Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Non-Human Origins of Human Perception in the Pre-Pleistocene

Academic journal article The Journal of Mind and Behavior

Non-Human Origins of Human Perception in the Pre-Pleistocene

Article excerpt

Evolutionary psychology has been used to promote hypotheses for several critical mechanisms in the development of perception-action links (e.g., Cosmides and Tooby, 2013; McBurney, Gaulin, Devineni, and Adams 1997; New, Cosmides, and Tooby, 2007; Tooby and Devore, 1987). Frequently these hypotheses emphasize evolutionary forces that shaped the dawn of humanity during the Pleistocene epoch (approximately two million to 11,000 years ago). As humans became a species and entered the cognitive niche (Tooby and Devore, 1987), the environment and necessities of day-to-day life required a certain set of perceptual and cognitive abilities to enable survival and sustainability. Modern humans seem to have developed a cognitively unique genus with the advent of symbolic and linguistic systems (Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli, 2008a, 2008b). Moreover, some perspectives have emerged from cognitive archeology and philosophical anthropology which suggest that the cognitive evolution in hominins is based on an emphasis in sociality (Sterelny, 2007), and subsequently the emergence of language and tool use in modern humans (e.g., Garofoli, 2015; Huffman, 1986; Ingold, 1996; Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli, 2008a, 2008b).

As Penn and colleagues have argued, there is a discontinuity between human cognition and the rest of the animal kingdom (Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli, 2008a, 2008b). While it is important to consider the evolutionary pressures during the Pleistocene that directly influenced human cognitive developments, one can speculate that substantial portions of the cognitive architecture, and our human "program," had evolved in the pre-Pleistocene (before humans emerged as a species). In particular, cognition would have been shaped in response to the perceptual systems and the information that those systems afford. Hence, it may be important to review some of the Pleistocene-based mechanisms that have been proposed and to consider what pre-human perceptual architecture and evolutionary forces may have shaped human cognition (e.g., Shaw and Kinsella-Shaw, 2012; Swenson and Turvey, 1991; Turvey and Carello, 2012). With respect to this review, we will revisit some of the specific challenges of using Pleistocene vs. pre-Pleistocene models that have been proposed (e.g., Heyes, 2012; Panksepp and Panksepp, 2000; Sterelny, 2007). Further analysis will investigate particular examples in perception-action cycles as well as the cognitive systems supporting these processes. These examples will be referenced with specific regard to how perception-action cycles may have formed from a thermodynamic perspective (Swenson and Turvey, 1991). Finally, some conclusions will be considered that reflect this extended view of adaptive mechanisms and how that might shape our understanding of human perception and behaviors.

In this essay we will specifically address the perceptual mechanisms posited by evolutionary psychologists to exist within the human cognitive representation system and we will examine evidence that is, perhaps, indicative of other species harboring such perceptual mechanisms. Each of these examples of perceptual mechanisms has been speculated as part of human evolutionary history and adaptation. However, using the tools of cross-species comparison and phylogenetic records, we believe that much of these "human" adaptations can be better understood as part of more general mammalian and pre-mammalian evolutionary trends. As we trace through this evidence we will clarify some of the problems associated with using an anthrocentric approach. Finally we will review some of the pressing issues and caveats of these theories.

Early Perceptual Mechanisms

The detection of motion for the use of finding food sources and avoiding danger has been a long-standing requirement for most species. There are a number of mechanisms evident in humans that would seem to demonstrate our link to pre-mammalian (and pre-Pleistocene) developments. Among these should be considered Reichardt detectors (Lu and Sperling, 1995; Van Santen and Sperling, 1985); collary discharge for motion perception (e. …

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