"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)."
Cambridge University Press article
Derek C. Penn received a Masters Degree from Boston University in Philosophy and Literary Semiotics in 1987. He is currently affiliated with the Cognitive Evolution Group, University of Louisiana, and the University of California, Los Angeles and is working on a trade book with Daniel J. Povinelli based on the hypotheses proposed in the present article.
Keith J. Holyoaka is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. The author of more than 180 research articles, Holyoak is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Society for Experimental Psychology.
Daniel J. Povinelli is a Professor of Biology at the University of Louisiana. He is the recipient of an American Psychological Association Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, an National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, and a Centennial Fellowship from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and was named one of “20 Scientists to Watch in the Next 20 Years” by disco ver magazine. Povinelli is also Project Director for the National Chimpanzee Observatory Working Group, a group of scientists, policy makers, and concerned citizens dedicated to creating a network of naturalistic observatories to prevent the imminent extinction of chimpanzees in captivity and preserve them for future behavioral and cognitive study.
Today’s biologists and psychologists are coming to the conclusion that ravens may be the most intelligent nonhuman animal. Studies that reveal the superior cognitive abilities of ravens and crows challenge the Darwinian claim that the properties of the human mind and of certain birds can be explained by natural descent.
Bolhuis and Wynne contrast the cognitive capacities of birds and primates. In the Darwinian models, apes and humans are closely related and share a relatively recent common ancestor. Birds, on the other hand, are only distantly related to primates. Thus, Darwinists predict that of all animals, apes should come closest to manifesting the cognitive capabilities of human beings.
But Bolhuis and Wynne give examples where birds defy this prediction. They cite how “Caledonian crows [though not quite matching ravens in intellectual prowess] outperform monkeys in their ability to retrieve food from a trap tube–from which food can be accessed only at one end.” They also refer to an experiment demonstrating that “crows can also work out how to use one tool to obtain a second with which they can retrieve food, a skill that monkeys and apes struggle to master.” Evidently, certain bird species exhibit greater powers of the mind than do apes. (See crows’ cognitive powers in action here.)
In their paper in , three psychology researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), boldly declared Darwin’s idea of the continuity of the mind (from lower species to higher) a mistake. They argue “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.” They go on to show that this discontinuity “pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain.”
The UCLA study addressed only the properties of mind that pertain to symbolic thought. Putting aside the unique spiritual attributes of human beings, the UCLA team demonstrated that even in the soulishness that both humans and the higher nonhuman animals share, there is such an enormous discontinuity that Charles Darwin’s descent of man theory must be wrong.
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