Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Beyond the Brain

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds

Louise Barrett
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Beyond the Brain
    Book Description:

    When a chimpanzee stockpiles rocks as weapons or when a frog sends out mating calls, we might easily assume these animals know their own motivations--that they use the same psychological mechanisms that we do. But asBeyond the Brainindicates, this is a dangerous assumption because animals have different evolutionary trajectories, ecological niches, and physical attributes. How do these differences influence animal thinking and behavior? Removing our human-centered spectacles, Louise Barrett investigates the mind and brain and offers an alternative approach for understanding animal and human cognition. Drawing on examples from animal behavior, comparative psychology, robotics, artificial life, developmental psychology, and cognitive science, Barrett provides remarkable new insights into how animals and humans depend on their bodies and environment--not just their brains--to behave intelligently.

    Barrett begins with an overview of human cognitive adaptations and how these color our views of other species, brains, and minds. Considering when it is worth having a big brain--or indeed having a brain at all--she investigates exactly what brains are good at. Showing that the brain's evolutionary function guides action in the world, she looks at how physical structure contributes to cognitive processes, and she demonstrates how these processes employ materials and resources in specific environments.

    Arguing that thinking and behavior constitute a property of the whole organism, not just the brain,Beyond the Brainillustrates how the body, brain, and cognition are tied to the wider world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3834-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Health Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Chapter 1 Removing Ourselves from the Picture
    (pp. 1-19)

    In March 2009, a short research report in the journalCurrent Biologycaught the attention of news outlets around the globe.³ In the report, Mathias Osvath described how, over a period of ten years, Santino, a thirty-one-year-old chimpanzee living in Furuvik Zoo, Northern Sweden, would collect rocks from the bottom of the moat around his island enclosure in the morning before the zoo opened, pile them up on the side of the island visible to the public, and then spend the morning hurling his rock collection at visitors, in a highly agitated and aggressive fashion. Santino was also observed making...

  2. Chapter 2 The Anthropomorphic Animal
    (pp. 20-38)

    The word “anthropomorphism” derives from the Greekanthroposmeaning “(hu)man” andmorphmeaning “form.” Originally, it was used to describe the attribution of human characteristics to the gods, but we now include other animals, inanimate objects, and even the weather¹ in the definition. The particular things that we anthropomorphize, and why, vary from culture to culture, but as many philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists have long appreciated, all humans do it, and they do it in two distinct ways.²

    One is to, quite literally, perceive the human form in things that are not, in fact, human. As David Hume noted, “We...

  3. Chapter 3 Small Brains, Smart Behavior
    (pp. 39-56)

    Big brains are our defining feature as humans. No other animal has one quite as big relative to its body size, and we rightly attribute our current domination of the planet to the kinds of advanced cognition and flexible behavior that our big brains make possible. A big brain is a good brain then, as far as we are concerned, which, as you should now recognize, is an essentially anthropocentric view. No matter how often we are told that humans are not the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement; that evolution is a bush, not a tree or a ladder;¹ that there...

  4. Chapter 4 The Implausible Nature of Portia
    (pp. 57-70)

    Jumping spiders, or salticids, to give them their scientific name, are well known for their jumping behavior, as their name suggests. But this isn’t what makes them particularly interesting and unusual. What makes them remarkable is their ability to prey on other spider species that are themselves predatory, and the associated complexity of their hunting behavior. One of the best studied of the salticids is the genusPortia, species of which occur mainly in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Australasia,¹ where they can be found inhabiting rain forest.

    Extensive and detailed studies have revealed thatPortiaspecies stalk...

  5. Chapter 5 When Do You Need a Big Brain?
    (pp. 71-93)

    InThe Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham’s 1951 science fiction novel, giant carnivorous plants roam around England, preying on its human inhabitants, who have been blinded and made vulnerable by a freak meteor shower (I read it at school, and there was also a particularly good BBC adaptation on TV when I was about fourteen, both of which left an indelible mark on me). What makes the story so extremely menacing is the idea of plants that can up sticks and move around of their own accord—plants simply don’t do that.¹ One can rely on the fact that...

