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Theistic Percepts in Other Species: Can Chimpanzees Represent the Minds of Non-Natural Agents?

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The present theoretical article addresses the empirical question of whether other species, particularly chimpanzees, have the cognitive substrate necessary for experiencing theistic and otherwise non-natural (i.e., non-physical) percepts. The primary representational device presumed to underlie religious cognition was viewed as, in general, the capacity to attribute unobservable causal mechanisms to ostensible output and, in particular, a theory of mind. Drawing from a catalogue of behaviors that may be considered diagnostic of the secondary representations involved in theory of mind (or at least theory of mind precursors), important dissimilarities between humans and other species in the realms of the animate-inanimate distinction (self-propelledness versus mental agency of animate beings), imaginative play (feature-dependent make-believe versus true symbolic play), and the death concept (biological death conceptualization versus psychological death conceptualization) were shown. Differences in these domains support the claim that humans alone possess the foundational and functional representations inherent in religious experiences.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University and The Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation


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