CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Shedding new light on the great cognitive rift between humans and animals, a Harvard University scientist has synthesized four key differences in human and animal cognition into a hypothesis on what exactly differentiates human and animal thought.
In new work presented for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Marc Hauser, professor of psychology, biological anthropology, and organismic and evolutionary biology in Harvards Faculty of Arts and Sciences, presents his theory of humaniqueness, the factors that make human cognition special. He presents four evolved mechanisms of human thought that give us access to a wide range of information and the ability to find creative solutions to new problems based on access to this information.
Animals share many of the building blocks that comprise human thought, but paradoxically, there is a great cognitive gap between humans and animals, Hauser says. By looking at key differences in cognitive abilities, we find the elements of human cognition that are uniquely human. The challenge is to identify which systems animals and human share, which are unique, and how these systems interact and interface with one another.
Recently, scientists have found that some animals think in ways that were once considered unique to humans: For example, some animals have episodic memory, or non-linguistic mathematical ability, or the capacity to navigate using landmarks. However, despite these apparent similarities, a cognitive gulf remains between humans and animals.
Hauser presents four distinguishing ingredients of human cognition, and shows how these capacities make human thought unique. These four novel components of human thought are the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding; to apply the same rule or solution to one problem to a different and new s
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