  6. Chapter 6 The Ecology of Psychology
    (pp. 94-111)

    When was the last time you danced? Maybe it was at a party or a nightclub or a wedding. Maybe you simply danced around your kitchen while doing the dishes, or perhaps you dance for a living, in front of thousands of people. Maybe you hated every minute; maybe you had the time of your life. Now, as you think of yourself dancing, think also about where dance is located. A weird question, right? What does it even mean? Well, let’s get more specific. Is the dance inside you? Is it some kind of state that you’re in? Or is...

  7. Chapter 7 Metaphorical Mind Fields
    (pp. 112-134)

    So far, we’ve considered how our perceptual biases influence our tendency to anthropomorphize the world around us, and how, as big-brained mammals, we often fail to realize that much of the flexible (“intelligent”) behavior that we see doesn’t require very much in the way of a brain at all. We’ve also begun to explore some of the scientific biases that exist in psychology, and to see that alternative views are possible. In this chapter, we’ll extend this argument and consider in more detail how one particular human bias, the one on which our scientific biases rest, may prevent us from...

  8. Chapter 8 There Is No Such Thing as a Naked Brain
    (pp. 135-151)

    We can discover more about the dynamical approach to animal cognition and behavior by moving away from the more abstract systems of the last chapter, and taking a look at real brains, and the ways in which they are coupled to the environment. Walter Freeman, a neurophysiologist at Berkeley, has spent the last thirty or so years performing intricate and meticulous experiments on smell, vision, touch, and hearing in rabbits (mainly) and has worked out a model of learning based on the kind of dynamic coupling between brain and environment suggested by the dynamic systems approach.¹ Before we can go...

  9. Chapter 9 World in Action
    (pp. 152-174)

    Our brief (and somewhat philosophical) excursion into the brain and its metaphors has brought us to the following position. We have identified some problems with a particular “classical” view of cognition as being purely the rule-based manipulation of symbolic representations, because it tends to underestimate two factors that, as we have seen, appear crucial to an understanding of how animals engage with their environments in flexible ways. These factors are (1) the nature of an animal’s body—quite literally, how it is physically put together—and (2) the ways in which a particular kind of body affords certain kinds of...

  10. Chapter 10 Babies and Bodies
    (pp. 175-196)

    It is easy to underestimate human babies. TheOnion, a spoof newspaper, once ran a story headlined, “Study Reveals: Babies Are Stupid.” Among other things, the article reported that babies were unable to avoid getting their heads trapped in automatic car windows, nor could they master the skills of scuba diving or navigate their way back to land from the center of Lake Erie using a nautical map. It’s so funny because, as they say, it’s so true, and it is, of course, unfair. Babies don’t have the sensory or motor skills to carry out these tasks, and we laugh...

  11. Chapter 11 Wider than the Sky
    (pp. 197-222)

    Last summer, my friends Shellie and Stefan and their son, Oliver, went on holiday to Italy. While in Rome, they decided to take a Segway tour.¹ Stefan became an immediate devotee, and while enthusing about its potential, he described his experience in terms that immediately made me prick up my ears. At first, during the short training session provided by the tour guide, Stefan was dubious about steering what seemed to be a large and quite cumbersome object through crowded streets. But, as the tour progressed, he realized he was weaving his way between people quite naturally—he didn’t have...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 223-224)

    A final word or two. Now that we’ve explored the ways in which a more “embodied, embedded” approach to the study of cognition and behavior expands and enriches our view of animal life, I hope you’ll appreciate why I think an explicitly anthropomorphic approach is unsatisfactory, and worth reconsidering. If body and environment form constituent parts of what we call “mind,” it becomes very difficult to see how other animals, with other kinds of bodies, living in other kinds of environments, will “mind” in ways sufficiently like our own to permit the attribution of humanlike mental states. After all, if...