How special, and unique, is the human mind.
Charles Darwin, in his The Descent of Man (1871) argued that the diffence between human and nonhuman minds is one of degree and not of kind.
Mounting evidence indicates that, in contrast to Darwin’s theory of continuity of mind between humans and other species a profound gap separates our intellect from the animal kind.
Marc Hauser calls this “humaniqueness.”¹
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FOUR TRAITS DISTINGUISH THE HUMAN MIND
FROM THE ANIMAL MIND
(1) Generative Computation
Humans can create a virtually limitless variety of words, concepts, things. Humans encompass 2 types of operation: recursive and combinatorial. Recursion is the repeated use of a rule to create new expressions. The combinatorial operation is the mixing of discrete elements to engender new ideas.
(2) Promiscuous combination of ideas
This allows the mingling of different domains of knowledge–such as art, sex, space, causality, and friendship–thereby generating new laws, social relationships, and technologies.
(3) Mental Symbols
These encode sensory experiences both real and imagined, forming the basis of a rich and complex system of communication. Such symbols can be kept to oneself or expressed as words or pictures.
(4) Abstract Thought
This permits contemplation of things beyond what see, hear, hear, touch, taste, or smell. We alone ponder the likes of unicorns and aliens, nouns and adverbs, infinity and God.
–Human language is remarkably and entirely different from communication systems of other animals. [For example in ability to count and quantify: rhesus monkeys pick a box with 5 apples over a box with 1, but show no significant difference between 2 and 5.]
–The roots of our cognitive abilities remain largely unknown.
–We are unable to exhaust the space of all our possibilities. We alone are paragons in a world of simple minds.
¹ All the material here comes from Marc Hawser, “The Mind,” Scientific American (Sept. 2009 pp. 44-55).