Sunday, March 15, 2009

Immanuel Kant & Mental Time Travel

In my previous post I pointed out that new evidence coming from the chimpanzee Santino's behavior may be crucial for discussions whether 'episodic' planning and prospective Mental Time Travel exist in non-human animals.

This relates to the proposal by Suddendorf & Corballis (1997, 2007) that Mental Time Travel is unique to humans and that from an evolutionary perspective:
"that the crucial selective advantage mental time travel provides is flexibility in novel situations and the versatility to develop and adopt strategic longterm plans to suit individual selected goals."
Mental Time Tavel thene evolved so we are able to plan future behavior based on the recall of past episodes. But our "episodic memory" only provides the "raw material" for future planning, it isn't useful in itself. From an evolutionary perspective, being able to relive past memories may only be a byproduct, and in itself may not very useful. It's only use might be that it provides us with "raw" material.
Acording to this argument, the crux then is is that our ability to recall past episodes is only a necessary design feature of being able to plan flexibly for the future.
The philosophical implications of such a view may be rather bleak, given that it reduces another of our most cherished features of what makes us human - namely our memories and life histories, which give us a sense of having a, a continous, purpose- and meaningful existence - to an accidental spandrel. But what is also interesting from a philosophical point of view is that Suddendorf & Corballis weren't the first to come up with this idea.

Interestingly, I just found a quote from Immanuel Kant in a paper of a friend of mine:
Recalling the past (remembering) occurs only with the intention of making foresight of the future possible […] we look about us from the standpoint of the present in order to decide something or to be prepared for something. Empirical foresight is the anticipation of similar cases […] and requires no rational knowledge of causes and effects, but only tahe remembering of observed events as they commonly follow one another, and repeated experiences produce n aptitude for it" (Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Trans. Robert B. Louden. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, 79)


Kant, Immanuel (2006) Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Trans. Robert B. Louden. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suddendorf, T. and M.C. Corballis (1997), Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind, Genetic Social and General Psychology Monographs 123, pp. 133–167.

Suddendorf. T. and M.C. Corballis (2007), The evolution of foresight: What is mental time travel and is it unique to humans?, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30, pp. 299–351

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Santino the Outlaw & Mental Time Travel

With a lot of essays coming up I have almost no time to blog. But here are some interesting links:

First, there's an interesting story about Santino, a chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo,who stored stones on strategic locations with "malice aforethought" so to speak, in order to throw them at visitors (see, e.g. here and here).
This ties in with a discussion of in how far non-human animals are able to plan ahead, or inhowfar the posses the ability of "Mental Time Travel."
I have briefly mentioned the importance of such an ability for the evolution of language and perspectival mental representations before (here) and Edmund Blair Bolles has a much more comprehensive post on the importance of episodic thinking and communication of episodes for the evolution of language discussing a recent article by Michael C. Corballis on "Mental Time Travel and the Shaping of Language"