Planning Ahead

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Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
Likely Difference
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Humans’ planning for the future is universal. They project their thinking forward and backward (‘mental time-travel) based on memory, predictability, and probability. When this is done with objects set aside for future use, it may be called storage (consumables, reusables) or curation/archiving (preservation). Conceptual advance planning takes many forms, e.g. prophesy. In daily life, apes in nature typically use resources (food, water, nest-sites) extemporaneously, e.g. they ‘eat as they go’, but they also return repeatedly to resources, sometimes on the basis of sophisticated mental processing, e.g. cognitive maps of ephemeral fruits. Even monkeys may return in timely fashion to optimally ripe fruit patches, based on ambient temperatures (a key factor in ripening) in the interval since their last visit to the patch. Chimpanzees carry tools to sites for later use. Captive apes cache tools for use hours later, at least in contrived laboratory experiments. A male chimpanzee in a zoo deceptively stockpiled stones to use later as missiles to throw at the public. Another zoo population sequestered burning cigarette butts in order to continue chain-smoking.

No wild ape has been seen to store or curate objects, but tools left behind at sedentary or non-nomadic resources (e.g. termite mounds) sometimes are re-used days later, suggesting possible advance planning.

Long-term storage or curation in wild apes may be absent because they have not invented the container, at least for particulate objects.

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