Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind.

Suddendorf, Thomas and Corballis, Michael C. (1997) Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind.. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 123 2: 133-167.

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Author Suddendorf, Thomas
Corballis, Michael C.
Title Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind.
Journal name Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 8756-7547
Publication date 1997-05
Year available 1997
Sub-type Article (original research)
Open Access Status File (Author Post-print)
Volume 123
Issue 2
Start page 133
End page 167
Total pages 35
Place of publication Washington, DC, United States
Publisher Heldref Publications
Language eng
Abstract This article contains the argument that the human ability to travel mentally in time constitutes a discontinuity between ourselves and other animals. Mental time travel comprises the mental reconstruction of personal events from the past (episodic memory) and the mental construction of possible events in the future. It is not an isolated module, but depends on the sophistication of other cognitive capacities, including self-awareness, meta-representation, mental attribution, understanding the perception-knowledge relationship, and the ability to dissociate imagined mental states from one's present mental state. These capacities are also important aspects of so-called theory of mind, and they appear to mature in children at around age 4. Furthermore, mental time travel is generative, involving the combination and recombination of familiar elements, and in this respect may have been a precursor to language. Current evidence, although indirect or based on anecdote rather than on systematic study, suggests that nonhuman animals, including the great apes, are confined to a "present" that is limited by their current drive states. In contrast, mental time travel by humans is relatively unconstrained and allows a more rapid and flexible adaptation to complex, changing environments than is afforded by instincts or conventional learning. Past and future events loom large in much of human thinking, giving rise to cultural, religious, and scientific concepts about origins, destiny, and time itself.
Keyword mental time travel
episodic memory
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Collection: School of Psychology Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 433 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
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Created: Mon, 21 Apr 2008, 14:52:25 EST by Thomas Suddendorf on behalf of School of Psychology