Abstract: The capacity for advanced symbolic thought is a distinctive characteristic of the human species. In the last 20 years, there has been an increased interest in explaining how symbolic cognition could have come into being through natural selection. It remains an open question as to whether symbolic thought required specific evolutionary adaptations and what these might have been, or whether it was simply a by-product of increased cerebral processing power. The answers to these questions will hold a bearing on understandings of the brain and mind, and hence on what steps would be required to replicate cerebral processes artificially.
In this talk, I explore what insights can be gleaned about the nature and evolutionary origins of symbolic cognition by taking a closer look at the psychiatric condition of Capgras Syndrome. I consider whether the human ability to conjoin external appearance to an inner, unseen yet persistent personal identity - an ability commonly taken for granted, yet disrupted for individuals with Capgras Syndrome - may be not only an exemplar, but a prototypical form of symbolic thought. I will present an evolutionary scenario by which this ability might first have evolved as a means of facilitating the recognition of kin.
Huw Price has M.Sc. qualifications from Oxford in Neuroscience and in Economic and Social History. His D.Phil. on “The Emergence of the Doctrine of the ‘Sentient Brain’ in Britain, 1650-1850” addressed the history of how mind came to be viewed as a function of the brain. He also has research interests in aplasic phantom limbs and the developmental basis of body image.
Huw continues to be affiliated with the University as a Research Associate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. He is an Assistant Publisher at Oxford Journals, Oxford University Press.