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THE GAP: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

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.

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