pub date: 5 May 2011
Status: Proofs
Length: 288 pages

World rights: Princeton University Press

For international rights contact Eric Schwartz at Princeton University Press