Darwin’s Mistake: Explaining the Discontinuity between Human and Nonhuman Minds

Department of Psychology, University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Impact Factor: 20.77). 05/2008; 31(2):109-30; discussion 130-178. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X08003543
Source: PubMed


Over the last quarter century, the dominant tendency in comparative cognitive psychology has been to emphasize the similarities between human and nonhuman minds and to downplay the differences as "one of degree and not of kind" (Darwin 1871). In the present target article, we argue that Darwin was mistaken: the profound biological continuity between human and nonhuman animals masks an equally profound discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. To wit, there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (PSS) (Newell 1980). We show that this symbolic-relational discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain. We propose a representational-level specification as to where human and nonhuman animals' abilities to approximate a PSS are similar and where they differ. We conclude by suggesting that recent symbolic-connectionist models of cognition shed new light on the mechanisms that underlie the gap between human and nonhuman minds.

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Available from: Keith J Holyoak, Oct 12, 2015
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    • "Studies of comparative cognition are therefore clinically relevant for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is characterized by deficits in both human-unique and evolutionarily conserved aspects of social cognition. For example, theory of mind (ToM), is a largely (if not uniquely) human cognitive function (Call and Tomasello 2008; Penn et al. 2008) and is impaired in ASD (Boucher 2012). Nonetheless, individuals with ASD also show fundamental deficits in social reasoning abilities which are not uniquely human, and which are shared with many highly social nonhuman species. "
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    ABSTRACT: Comparative studies of social responsiveness, a core impairment in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), will enhance our understanding of typical and atypical social behavior. We previously reported a quantitative, cross-species (human-chimpanzee) social responsiveness measure, which included the development of the Chimpanzee Social Responsiveness Scale (CSRS). Here, we augment our prior CSRS sample with 25 zoo chimpanzees at three sites: combined N = 54. The CSRS demonstrated strong interrater reliability, and low-ranked chimpanzees, on average, displayed higher CSRS scores. The CSRS continues to discriminate variation in chimpanzee social responsiveness, and the association of higher scores with lower chimpanzee social standing has implications for the relationship between autistic traits and human social status. Continued comparative investigations of social responsiveness will enhance our understanding of underlying impairments in ASD, improve early diagnosis, and inform future therapies.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 05/2015; 45(5):1483-1488. DOI:10.1007/s10803-014-2273-9 · 3.34 Impact Factor
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    • "As this relates to human evolution, and in particular, to explaining what is cognitively and behaviorally unique about humans, most approaches have excluded important factors by focusing too narrowly on intrinsic properties of individual human animals. In fact the narrow, individualistic focus is somewhat ironic, given that many authors specifically emphasize social cognition and cultural learning (e.g., Penn et al. 2008; Tomasello and Moll 2010)— however they emphasize properties of individual animals that are adaptations for social cognition, rather than social systems of cognitive interaction, which will be my emphasis here. But systems of social interactions evolved along with the animals that participate in them, and indeed individual animals can only develop these adapted phenotypes in the context of a suitable environment, including the right sort of social system. "
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    ABSTRACT: The development of cognitive capacities depends on environmental conditions, including various forms of scaffolding. As a result, the evolution of cognition depends on the evolution of activities that provide scaffolding for cognitive development. Non-human animals reared and trained in environments heavily scaffolded with human social interaction can acquire non-species-typical knowledge, skills, and capacities. This can potentially shed light on some of the changes that paved the way for the evolution of distinctively human behavioral capacities such as language, advanced social cognition, and elaborate forms of tool craft. In this light, I revisit several widely known—but also widely misunderstood—cases of exceptional animals and argue that each of these cases provides clues about key innovations in our own evolutionary history.
    Biological Theory 03/2015; 10(1). DOI:10.1007/s13752-014-0199-2
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    • "The ability to represent higher-order relations has been proposed as a cornerstone of human cognition (Penn et al., 2008; Bunge and Preuss, 2010). Here we propose that cortical expansion of RLPFC and IPL and strengthened LFPN connectivity in humans relative to other primates contribute to species differences in relational thinking. "
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    ABSTRACT: Relational thinking, or the ability to represent the relations between items, is widespread in the animal kingdom. However, humans are unparalleled in their ability to engage in the higher-order relational thinking required for reasoning and other forms of abstract thought. Here, we propose that the versatile reasoning skills observed in humans can be traced back to developmental and evolutionary changes in the lateral frontoparietal network (LFPN). We first identify the regions within the LFPN that are most strongly linked to relational thinking, and show that stronger communication between these regions over the course of development supports improvements in relational reasoning. We then explore differences in the LFPN between humans and other primate species that could explain species differences in the capacity for relational reasoning. We conclude that fairly small neuroanatomical changes in specific regions of the LFPN and their connections have led to big ontogenetic and phylogenetic changes in cognition.
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