The (R)evolution of Primate Cognition

Does the social intelligence hypothesis lead us around in anthropocentric circles?

Authored by: Louise Barrett

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the Social Mind

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138827691
eBook ISBN: 9781315530178
Adobe ISBN: 9781315530161


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The British comedian, Eddie Izzard, has a joke about squirrels: isn’t it weird, he says, the way they pause suddenly while eating, like they’ve just remembered something terrible? Izzard mimics a squirrel eating a nut before pausing dramatically and asking himself: “Did I leave the gas on?” There is a pause for laughter, before Izzard resumes his imaginary nut-eating, saying dismissively: “Nah … of course I didn’t!! I’m a f**king Squirrel!” As well as getting an even bigger laugh, the notion of a squirrel anthropomorphically commenting on the folly of attributing an anthropomorphic thought to a squirrel captures the reflexivity of human thoughts and action, adding a further layer to the joke. For anyone interested in recent developments in comparative cognition, yet another layer is added by the recognition that this same reflexive quality structures much of the debate over the use of anthropomorphism as a scientific strategy, with worries raised over whether ascribing particular traits to other species, or our refusal to do so, is a reflexive response to the way in which we wish to see ourselves.

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