March 05, 2018

Primates, Plasticity and (Un)predictability: A Pragmatic View of Social Evolution

Louise Barrett, University of Lethbridge

Primates are known for their large brains, behavioural flexibility and cognitive complexity. These, in turn, are argued to have been selected for by the complexity of the social environment. The interesting thing is that no one quite knows what social and cognitive complexity actually are, and our attempts at conceptualising primate social life are often anthropocentric and “logomorphic”. Here, using both empirical data from vervet monkeys and baboons, along with recent work in radical enactivism and embodied cognitive science, I discuss ways in which we can think about plasticity, complexity and social life in ways that do justice to evolutionary continuity, but don’t require primates and other animals to just be hairier, less talkative versions of ourselves. This in turn has implications for how we think about our own evolution, and what we talk about when we talk about “minds”.