On the Lack of Evidence That Non-Human Animals Possess Anything Remotely Resembling a 'Theory of Mind'
Penn (Derek C.) & Povinelli (Daniel)
Source: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, Vol. 362, No. 1480, Social Intelligence: From Brain to Culture (Apr. 29, 2007) (pp. 731-744)
Paper - Abstract

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Authors' Introduction

  1. After decades of effort by some of our brightest human and non-human minds, there is still little consensus on whether or not non-human animals understand anything about the unobservable mental states of other animals or even what it would mean for a non-verbal animal to understand the concept of a 'mental state'. In the present paper, we confront four related and contentious questions head-on:
  2. (i) What exactly would it mean for a non-verbal organism to have an 'understanding' or a 'representation' of another animal's mental state?
  3. (ii) What should (and should not) count as compelling empirical evidence that a non-verbal cognitive agent has a system for understanding or forming representations about mental states in a functionally adaptive manner?
  4. (iii) Why have the kind of experimental protocols that are currently in vogue failed to produce compelling evidence that non-human animals possess anything even remotely resembling a theory of mind?
  5. (iv) What kind of experiments could, at least in principle, provide compelling evidence for such a system in a non-verbal organism?

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