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Scientist: 4 abilities differentiating human and animal cognition

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A Harvard University scientist claims four key differences separate human and animal cognition.

The four novel components of human cognition are the abilities to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge to gain new understanding; to apply the same "rule" or solution to one problem to a different and new situation; to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input; and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input.

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It seems like these are all natural corollaries to (or, results of?) the facts that we can form concepts, and that the structure of knowledge is hierarchical.

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I'm not sure. They seem deeply interrelated and I feel like they were probably all a result of the same evolutionary/genetic mistake. I can't help but see them occurring at once and together. So, I suppose you could say that because of these things, we can form concepts, but it seems like these things must exist because of one fundamental change. Would there be a name for this? Or do you disagree with this idea?

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I would say that we are difference ... according to discovery channel.. because our voice box drops down... which produces many sounds that allows for extensive language.... the langauge part of our brain is more complex and it fires the other parts of the brain.

Plus our ability to move on land, stand upright and hold things and do special things with our hands... combined to create a large difference between humans and animals.

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The fundamental difference is not in motor function: that we have opposable thumbs or that we walk upright. These are minor physical attributes, when the fundamental difference between man and animal is considered: our mind. The fundamental identifier for a man is rationality, the primary function of which is concept formation and application. The voice-box part is indeed helpful, but an animal that, say, evolved that same voice-box capability, would not necessarily evolve a rational faculty either.

Keep in mind that the topic of this thread is also in regards to cognition, not merely an enumeration of all attributes between humans and animals.

Edited by Chops

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I would say that we are difference ... according to discovery channel.. because our voice box drops down... which produces many sounds that allows for extensive language.... the langauge part of our brain is more complex and it fires the other parts of the brain.
The descent of the larynx is not very significant when it comes to human ability to produce sounds. Without it, human lanuage would just sound a bit different. Really what makes the difference is the massive qualitative difference in the mind, the ability to conceptualize.

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It seems like these are all natural corollaries to (or, results of?) the facts that we can form concepts, and that the structure of knowledge is hierarchical.

I would rather say that we can form concepts because we have these abilities.

All four of these things seem require the same 2 things: The recognition of similar properties and measurement omission. Could it be that the scientists are actually identifying different aspects of concept formation/utility?

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All four of these things seem require the same 2 things: The recognition of similar properties and measurement omission. Could it be that the scientists are actually identifying different aspects of concept formation/utility?
Here is one way in which Hauser is talking about something broader than concept formation. A proposition is "bigger" than a concept (which is an integration of two or more concetes -- a proposition is often individual). The ability to combine types of information is the essence of "forming a proposition", which goes beyond conceptualization. In addition, I don't see how the "remoteness" property follows from recognition of similarity and measurement omission. Rather, if you don't have the ability to operate on long-term stored mental units, concepts would be limited to experiential concretes and not abstractions like "justice" or "prime number".

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This reminds me of a copy of New Scientist I picked up recently. The main article was about how the difference between humans and animals is quantitative, not qualitative; i.e. it's not that we possess any special faculty, we've simply got a more complex arrangement of certain features. For example, we have facial expressions, but so do some animals, in a smaller variety. We can make complex indicative noises, whilst apes make simpler ones. Essentially, if only monkeys could mimic us, they would be us.

Not once in the article is the conceptual faculty mentioned. What IS mentioned is language, but this it dispells as just being a few complex gutteral screeches -- a monkey can give different screeches to indicate different predators, like a lion and a cheetah, which is no different, apparently, from being able to separate the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

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Not once in the article is the conceptual faculty mentioned. What IS mentioned is language, but this it dispells as just being a few complex gutteral screeches -- a monkey can give different screeches to indicate different predators, like a lion and a cheetah, which is no different, apparently, from being able to separate the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

The article is flawed then, its been widely accepted since Chomsky that language implies (at a minimum) grammatical structure, which is lacking from non-human animal communication as far as I know. Language isnt just the association of sounds with meanings/behavioral patterns, you need rules/syntax too. Id say that language is absolutely a major difference between humans and animals, arguably the most significant one.

