September/October Update

Oslo Meet-up with Paula Rubio Fernandez and Herman Cappelen

Herman and Paula welcomed us in Oslo for an exciting day of meetings and discussions. We spent the morning with Herman discussing the project, our ideas so far, and the general process and ideas of interdisciplinary work. The afternoon with Paula, our main topic was eartly Theory of Mind, and whether a two-systems account is a good explanatory model. We were very impressed by Paula’s empirical work and thoughts on this topic.


Empirical work

We have finished our data coding and moving on to the next steps – this month our aim is to complete the reliability coding and statistical analysis of our data.


Vicky Southgate’s visit

 Vicky came to visit us from Copenhagen, and talked to us about early Theory of Mind, neurological markers of perspective taking, metacognition, and thoughts on empirical approaches to non-verbal ToM tasks. We had a great time discussing paradigms, the newest findings, and the theoretical implications. We would like to thank Vicky for sharing her work with us!


Cafe Philosophique at the Explorathon ’16

Grab a drink, pull up a chair – and listen to Derek explore the question “What do animals think about?’. As part of the Explorathon in St Andrews, Derek invited visitors of all ages to join him in answering this question, voice their own thoughts and skepticism, and hink about what makes animals smart (or not so smart).



August Update


The venue is booked, the name tags are ready, the programme is online, and we made sure there is enough coffee to keep us going – we are ready for the ESPP16! More than 180 philosophers, psychologists, linguists, and interdisciplinarians joined us in St Andrews for four days of keynotes, symposia, and discussions.

The Rethinking Mind and Meaning group made the most of their hosting privileges by inviting Dorit Bar-On, Dave Schuker, and Katie Slocombe to present a symposium on animal communication. The main topic was intentionality – and our presenters showed us work with wild chimpanzees, how communication in insects also fulfils many, if not all, criteria of intentional communication, and how the notion of expressive communication can help us understand language evolution better.

The full programme is available on the website: We also hope to show recordings of the keynote talks and invited symposia there soon.

We would like to thank everyone who participated in the ESPP16 and made it such a great event!


Dorit Bar-On’s seminar on Grice and Expressive Communication

We were very happy to welcome Dorit – and of course to discuss with her all things animal communication. Dorit lead a seminar outlining Gricean intentionality – and why the some of the resulting requirements might not be necessary for animal communication to be intentional. Dorit also further developed her ideas on expressive communication as an intermediate between Gricean intentionality and “reflexive” communication.


June/July Update

Summer School: Understanding Communication – Understanding Cognition: The role of metarepresentation

Verena won a place to attend a summer school on the role of metarepresentation in communication and social cognition at the CEU in Budapest. The summer school brought experts from different fields together to discuss the role (and definition) of metacognition in episodic memory, theory of mind, animal minds, and prelinguistic social cognition. Lectures were accompanied by more in-depth seminars, and it was fantastic to share and discuss these topics with young researchers from various fields.


Elisabeth Camp – The Language of Baboon Thought

On her visit to St Andrews Elisabeth Camp kindly took an afternoon to talk to the Mindrethink group about the “Language of Baboon Thought”. We discussed how thought can be organised without language, for example in mental maps or tree diagrams, and how this could be applied to primate communication and social cognition.


Animal Minds Workshop at Kingsbarns Primary School

Derek and Verena were invited to Kingsbarns Primary School to have a philosophical debate about animal minds with the kids there. We discussed what philosophy is, and how it plays a role when we think about animals. The kids shared their experience and knowledge about animal learning, what it means to be smart, thought about whether there are animal equivalents to human capacities such as language or planning, and whether animals have friends or “love”. We want to thank Miss Spark for inviting us – we had a great afternoon debating with brilliant minds.



Preparations for the ESPP are keeping us very busy these days. We are expecting more than 180 delegates from all over the world for four days of keynotes, symposia, and discussions. Currently we are relishing in the logistic side of conference preparation: booking poster boards, making name tags, sampling biscuits, and formatting abstract booklets. We are getting increasingly excited – and hope that you will join us!



Animal Minds Masterclass at Kingsbarns Primary School

This July we were invited to join 13 young, inquisitive minds in a debate about animal minds at Kingsbarns Primary School.

We started the afternoon with a more general debate about what Philosophy is, and what kind of questions we are asking with when we do Philosophy, and that answers are often a grey area.

Derek introduced us to some philosophers who thought about animals – he talked about Descartes, Peter Singer, Thomas Nagel, Dan Dennett, Donald Davidson, Jose Bermudez, and Dorit Bar-On. This also showed us a broad spectrum of what abilities other thinkers assign to animals – and whether we would agree with them or not.

We then debated what abilities would make an animal smart, or would show that they are capable of thought. We talked about wolves and pack-hunting, cows who recognise the vet, chickens who go to bed on time and have alarm calls, pets that can remember owners and places, and many other examples.

