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date: 10 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

According to consensus, distinctively human social accomplishments rely on an individual, neurally implemented capacity to represent the mental states of others, typically called “mindreading” or “theory of mind.” On this view, early humans and their immediate precursors moved beyond typical primate social arrangements, e.g., by engaging in large-scale cooperative projects with individuals of whom they have scant personal knowledge, in virtue of developing a theory of mind. This chapter articulates, explores, and defends an alternative. On this view, mindreading is not the lynchpin of distinctively human sociality; rather, what sets us apart is “mindshaping”—our capacity to shape each other to be easily interpretable. Such mindshaping includes high-fidelity imitation, prolific pedagogy, norm enforcement, and narrative self-constitution. Compared to other primates we excel at these; according to the mindshaping hypothesis, this explains our distinctive social capacities. The affinities between the mindshaping hypothesis and 4E approaches to cognition are also discussed.

Keywords: human social cognition, human evolution, mindreading, mindshaping, imitation, pedagogy, norms, narrative self-constitution, cooperation, coordination

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