Its fairly hard to describe what concept learning is, in a way which doesnt make it trivially easy for modern computer programs to do it. I think the relationship between conceptual reasoning and language is quite difficult anyway, and I wouldnt say one implies the other. Im quite happy to accept that animals can form concepts, yet wouldnt accept that they are using language. And on the other hand, I wouldnt necessarily ascribe conceptual reasoning to a computer language system even if it could pass the Turing Test.

Edited by eriatarka

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Some apes can even learn symbolic language, i.e. using nouns, verbs etc. properly. They do recognize themselves in the mirror (self-awareness), they have the capability to plan in the future and solve tasks that require indirect action (i.e. using tools).

Basically they share the same abilities, but especially abstract thinking is much more evolved in humans. Man is a an rational animal. For example he possesses the ability to not only implicitly but explicitly be aware of philosophy which is the definition of being rational.

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What is your evidence for this?

With "properly" I mean that they can use symbols in combination to express meaning, not that they are using/understanding grammar which requires much more abstraction. Afaik they don't understand/haven't learned the difference between for example "me eat fruit" and "fruit eat me".

The criticism is that this does not constitute an ability to learn/use a language but rather a form of conditioning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nim_Chimpsky (no matter if you agree or not, they deserve kudos for the name :dough: )

On the other hand "conditioning" requires a lot of identification, even at a very simple level. Language consists of several layers of complexity:

- The first level it's nouns, i.e. I show you the sign that is connected to an entity.

- In order to understand properties of entities (adjectives) one has to be able to classify entities, identify the differences and the similarities and put them in different groups.

- In order to understand verbs one has to be able to observe properties over time.

- In order to understand adverbs one has to be able to observe how properties change over time.

- The next level would be a proper identification of subject and object within a sentence.

I think at this point the abilities of most animals is reached, especially if there is more than one object involved.

Edited by Clawg

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With "properly" I mean that they can use symbols in combination to express meaning, not that they are using/understanding grammar which requires much more abstraction.
Okay, narrowing this down, your argument seems to be that apes can associate physical gestures with concretes, for example a certain configuration of the limbs might be associated with "banana". But then my dogs have similar associations with "symbols" and concretes, for example they have learned to associate the sound of the words "sit" and "shit" with sharply falling intonation with their moral obligation to sit down. They also associate the (sua sponte) act of sitting down with the concrete meannig "I want something, probably to go outside".
On the other hand "conditioning" requires a lot of identification, even at a very simple level.
On the part of the trainer, perhaps. In dogs and apes, it's simply a matter of them getting the association by sufficient trials, and some random trainability factor. Animal training is vastly different from human language acquisition and concept formation, and animals don't learn anything hierarchical or combinatorial -- they simply learn a list of stimulus-response pairings. They don't have nouns, verbs or adjectives. Specifically, there is no evidence for rule-governed compositionality. Rather, they simply sign at random in the hopes of getting food, hence Chimpsky's longest recorded utterance "Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you".

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This reminds me of a copy of New Scientist I picked up recently. The main article was about how the difference between humans and animals is quantitative, not qualitative; i.e. it's not that we possess any special faculty, we've simply got a more complex arrangement of certain features. For example, we have facial expressions, but so do some animals, in a smaller variety. We can make complex indicative noises, whilst apes make simpler ones. Essentially, if only monkeys could mimic us, they would be us.

Not once in the article is the conceptual faculty mentioned. What IS mentioned is language, but this it dispells as just being a few complex gutteral screeches -- a monkey can give different screeches to indicate different predators, like a lion and a cheetah, which is no different, apparently, from being able to separate the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

Not once in the article is the conceptual faculty mentioned. What IS mentioned is language, but this it dispells as just being a few complex gutteral screeches -- a monkey can give different screeches to indicate different predators, like a lion and a cheetah, which is no different, apparently, from being able to separate the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

a monkey can give different screeches to indicate different predators, like a lion and a cheetah, which is no different, apparently, from being able to separate the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

the common denominator 'predator' from lions, cheetahs, panthers, sharks, etc.

sharks

Monkeys have screechs for sharks? I'd imagine it sounds something "ZOMGWTF?!?!"