Having collected lots of examples, we went to work on our sticker task: everyone got to pick their favourite animal, and decide whether it has a ‘mind like ours’, ‘no mind at all’ or maybe something in between (and whether this difference is by degree or kind). Primates tended to be placed on the higher end of the spectrum, and insects and fish at the lower end. We had a lively debate about where chickens,sheep, and big cats should go – encountering the grey areas we talked about earlier.

We ended the afternoon by talking a bit more what kind of evidence would convince us that animals have a certain ability. So for example, could we invent a translator for “dog-language” or can we show that dogs understand a lot of human language? Can we find (behavioural) definitions of concepts such as “friendship” that can be applied to animals?

A big thank you to all Kingsbarns Philosophers and Miss Spark – we had a wonderful time!



May Update

Workshop “Rethinking Meaning in Animal Communication” at the WiKo, Berlin

In collaboration with Dorit Bar-On, the Rethinking Mind and Meaning Group hosted a workshop at the WiKo in Berlin. We set ourselves the (easy) task of rethinking “Meaning” in animal communication. We were joined by a fantastic group of scientists, amongst them Julia Fischer, Richard Moore, Ulf Liszkowski, Peter Gardenfors,Klaus Zuberbuehler, Manuel Bohn, and Cat Hobaiter.


Fife Science Festival

On the 7th and 8th of May we took “Rethinking Mind and Meaning” to Cowdenbeath to participate in the Fife Science Festival. We prepared a range of activities and media displays to ask children and adults, what they thought “makes a mind”, and which animals have one. Over the two days more than 900 people visited our exhibit – and we had a great time discussing issues like tool use, memory, and communication in all kinds of animals. We also learned a great deal about chickens, sheep, and the amazing minds of some pets – and even asked whether plants like potatoes are capable of some “mindful” things.



Preparation for the ESPP16 are gaining momentum – the call for papers is out, the first abstracts are being submitted, and the website is up and running! Join us for an amazing meeting here in St Andrews! (It’ll be great – we promise).


Empirical Work

Now that we have finished data collection, we are very busy developing our coding scheme, trying it out and validating our method. Coding all our data will take some time, so you might not hear many updates from us till we have finished this big step.


Animal Minds at the Fife Science Festival

On the 7th and 8th of May we were taking part in the Fife Science Festival in Cowdenbeath.

We prepared a bunch of activities to get children and their families to think about animal minds and abilities – we had a sticker tasks in which participants chose their favourite animal, and placed it on a scale ranging from “has no mind at all” to “has a mind like we do”. We had great discussions about what makes an animal smart (camouflage, hunting, building nests?), whether instincts are innate or enhanced through learning, what the smartest animal might be (sea mammals, apes, chickens?), and whether some animals have feelings like empathy or guilt. We were blown away how creatively people thought about animal minds – and how many unanswered questions they are about animal thought.



Not only did we talk about different animals and their abilities – we also brought some evidence: videos of tool use in rooks, chimpanzees, and bumblebees. Apes and dolphins recognising themselves in mirrors. Sophisticated spider webs and how they are used to catch prey. Ants that collectively manage to cross a river….

These videos were a great talking point to discuss how these abilities compare to human abilities, and how we can find answer to our questions empirically.


After having enjoyed some fruitful debate, it was time to pick up the pens. We had a bunch of posters with different questions: “Do animals talk? What do they talk about?” – “Do animals have friends?” “Do they love?” – “Do animals understand what others think and feel?”. Many people answered our questions and shared their thought processes with us.


We want to thank the team behind the Fife Science Festival – we had a brilliant time engaging with so many people!

PS: Over the two days, 1430 people came to visit the Festival! How amazing is that!


March/April Update

Regular meetings

Recently the Two-systems Account of Theory of Mind has received a lot of attention – we spent a few meetings discussing this approach, the theoretical applications, and some of the empirical evidence to support this theoretical account. The two-systems theory has recently informed a lot of empirical research – we looked more closely at studies by Low et al, examining interference from another’s perspective in tasks, and at non-linguistic tests of identity False Beliefs. Our particular focus was if this account could explain (or even if it tries to explain) mentalising skills in non-human animals.

Our intense focus on this topic had a particular reason: Ian Apperly and Steve Butterfill, two main proponents of this theory, came to visit us at the end of April!


Steve Butterfill and Ian Apperly’s visit

Ian and Steve came to St Andrews for two days of intense discussions of the two-systems-account, and all things Theory of Mind. Ian presented his latest empirical work on the topic, showing us more evidence that we seem to unconsciously process another’s perspective in a number of situations. On the second day Steve introduced us to his account of object perception. We like to thank Ian and Steve for joining us, and for engaging in a marathon of answering questions, clarifying theory, and discussing these topics!


