EDGE 3rd Culture: Marc Hauser: Animal Minds - Page 11
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JB: So what's next for you?

HAUSER: What the next ten to fifteen years will bring for our work is first to show how interest in the human mind demands an interest in evolutionary theory; it will show that empirically in a way perhaps that no study of humans can actually really show. And the way it's going to show that, is by looking at the problem from a wide variety of perspectives, and from different levels of analysis. It's going to show how the theory of evolution leads to novel predictions about the mind, that could never have been derived from studies that don't use the insights from evolutionary theory. Second, it's going to show how we can truly marry studies of animal cognition with the neuro-sciences. Neuro-scientists to a large extent have a tendency to ignore the important variation between species. When they work on rhesus monkeys, they talk about "the monkey." There are several hundred species of primates, yet neuro-scientists refuse to acknowledge that. Our work will begin to overturn a common and dominant view in the neuro-sciences, which is to ignore species variation. We hope to convince the neuroscience community that variation is wonderful, it's the truffle of biology, Darwin's truffle. By looking at variation, we see the workings of natural selection in sculpting different kinds of minds.

JB: Who disagrees with you?

HAUSER: Who's attacking me? Who are my enemies? There are two camps of enemies out there, some explicit, some implicit. There are people working with animals who find that if you don't train and shape an animal to make it very very specific and robotic you can't possibly derive anything interesting about what they know. Therefore some of the new techniques that we're trying to bring to the table of animal cognition people find absolutely sloppy and uninsightful and not very informative in terms of what we know. There's an entire contingent of people who are trained to a large extent in the Skinnerian tradition, who find this new breed of approach to animal cognition very sloppy and uninsightful.

There are people who work with humans who are becoming converts but who find our work annoying because it forces them to rethink their claims about human uniqueness. They're not really enemies, they just our work frustrating.

The third category, which includes people like Frans De Waal and Daniel Povnelli who tend to work with chimpanzees, don't particularly like the fact that some of the work that we do on monkeys shows comparable abilities to their work on chimpanzees. In the same way that there is human chauvinism, there is chauvinism within the community of animal scientists that people working with chimps are doing much more important work than people working on monkeys. And this kind of hierarchical chauvinism continues all the way through the tree of life. If one is concerned with the design of the mind, and how different pressures lead to different kinds of minds, the variation between species is of utmost interest, and there is no species chauvinism. There is a common mission: to find out how evolution paved the way for different ways of thinking.