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Okay, narrowing this down, your argument seems to be that apes can associate physical gestures with concretes, for example a certain configuration of the limbs might be associated with "banana". But then my dogs have similar associations with "symbols" and concretes, for example they have learned to associate the sound of the words "sit" and "shit" with sharply falling intonation with their moral obligation to sit down. They also associate the (sua sponte) act of sitting down with the concrete meannig "I want something, probably to go outside".

My point is that they are able to conceptualize entities and maybe even properties, actions and types of actions but (at least the experiment shows that) lack the higher abstraction levels of combining words into a sentence.

The question is at which point we say that this is "language".

On the part of the trainer, perhaps. In dogs and apes, it's simply a matter of them getting the association by sufficient trials, and some random trainability factor. Animal training is vastly different from human language acquisition and concept formation, and animals don't learn anything hierarchical or combinatorial -- they simply learn a list of stimulus-response pairings. They don't have nouns, verbs or adjectives. Specifically, there is no evidence for rule-governed compositionality. Rather, they simply sign at random in the hopes of getting food, hence Chimpsky's longest recorded utterance "Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you".

Maybe Chimpsky was a stupid monkey :lol: The problem is that there aren't many studies done and there could be a monkey with more advanced speech capabilities. Or maybe the way of teaching the apes was not optimal etc.

Yes, this claim is arbitrary, on the other hand apes show a range of skills that many other animals do not have. For example the ability to create tools for specific purposes which is not instinct driven but a result of thought and analysis. So I believe that apes are / would also be able to use language like we do (at the level of a 3-year old perhaps), with understanding of basic grammar.

Edited by Clawg

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My point is that they are able to conceptualize entities and maybe even properties, actions and types of actions but (at least the experiment shows that) lack the higher abstraction levels of combining words into a sentence.

The question is at which point we say that this is "language".

Well if this is the claim that you think is arbitrary, I'd have to resoundingly agree. How does the experiment show conceptualization? Why isn't this a more complex from of pattern recognition?

My dog responds to my query of where his stuffy is by retrieving it. Does that mean he's conceptualizing?

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Yes, this claim is arbitrary, on the other hand apes show a range of skills that many other animals do not have.

This is probably a correct observation, and certainly warrants more investigation, but, on the other hand, apes haven't developed language like humans do so supposing they could, if taught appropriately is as you put it, arbitrary. It's worth trying to teach one maybe, to see what happens, but I think the desire for there to be conceptualization is dangerous in this discussion. Because pattern recognition, and conceptualization both result in forms of generalization, it is extremely easy to want to see concetualization in behaviors. I'm not an expert dog trainer by any means, but I've done enough to see how people naturally want to anthropomorphize behavior.

Skepticism strikes me as the best course here, until someone can articulate experiments that show their own understanding fo what makes up conceptualization, and that can definitively show that they can demonstrate conceptualization in animals.

I think the huge empirical fact that there is a gaping gulf between humans and animals shows that there is something very unique regardless of what particular thing that is. Also, evolutionary theory would indicate that man has built inside of his brain many of the animal learning mechanisms, therefore, teasing out the essential difference is going to be tricky. This the heart of the debate and I wish people spent more time exploring this, than simply claiming they've got conceptualization. This is the interesting piece.

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My point is that they are able to conceptualize entities and maybe even properties, actions and types of actions but (at least the experiment shows that) lack the higher abstraction levels of combining words into a sentence.
I am saying, contrarily, that they can not conceptualize. That there is no evidence that they conceptualize.
The question is at which point we say that this is "language".
To be a language, you not only need symbolic representation, you need rules of composition, which the apes also lack.
Maybe Chimpsky was a stupid monkey ;) The problem is that there aren't many studies done and there could be a monkey with more advanced speech capabilities.
No stupider than the other monkeys. There have been plenty of studied which have attempted (and failed) to show that apes can learn language, which have all failed miserably. As far as I know, there have been no decent studies that try to address the more modest question of an animal's ability to learn a relational concept. Nobody has devised a method of scientifically testing whether animals can acquire a concrete entity concept (such as "fork", "car"). One explanation for why there are no studies doing this is that animals cannot acquire concepts (because they lack a conceptual faculty).
So I believe that apes are / would also be able to use language like we do (at the level of a 3-year old perhaps), with understanding of basic grammar.
Well, the scientific literature says otherwise: the signing chimps do not use their signs like children learning language do, they do not acquire any rules, no second-order or higher concepts, and there is no evidence that they can actually acquire simple first-order perceptual entity-concepts. How would you propose to prove that apes actually have a conceptual faculty, and that their behavior isn't simply standard conditioning like you can do to a paramecium.

