Evolving insight: qw

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This book develops a new theory of the evolutionary origins of human abilities to understand the world of objects and other people: the evolution of mind. Defining mental representation and computation as “insight,” it reviews the evidence for insight in the cognition of animals. Communication by vocalization and gesture, understanding others, and learning from them all provide evidence that such insight is not unique to humans, but is found also in apes and several other animal taxa. Neocortical change, driven by social complexity, relates to quantitative increase in sophisticated tactics but not the step-change of apes’ superior understanding. Equally, evidence for representation and computation of foraging information is widespread in animals. Where our closest relatives are “special” is in developing hierarchically organized programs of skilled action for feeding efficiently, based on learning complex behavior by imitation from others. As a result, the living great apes survived the late Miocene extinction, and can compete effectively with monkeys today. Imitation by behavior parsing of statistical regularities can explain these characteristics without mystique. However, behavior parsing also provides rough-and-ready, operational equivalents of causality and intentionality. The book proposes that the understanding of causality and intentionality evolved twice in human ancestry: the “pretty good” understanding given by behavior parsing, shared with other apes and related to cerebellar expansion; and the deeper understanding which requires language to model and is unique to humans. Ape-type insight may underlie non-verbal tests of intentionality and causal understanding, and much everyday human action.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages208
ISBN (Electronic)9780191820281
ISBN (Print)9780198757078 
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016


  • Evolution of mind
  • Mental representation
  • Mental computation
  • Hierarchical structure
  • Imitation
  • Statistical regularities
  • Behavior parsing
  • Causality
  • Intentionality
  • Language


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