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The Origin of Selkies

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Cognitively modern human beings have language, art, science, religion, refined tool use, advanced music and dance, fashions of dress, and mathematics. Blue jays, border collies, dolphins, and bonobos do not. Only human beings have what we have, and this discontinuity in Life, this perspicuous Grand Difference, presents us with the most abiding and compelling scientific riddle of all.

In The Way We Think, Gilles FauconnieRAnd I put forward the hypothesis that The Grand Difference arose in the following way (FauconnieRAnd Turner, 2002). The basic mental operation of conceptual integration, also known as ‘blending’, has been present and evolving in various species foRA long time, probably since early mammals, and there is no reason to doubt that many mammalian species aside from human beings have the ability to execute rudimentary forms of conceptual integration. Human beings evolved not an entirely different kind of mind, but instead the capacity for the strongest form of conceptual integration, known as ‘double- scope’ blending. Human beings are thus on a gradient with other species, but what a difference an extra step makes. Double-scope blending is the hallmark of cognitively modern human beings, and The Grand Difference is the product of double-scope blending.

What is blending and why is it so important? (Technical introductions to the nature and mechanisms of blending can be found in Fauconnier and Turner, 1998; 2002; Fauconnier, 1997; Turner, 2001; 2003; see also Goguen, 1999.) As an illustration, consider our perception of a seal. The eyes of a seal are remarkably like the eyes of a human being. When we see a seal at the seashore, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that we and the seal share a category. Compelling and evident analogies leap out at us, between the seal’s appearance and ours, between the seal’s motion and ours. Our human eyes align toward an object as our limbs propel our bodies toward it, and it seems to be no different for the seal.

Working from such analogies, we immediately forge a mental blend of ourselves and the seal. The result is a conception of a seal that has not only all of the seal’s appearance and motion but additionally a feature we know only of ourselves the possession of a mind . . .
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Document Type: Research Article

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Publication date: 2004-01-01

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