Humans and other great apes are similar in so many ways. We share an extended immaturity and intense infant-caregiver relationships, group living situations, cultural transmission of technology, and many emotions and cognitive capacities. Yet the communities of nonhuman apes are also very different from human communities. Humans build lasting tools, and store them to use later. We build permanent sleeping and living structures. We cook our food. We have courts of law and prisons and ethics books. There are vast technological differences between humans and nonhuman great apes. What is it that accounts for such a difference? On one account, one central difference between humans and other apes is that only humans develop the ability to mindread, the ability to see that others have beliefs that could be true or false which permits joint attention and shared intentions. For example, Michael Tomasello takes mindreading (along with cooperation and having shared goals) that permits the development of cumulative culture, so that technological advances can spread through a society and future generations can continuously improve upon those advances (Tomasello 2008). And, Kim Sterelny suggests that our hominin ancestors thrived in an apprenticeship culture where naïve individuals were given the opportunity to learn from a master, and the master knew how to offer the apprentice the appropriate projects, tools, and materials as her skill sets improved—which of course was facilitated by a developing mindreading capacity (Sterelny, 2012).
Andrews, K. (2013). Great Ape mindreading: what's at stake?. In R. Corbey & A. Lanjouw (Eds.) The politics of species: reshaping our relationships with other animals. New York: Cambridge University Press.