Author(s): Thomas Suddendorf
A leading psychologist argues that a capacity for fiction is what separates man from beast. It seems obvious that there exists a tremendous gap between the capacities of human minds and those of animals. Our minds have spawned civilizations and technologies that have changed the face of the Earth, while even our closest primate relatives remain confined to the borders of their dwindling forest habitats. But what is the nature of the gap? Is there really a difference between our minds and those of the great apes, or are we just blinded by the idea of human exceptionalism? In The Gap, psychologist Thomas Suddendorf provides the first definitive account of what makes human minds different from those of other animals, and how this difference arose. He proposes that two innovations account for all of the ways in which our minds appear so distinct: our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations, and our insatiable drive to link our minds together. Drawing on two decades of research on apes, children and human evolution, Suddendorf surveys the main areas cited as being uniquely human-language, intelligence, morality, culture, theory of mind and "mental time travel" - and shows that these are merely manifestations of our larger imaginative and empathetic drives. He closes the book with the surprising suggestion that our unique status may be our own creation. Many species in the human family used to walk this Earth, and the gap is as wide as it is because all members of our immediate family either died out or were killed off by our human ancestors. In other words, we are the last humans. Moreover Suddendorf argues that this gap is widening. Not only are we are becoming smarter but we are also reducing the capacities of our closest living relatives-by driving them to extinction. A provocative argument for reconsidering our vaunted place in nature, The Gap is essential reading for anyone interested in our evolutionary origins and our relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.
"Beautifully written, well researched and thought provoking, "The Gap" searches for key differences between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, and presents a balanced overview of the current status of our understanding of the mental abilities of animals. I found it fascinating and strongly recommend it to everyone who is curious as to how we have evolved to become the dominant species in the world today. Thank you, Thomas Suddendorf, for writing this book."--Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute, and UN Messenger of Peace "Suddendorf takes the reader on a journey through evolutionary time, back to the beginnings of our hominid ancestors and through to modern human children, to answer the deepest question our species alone can ask: what makes us different to all other species? Weaving in evidence from primatology, developmental psychology, animal behaviour, the fossil record, and experimental studies, Suddendorf puts forward a bold proposal: that what is uniquely human is the capacity to reflect on our past and imagine our future. A provocative and entertaining gem of a book."--Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Cambridge University, and author of "The Science of Evil" "In this deep, illuminating investigation of the human condition, Thomas Suddendorf artfully brings the latest data from cognitive science and ethology to bear on the Greek adage: 'know thyself.' How do we differ from other primates? What cognitive feats, if any, are unique to the human lineage? And how did they evolve? Suddendorf expertly reviews the evidence and arrives at provocative conclusions. A must-read for anyone interested in evolution and the origins of humanity."--Stanislas Dehaene, author of "Reading in the Brain" "What makes us so special? This wonderful book shows that the human mind is unique in surprising ways that we should treasure more highly--but that we have a standard ape mind in many other
Thomas Suddendorf is a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland, whose research has been covered by the BBC, Discover, and the New York Times. He lives in Queensland, Australia.