THE GAP: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals
By Thomas Suddendorf, Basic Books, November 2013
excerpt from: The Scientist, Capsule Reviews, Bob Grant, November 1, 2013
Language. Culture. Morality. These are just a few of the attributes that humans
like to imagine set our singular species apart from the rest of the animal
kingdom. (I personally prefer, "the propensity to wear pants," as a more
succinct and less-complex answer to the question.) But even before these human
constructs burst into a complexity not seen before or since in Kingdom Animalia,
the capacity to imagine made us different from even our closest mammalian kin,
argues Thomas Suddendorf in his book The Gap.
Suddendorf, a psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, posits
that humankind's ability to use our minds as time machines - travelling readily
into the past and future to envision different scenarios - along with a strong
desire to find common mental ground with members of our own species, nourished
the growth of language, culture, religion, and other "uniquely human" endeavors.
Perhaps most provocatively, Suddendorf proposes that the wide gulf between human
beings and our animal kin may be of our own design. "The reason the current gap
between animal and human minds seems so large and baffling," he writes, "may be
because we have destroyed the missing links." Did Homo sapiens systematically
exterminate other intelligent hominins? An interesting scenario to imagine.