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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Putting flexible animal prospection into context: escaping the theoretical box

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The debate on non‐human future‐oriented cognition has long revolved around the question whether such cognition at all occurs. Closer inspection reveals just how much cognition in general—down to its simplest forms—is geared toward predicting the future in a bid to maintain homeostasis and fend off entropy. Over the course of life's existence on Earth, evolution and natural selection have, through a series of evolutionary arms races, gotten increasingly good at achieving this. Prospection has reached its current pinnacle based partly on a system for episodic cognition that—as research increasingly is showing—is not limited principally to human beings. Nevertheless, and despite some notable recent defections, many researchers remain convinced of the merits of the Bischof–Köhler Hypothesis with its claim that no species other than human beings is able to anticipate future needs or otherwise live in anything other than the immediate present moment. What might, at first, appear to be empirical disputes turn out to reveal largely unquestioned theoretical divides. Without due care, one risks setting out conditions for ‘true’ future orientation that are irrelevant for describing human cognition. In sorting out the theoretical and terminological muddle framing contemporary debate, this article makes a plea for moving beyond past dogmas while putting animal prospection research into the context of evolution and contemporary cognitive science. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:5–18. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1372 This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition

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