cover image The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

Thomas Suddendorf. Basic, $29.99 (312p) ISBN 978-0-465-03014-9

To determine what distinguishes the mental capabilities of humans from those of our closest living relatives (chimpanzees and great apes), Australian psychologist Suddendorf uses diverse data drawn from the worlds of human developmental theory, infant and child psychology, and primate ethology to walk a moderate line between “romantic” and “killjoy” interpretations of animal “behavior as an indicator of mind.” He explores six realms in which human thinking appears to be qualitatively different from that of animals—“language, mental time travel, mind reading, intelligence, culture, and morality”—and finally locates the gap in the interaction between two key mental capacities: nested scenario building and the urge to connect. His analysis of the of the gap’s development is much more straightforward, as he digs into evolutionary theory, molecular evidence, and the fossil record to show interbreeding and physical signs of intermediate capacities in early hominin species, positing that we Homo sapiens widened the gap by murdering our nearest evolutionary neighbors. His musings provoke thought about humanity’s place in the community of life, and he considers whether a rich or lean interpretation of the inner worlds of the creatures around us serves us best. (Nov.)