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Chapter 21 - The evolution of consciousness

from Part I - The cognitive science of consciousness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Philip David Zelazo
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
Morris Moscovitch
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
Evan Thompson
Affiliation:
University of York
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Summary

Consciousness itself is almost certainly not unique to humans. This chapter argues that the embracing characteristic that distinguishes aspects of human cognition from that of other species is recursion. Recursion is a mathematical device for generating terms in a sequence, where the rule for generating the next term in a sequence involves one or more of the preceding terms. The chapter explains that the claim that only humans are capable of recursion does not mean that other animals do not possess consciousness. However, it is still something of an open question whether the great apes can achieve first-order intentionality. It also talks about the more complex, social aspects of consciousness such as thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. The chapter claims that at least some of these are uniquely human. It argues that syntactic language emerged gradually over the preceding 2 million years, in concert with the development of recursive thought.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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