Mental Time Travel in Animals: The “When” of Mental Time Travel

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (forthcoming)
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While many aspects of cognition have been shown to be shared between humans and non-human animals, there remains controversy regarding whether the capacity to mentally time travel is a uniquely human one. In this paper, we argue that there are four ways of representing when some event happened: four kinds of temporal representation. Distinguishing these four kinds of temporal representation has five benefits. First, it puts us in a position to determine the particular benefits these distinct temporal representations afford an organism. Second, it provides the conceptual resources to foster a discussion about which of these representations is necessary for an organism to count as having the capacity to mentally time travel. Third, it enables us to distinguish stricter from more liberal views of mental time travel that differ regarding which kind(s) of temporal representation is taken to be necessary for mental time travel. Fourth, it allows us to determine the benefits of taking a stricter or more liberal view of mental time travel. Finally, it ensures that disagreement about whether some species can mentally time travel is not merely the product of unrecognised disagreement about which temporal representation is necessary for mental time travel. We argue for a more liberal view, on the grounds that it allows us to view mental time travel as an evolutionarily continuous phenomenon, and to recognise that differences in the ways that organisms mentally time travel might reflect different temporal representations, or combinations thereof, that they employ. Our ultimate aim, however, is to create the conceptual framework for further discussion regarding what sorts of temporal representations are required for mental time travel.



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Author Profiles

Kristie Miller
University of Sydney
Andrew James Latham
Aarhus University
Rasmus Pedersen
University of Sydney

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