I will be presenting a paper at The 9th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EvoLang IX), which will be held in Kyoto, Japan, from March 13 to 16, 2012. The title and abstract are as follows:
NON-HUMAN PRIMATES CANNOT DECONTEXTUALIZE AND OBJECTIFY THE ACTIONS OF THEIR CONSPECIFICS
Tom Froese, Takashi Ikegami, and Mike Beaton
We argue that all primates primarily perceive the actions of conspecifics as meaningful expressions of agency. Social understanding is a perceptual capacity that does not require human reason or imagination. Conversely, only humans have an additional, sophisticated ability to decontextualize and objectify actions into abstract movements. We thereby turn the traditional consensus on its head: what distinguishes humans from other primates is not the ability to perceive other agents. Humans are different because they can detach from the goal-oriented and meaning-laden presence of their natural and social world in order to bring abstract physical details into focus. This objectifying stance is necessary for genuine innovation and fine-grained imitation, especially of opaque instrumental and symbolic gestures, and therefore has implications for the origins of tool use and language.
You can download the full paper here.