Friday, May 30, 2008

How can we know if non-human primates do or do not imagine or pretend

Michael Tomasello on How Humans Are Unique
from by Kambiz Kamrani
Michael Tomasello, a well known comparative psychologist, has a column in today’s New York Times where he writes on, “How Are Humans Unique?

Tomasello argues that only humans pretend. According to him humans imagine, and this ability has allowed us to build institutions. These adaptations, Tomasello writes, set us apart from apes, thereby allowing us to build modern civilization.

I believe I have seen and experienced non-human imagination in gorillas and also chimps. I, by no means have the accolades that Tomasello has, nor the experiences he has in analyzing psychological research but I think it is really hard to definitively say that only humans can imagine and pretend. To do that we’d really have to get ino their minds. I just don’t understand how we can know if non-human primates do or do not imagine.

If you’re interested in this topic, we have in the past, had some short discussions on what traits have made humans unique. such as this one summarizing Marc Hauser’s postulates. I also think you’ll enjoy this 60 second audio summarizing the discussion, made by Christie Nicholson, of Scientific American — which she draws a tangent to social networking sites, something I commented about last September.

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