Events

According to Tomasello, the emergence of pointing played a revolutionary role in human phylogeny, by making possible new forms of coordinated hunting activities, pedagogy, and language acquisition. On Tomasello’s account, the emergence of pointing is itself supposed to be the result of an earlier socio-cognitive revolution, in which our early hominin ancestors developed new cognitive mechanisms for communication, and new forms of prosocial motivation. I will argue that the assumption that pointing was made possible by radically new forms of communication and cooperation are theoretically unwarranted, and that they do not make best sense of the empirical data. Rather, I will argue, the emergence of gradually more complex forms of pointing are likely to be the result of incremental improvements in our early ancestors’ inferential abilities and cooperative motives. Such changes are consistent with the assumption that the cognitive mechanisms that support great ape gestural communication are closer to our own than is commonly held. I will illustrate the theoretical claims via discussion of a study that my colleagues and I recently completed on orang-utans’ use of gestural communication in a referential communication game.