What can the study of young monkeys and apes tell us about the minds of young humans? In this fascinating introduction to the study of primate minds, Juan Carlos Gómez identifies evolutionary resemblances—and differences—between human children and other primates. He argues that primate minds are best understood not as fixed collections of specialized cognitive capacities, but more dynamically, as a range of abilities that can surpass their original adaptations.
In a lively overview of a distinguished body of cognitive developmental research among nonhuman primates, Gómez looks at knowledge of the physical world, causal reasoning (including the chimpanzee-like errors that human children make), and the contentious subjects of ape language, theory of mind, and imitation. Attempts to teach language to chimpanzees, as well as studies of the quality of some primate vocal communication in the wild, make a powerful case that primates have a natural capacity for relatively sophisticated communication, and considerable power to learn when humans teach them.
Gómez concludes that for all cognitive psychology’s interest in perception, information processing, and reasoning, some essential functions of mental life are based on ideas that cannot be explicitly articulated. Nonhuman and human primates alike rely on implicit knowledge. Studying nonhuman primates helps us to understand this perplexing aspect of all primate minds.
This is an important book that brings together information not otherwise readily available in concise form. Students and investigators interested in the origins of cognition will benefit from [it].
Juan Carlos Gómez’s working thesis in Apes, Monkeys, Children, and the Growth of Mind is that ‘our minds are part of a wider evolutionary pattern discernible in the minds of other primates’. He aims to learn about our human minds, both how they originated and what their nature is, by looking at experimental studies with other primates. The book is a delightfully dense account of a wide range of such studies. This exploration into the historical and evolutionary heritage of the last great mystery—the human mind—is enlightening, informative, and simply a wonderful reminder of how complex evolutionary variation really is… The author should be lauded for his attempts to examine such difficult topics—the nature and origin of the human mind is difficult enough to approach, and an evolutionary perspective that approaches the topic through cognitive ethology was much needed. This review of the literature fills an important gap while being wonderfully engaging and informative. However, in a book ostensibly written to show our very fundamental connection with other primates on an evolutionary continuum, it instead serves to show not just the unique character of human experience and action, but the similarly unique character of a dozen other primate species, both far and near to us on the evolutionary tree. It opens up new questions in many areas, which, philosophically speaking, is a job well done.
Amazing progress has been made in the past few years in the study of primate cognition. Juan Carlos Gómez documents this progress in a masterful and beautifully written book that will delight expert and novice alike.
- 352 pages
- 0-15/16 x 5-3/8 x 8-7/8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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