Abstraction is uniquely human. It is something we do every day, every waking hour. But it wasn’t always so. At some point in our prehistory, there had to be a very first instance of abstraction, a moment when an early protohuman stared at something vaguely familiar, and then with a sudden flash of insight, thought, “Hello! Thingumbob again!” That was the first abstraction. From that moment on, everything was different. Man was loose on the Earth.

Abstraction is profoundly human, but pattern recognition is not. It is not unique to humans at all. The mouse has figured out when the cat is likely to be asleep, when the humans are sure to be out of the kitchen, and when the crumbs have been recently dropped but not yet swept up. Your ...

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