Dr. Christine Sievers

Postal Address:

University of Bern
Walter Benjamin Kolleg
Muesmattstrasse 45
3012 Bern

E-Mail: christine.sievers@wbkolleg.unibe.ch

I wrote my PhD at the University of Basel on “Ostensive intentional communication in nonhuman primates” under the supervisor of Prof. Markus Wild (University of Basel) and Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler (Université de Neuchâtel). During that time, I investigated potential research paradigms and theoretical implications with regard to potential intentional communication in chimpanzees, both on a philosophical and an empirical level at the Budongo Conservation Field Station, Uganda. 

After my PhD, I received an Early Postdoc Mobility grant from the SNSF on the evolution of negotiating conflicts communicatively, at the Wolf Science Center Austria and at the Research Chair for Animal Minds at York University Toronto, under the supervision of Prof. Friederike Range and Prof. Kristin Andrews.  

Generally speaking, my approach to working on questions in the realm of Animal Minds is to merge methods and paradigms from different fields of research – predominantly analytic philosophy, ethology, comparative cognition and pragmatics.

In connection to the project “Explaining Human Nature”, I will take a closer look at a number of capacities that appear to be uniquely human, e.g., the learning and transmission of cultural practices, normative behavior in a community, and intentional communication. These capacities are traditionally described and defined in strictly meta-cognitive terms. Because these capacities are stipulated as cognitive complex, very many species are a priori excluded, independently of the results of potential empirical inquiries into the capacities in these species. This in turn makes it difficult to tackle questions such as: is capacity x really a uniquely human feature? It also questions the methodological approaches to describing the capacities. Are the evolutionary narratives that rely on the uniqueness of the capacities in humans plausible, given that human uniqueness then in itself may just be based on the absence of potential ways of identifying the capacities in other species in the first place? Additionally, recent developmental research suggests that both the evolution and the occurrence of certain capacities may be bound to other proximate mechanisms than meta-cognitive ones, in particular affective states appear central. The inquiry will investigate the possibility of integrating affective states into the definitions and descriptions of the capacities by relying on work on affective social learning and theories on embodied emotions.