Episodic Memory and Autonoesis: Uniquely Human?

Endel Tulving

in The Missing Link in Cognition

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780195161564
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199848386 | DOI:
Episodic Memory and Autonoesis: Uniquely Human?

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The chapter tackles the placement of self-reflective consciousness amongst the numberless gradations by Darwin. Discussions of self-consciousness inevitably lead to Descartes' dictum, “I think, therefore I am”. The goal is a rapprochement between this view and the Cartesian view, emphasizing this kind of consciousness applicable only to humans. Descartes maintained that animals are unable to engage in self-reflection. Negative results of various ape language projects and broad advances in animal cognition suggest that Descartes was right about the uniqueness of language but that he was wrong about animal's capacity for thought and self-reflection. There is abundant evidence that nonhuman pirates can form representations and use them to solve problems. The concept of autonoetic consciousness, as Tulving calls it, seemed close to the construct of self-reflective consciousness and metacognition which was the concern. Thus, instead of focusing on language, more fundamental capabilities are considered—the origins of self-reflective consciousness.

Keywords: self-reflective consciousness; Darwin; Cartesian view; Descartes; animal cognition; Tulving; metacognition

Chapter.  24781 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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