Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds


When a chimpanzee stockpiles rocks as weapons or when a frog sends out mating calls, we might easily assume these animals know their own motivations--that they use the same psychological mechanisms that we do. But as Beyond the Brain indicates, this is a dangerous assumption because animals have different evolutionary trajectories, ecological niches, and physical attributes. How do these differences influence animal thinking and behavior? Removing our human-centered spectacles, Louise Barrett investigates the mind and brain and offers an alternative approach for understanding animal and human cognition. Drawing on examples from animal behavior, comparative psychology, robotics, artificial life, developmental psychology, and cognitive science, Barrett provides remarkable new insights into how animals and humans depend on their bodies and environment--not just their brains--to behave intelligently.

Barrett begins with an overview of human cognitive adaptations and how these color our views of other species, brains, and minds. Considering when it is worth having a big brain--or indeed having a brain at all--she investigates exactly what brains are good at. Showing that the brain's evolutionary function guides action in the world, she looks at how physical structure contributes to cognitive processes, and she demonstrates how these processes employ materials and resources in specific environments.

Arguing that thinking and behavior constitute a property of the whole organism, not just the brain, Beyond the Brain illustrates how the body, brain, and cognition are tied to the wider world.


I’m personally convinced that at least chimps do plan for future
needs, that they do have this autonoetic consciousness.
—Mathias Osvath, bbc News, March 9th 2009

I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes.
—Muntazer al-Zaidi, Guardian, March 13, 2009

In March 2009, a short research report in the journal Current Biology caught the attention of news outlets around the globe. in the report, Mathias Osvath described how, over a period of ten years, Santino, a thirty-one-year-old chimpanzee living in Furuvik Zoo, Northern Sweden, would collect rocks from the bottom of the moat around his island enclosure in the morning before the zoo opened, pile them up on the side of the island visible to the public, and then spend the morning hurling his rock collection at visitors, in a highly agitated and aggressive fashion. Santino was also observed making his own missiles by dislodging pieces of concrete from the floor of his enclosure once the supply of naturally occurring rocks began to dwindle. Santino’s calm, deliberate, and methodical “stockpiling” of the rocks ahead of the time they were needed was interpreted by Osvath as unequivocal evidence of planning for the future.

Future planning has long been seen as a unique human trait because it is thought to require “autonoetic consciousness.” Autonoetic means “selfknowing,” which Osvath defines as “a consciousness that is very special, that you can close your eyes [and] you can see this inner world.” More precisely, it is the idea that you can understand yourself as “a self,” and that you can, therefore, think about yourself in a detached fashion, considering how you might act in the future, and reflecting on what you did in the past. Osvath argued for this interpretation of Santino’s stockpiling behavior on the grounds that it simply wasn’t explicable in terms of Santino’s current . . .

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