Science Night at RZSS Edinburgh

On April 9th, Edinburgh Zoo hosted a special Science Night, featuring conservation, research, plenty of opportunity to participate, and, of course, all of the zoo’s animals.

Of course the “Rethinking Mind and Meaning”-Team was very excited to be part of this event. We set up camp in the Budongo trail exhibition and send the evening discussing animal minds with all visitors. Using stickers we asked kids, grown-ups, students, zoo staff, and everyone else who stopped by which animals they thought had a mind like ours, which animals have no mind at all, and how animal minds differ from human minds. Several hundred people talked to us, and helped us to think about these topics. People told us about their experience with animals, made comparisons in cognitive skills such as memories, chatted with us about how we can investigate these questions empirically and how we can properly explain what it is that animals think.

A very big Thank You to Edinburgh Zoo for hosting such a fantastic event!


Empirical Work at Living Links

Thanks to very cooperative monkeys we have completed our data collection at Living Links. We now have to develop a coding scheme and get to work on our video material.



Science Night at RZSS Edinburgh

Our first big publicity stunt (well…) took place at the Science Night in Edinburgh Zoo – the zoo stayed open longer for an amazing science extravaganza showcasing research from every area imaginable: Botany, immunology, cognitive science, biology, entomology – and many, many more. Many, many volunteers put on stalls, activities, and demonstrations throughout the entire zoo.

We were part of this charming St Andrews team, presenting research on the evolution of cognitive abilities and culture.


While the other teams were demonstrating apes’, monkeys’, and human abilities – we put our philosophy hats on to ask people ” Do animals think?”. And of course: what do they think about? Is their mind like ours? Are some animals more like us than others? Do they have concepts like causality or friendship?

We invited people to pick their favourite animal, take a sticker and place this on our “mind-scale” – Nearly 2000 visitors helped us to answer this question!


We also challenged visitors to explain their answers – what is it that makes this particular animal “smart”? Answers ranged very far: skills like empathy or understanding, skills like tool use or communication, looking like “people” or being genetically related, hunting or camouflage skills, having a good memory or being able to learn a lot of things.

During the evening we also had the opportunity to get up on the soap box and tell everyone why thinking about animal minds and issues like belief understanding is super-interesting – and that everyone can contribute to this debate!


Visitors were also invited to explore some of the tools of our trades: we brought along some false belief tests, asked whether animals would be able to understand aspectuality (the old issue with Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane), and whether they had something like episodic memory.


We had an absolutely amazing time, and want to thank everyone who came to the zoo and chatted with us! And of course, the RZSS team who invited us to come along!






February Update

Empirical Work at Living Links

Our February was nearly entirely in the small hands of our Living Links Capuchins. Data collection has really taken off – we have left the pilot stage behind and the monkeys are now taking part in the experimental trials. We have even completed one set of trials with one of the monkey groups. We hope that things continue to go well and that all odds are in our favour.

Working with the monkeys at Living Links is currently very rewarding – I now feel like I really get to know the monkeys (not just being able to ID them, but also a bit about their unique personalities), the experimental protocol has a good flow, and we have simply been lucky to have a lot of primate interest in our study.

Alongside with spending a lot of time at the zoo to collect data, Verena also got more involved with the daily work at Living Links. You can now find her, Barry and Nina every day on the visitor platform at 12.30 for a tour of Living Links.


Our plan for the next 6-8 weeks is to complete data collection. Wish us luck!


December/January Update

A new has started – and we are back with a number of events.

Regular Meetings

In December, PhD-students Zeynep Civelek (Psychology) and Caroline Toubourg (Philosophy) lead us in a very interesting session about causality – Zeynep talked to us about new empirical studies and her own experimental work, and Caroline introduced us to thought experiments that illustrated causation from a philosophical perspective.

Central theme of our meetings in the last few weeks was ‘knowledge’ from the perspective of Philosophy and Psychology. We discussed Jennifer Nagel’s paper “Knowledge as a mental state”, which raises some interesting issues how both disciplines use (and understand) the term.


Visit from Tim Williamson

Tim Williamson recently visited St Andrews to talk about ‘Model Building in Philosophy’ – and also took time for a Q&A session with the Mind and Meaning group. Tim talked to us about philosophical notions of knowledge – and the idea of knowledge as a mental state. We want to thank Tim for a very enjoyable afternoon.


ESPP Conference

The official Call for Papers has gone out for the annual meeting of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology, taking place in St Andrews next August. We are very excited to host this event – and, of course, about the keynote speakers and symposia! Find out more about keynote speakers, invited symposia, abstract submission, and travel on the ESPP16 website:


Empirical Work at Living Links, Edinburgh Zoo

The monkeys have certainly seen a lot of us this January; we have a few research days at Living Links every week, and we can report some progress: our apparatus works well, most kinks are ironed out, and we even found two foods that the monkeys like equally well for our study. We hope to begin data collection in the next week or two.