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Genet Soc Gen Psychol Monogr. 1997 May;123(2):133-67.

Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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.

PMID:
9204544
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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