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Baboons and Abstract Thought

Baboons and Abstract Thought on today’s Moment of Science.

It may come as a surprise if I told you that scientists have recently made discoveries that suggest baboons are capable of abstract thought. You probably thought that only apes, the actual evolutionary predecessors of humans, could think abstractly. For instance, chimpanzees have demonstrated abstract thought. But baboons are on a whole different limb of the evolutionary tree. They’re part of a group that split 30 million years ago from the group that gave rise to apes and humans.

Now it seems that apes and humans may not be the only creatures with the ability for abstract thought. Two baboons have been trained to use analogical reasoning; that is, they can identify that this is to this as that is to that. Many theorists believe analogical reasoning to be the foundation of human intelligence. Though these baboons aren’t nearly as good at it as humans are, it’s a discovery that changes how we think about our relationship to the rest of the animal world.

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