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I think the idea of teasing out conceptualization in a "first order" entity concept is unelievably difficult. Well, my personal opinion is that it is impossible, mostly because I think that one of they key aspects of conceptual thought is that it is in effect recursive. That is, if first order concepts are possible, then 2nd order concepts are too without the benefit of any additional "mental" machinery. That in fact since animals show no 2nd order, what we think is first order is actually just an advanced form of pattern recognition. The "gulf" has to be explained by something. It certainly is apparent. Showing that my dog can fetch his stuffy on command does not explain it, claims of conceptualization to the contrary.

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Somehow I feel that this is a difficult discussion, maybe we should concentrate on one single issue and ignore the rest of the study for now.

"Can animals conceptualize?"

We would first have to define the term and then agree on a test that shows that an animal has the ability. Using a language with grammar is evidence for conceptualization, but is language the only possibility to conceptualize? No. A deaf-mute person who does not use symbolic/sign language is (obviously) able to conceptualize. Of course in such a case it is difficult to prove it because it can't be communicated - but lack of ability to communicate is no proof that animals lack the ability to conceptualize.

Thus the only option we have would be a look at the actions and try to indirectly show that animals are able to conceptualize. We know that apes can act 'intelligently', they solve problems, create and use tools. Does that prove that animals can conceptualize?

Or asking the other way around: What kind of test would an animal have to accomplish to demonstrate that it possesses such a faculty? Is it even possible to describe such a test?

Personally I believe (i.e. I believe that further research will indicate it) that many animals are able to conceptualize, simply because it is a relatively simple process, the brain just has to form correlations between different sensory inputs and put the results in different groups (the only question is then of course what to do with that information later on). But in the end, I think, it is (while it is an interesting scientific question) not relevant. Philosphically relevant is only the question if an animal is rational (is able to grasp the axioms and the logical consequences) or if it is not. A test for rationality would be simple: That animal would have to convince us that it understands and deserves rights. From what I have seen so far no animal but humans possess such a rational faculty.

But if in the future a being (no matter what genetic make-up it has or if it is a machine) shows to be rational then I will welcome it in society because we can only profit from such a being.

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Personally I believe (i.e. I believe that further research will indicate it) that many animals are able to conceptualize, simply because it is a relatively simple process, the brain just has to form correlations between different sensory inputs and put the results in different groups (the only question is then of course what to do with that information later on).

uh, see this is the problem. How about you start with what you suggested we do first.

"We would first have to define the term and then agree on a test that shows that an animal has the ability."

Without this, your belief is completely arbitrary, and holding arbitrary beliefs is dangerous.

Using a language with grammar is evidence for conceptualization, but is language the only possibility to conceptualize? No. A deaf-mute person who does not use symbolic/sign language is (obviously) able to conceptualize. Of course in such a case it is difficult to prove it because it can't be communicated - but lack of ability to communicate is no proof that animals lack the ability to conceptualize.

OK, how do you know this exactly? about the deaf mute exactly. They are not analogous (deaf mute and an animal) and the genralization you derive as a result, the "lack of ability to communicate..." is fautly.

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If an animal can differentiate between humans and dogs, that would suggest to me that it is working with concepts. Being able to classify a new object as being a human rather than a dog is evidence that some kind of abstraction is occuring. The difference between this sort of thing and what humans do is that humans can work with more abstract concepts, and use their concepts within a system of language.

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If an animal can differentiate between humans and dogs, that would suggest to me that it is working with concepts. Being able to classify a new object as being a human rather than a dog is evidence that some kind of abstraction is occuring. The difference between this sort of thing and what humans do is that humans can work with more abstract concepts, and use their concepts within a system of language.

No it is evidence that some kind of generalization is occuring. Conceptualization is NOT the same as any old generalization.

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