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The American Association for the Advancement of Science just wrapped up its annual meeting yesterday and the press is releasing a lot of summaries on what was presented. Of interest to anthropology are these four postulates, presented by Marc Hauser, the factors that differentiate human cognition.

Before I jump into this, I wanna review that in the past we thought episodic memory, non-linguistic mathematical ability,  the capacity to navigate using landmarks, and our ability to make and use tools were all unique human traits. But they’ve all been documented behaviors in other animals.
That being said, Marc Hauser present what he considers four unique human traits,

  1. The ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding.
  2. Apply the same “rule” or solution to one problem to a different and new situation.
  3. To create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input.
  4. To detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.

Hauser comments that these four unique cognitive traits,

“may have opened up other avenues of evolution that other animals have not exploited, and this evolution of the brain is the foundation upon which cultural evolution has been built.”

Unfortunately, the press release doesn’t indicate that Hauser presented his hypothesis with any data, and I believe that’s why they’re being labeled as postulates, assumptions without proof as a basis for reasoning. Given that we’ve debunked other behaviors once thought to be unique human traits, how do you feel about Hauser’s four? For example, have you ever seen other animals recombine other information to solve new problems, or understand symbolism?

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