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Many Minds

May 11, 2022

Welcome back friends! Today’s episode is an audio essay. Those who’ve listened to the show for a while now know that this is a classic Many Minds genre. But we actually haven’t done one in quite awhile. This one takes on a topic that is big, consequential, and above all quite fun: our species’ long-running obsession with our own uniqueness. I won’t say too much more—don’t want to spoil anything—but, like a lot of our essays, this one’s a mix of history of ideas and contemporary science, leavened—naturally—with a bit of speculation. Oh, and some neologizing. There’s a good neologism in here, or at least, a neologism.

One news item before we get to the essay: we’re stoked to announce the new Many Minds newsletter! The first edition is already out in the world—we’ll put a link to that and to the sign-up form in the show notes. For now the plan is that each installment will include brief descriptions of the latest episodes, as well as a curated little link pack—links to 5-10 of the most interesting things we’ve come across recently. Installments will be monthly so shouldn’t burden your inbox too much either. Again, look for the sign-up info in the show notes.

Alright folks, now on to our essay on the quest for human uniqueness!


A text version of this episode is also available on Medium.



2:00 – The “great hippocampus” debate has been discussed by the neuroscientist Charles Gross here and here.

4:00 – For discussion of the “man alone among animals” trope, see here and here.

5:00 – For the idea that only humans cry emotional tears, see here.

5:20 – The suggestion of the term human cognitive “autapomorphies” is from Thomas Suddendorf.

6:00 – On the idea that, relative to other primates, we have strange sleeping habits, see here.

6:30 – The website in question is called the Matrix of Contemporary Anthropogeny and is put out by CARTA, a transdisciplinary center at UCSD.

7:15 – On Von Economo neurons, see here.

8:00 – On “categorical perception” in chinchillas, see here.

9:00 – For the famous Jane Goodall & Louis Leakey exchange, see here.

9:30 – The paper by Laland and Seed, ‘Understanding Human Cognitive Uniqueness’, is available here.

11:00 – On our motivation to police our own uniqueness, see here.

12:00 – On the scarcity of ion channels in human neurons, see here. On our attunement to abstract geometry, see here.


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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