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Animal ThinkingContemporary Issues in Comparative Cognition$
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Randolf Menzel and Julia Fischer

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780262016636

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262016636.001.0001

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Language and Episodic Sharing

Language and Episodic Sharing

(p.175) 12 Language and Episodic Sharing
Animal Thinking

Michael C. Corballis

The MIT Press

Tulving drew a distinction between two forms of declarative memory, semantic and episodic. The notion of episodic memory as conscious, reexperienced memory for specific episodes has been extended to the notion of mental time travel, whereby we can imagine future episodes as well as past ones. The further claim that mental time travel is uniquely human has been challenged in a number of studies purporting to reveal both episodic memory and the imagining of future episodes in nonhuman species, including birds and great apes. The basic issue remains somewhat unresolved. This chapter contends that the capacity for mental time travel in humans vastly exceeds that in nonhuman animals in variety, timescale, and combinatorial complexity. These properties may have built on a capacity for the generation of fantasy and the imagination of impossible events. The generativity of mental time travel is a prelude to language, whereby mental journeys through time can be shared and fictitious events (e.g., stories, fairy tales, and myths) can be generated. This chapter holds that the capacity for mental time travel is at best only minimally present in nonhuman species. The complexity and specificity of human mental time travel, and its sharing, may have been driven by the necessities of social cohesion and group planning during the Pleistocene.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, memory, episodic memory, mental time travel, semantic memory, communication, language, planning, social cognition

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