I want to apologize in advance for my dearth of knowledge concerning cognitive science research and history, I'm an AI student.

I've been reading up on cognitive science/linguistics literature mostly to get a better grasp on the physical symbol system hypothesis/language of thought vs connectionism debate.

I read this very interesting review of Berwick and Chomsky's book "Why Only Us" by Ian Tattersall, in which he exposes the authors' idea that language suddenly appeared as a result of a minor mutation in our ancestors' brain 80,000 years ago. However, because of the lack of linguistic archeological artefacts, it is impossible to prove. He then goes on:

If that is true, perhaps the best proxies we can seek for language in the human archaeological record are objects or activities that reflect the working of symbolic human minds: minds capable of envisioning that the world could be otherwise than it is at this moment.

And my question is then: why does counterfactual thinking require a symbolic mind? It seems perfectly plausible to imagine a species who can't talk but can still imagine "other world" scenarios using his visual system. However, a counter-argument is that animals have a highly developed visual system, yet they can't think counterfactually. (Hariri is famous for saying "You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven.")

This all seems related to the LoT vs Connectionism debate: did we first grow a mind strong enough to do counterfactual thinking, which was also able to process language, or is language and symbolic thought really the precursor to higher level thinking like counterfactual thinking?


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