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A Grammar for the Mind: Time Embodied and Disembodied

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A philosophical idea about a particular relation of humans to time has found its recent psychological development in the form of the hypothesis that at some age point human children acquire a specific ability to describe the past and to think about the future, while animals do not possess this ability but are 'stuck in time'. On the other hand, animals definitely possess memory (i.e. are related to their past), and their behaviour constitutes a set of anticipations (i.e. it is directed to their future). A solution of this contradiction is proposed on the basis of existing syntactic time descriptions. Most human languages distinguish between perfect and imperfect past. While perfect tenses emphasize the result of a past action and, therefore, connect the action to the present state of affairs, imperfect tenses address a deliberate point or episode in the past without any necessary relation to the present. A similar distinction also exists in the domain of future tenses. Some of them describe the immediate readiness (existing in the present moment) to a future action, whereas others address deliberate points or periods in the future section of the time axis. I argue that the distinction between present-related and present-unrelated verb forms (both in the past and in the future) depicts the distinction between two different modes of being in time, the embodied and the disembodied mode. The former characterizes all behaving living beings, but there is no evidence to date that the latter can be observed in non-human animals.
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Keywords: Bischof-Köhler hypothesis; anticipation; future; memory; mental time travel; past

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Silcherstr. 5, 72076 Tübingen, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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