Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 599–611 | Cite as

Why animals are not robots

  • Theresa S. S. SchilhabEmail author


In disciplines traditionally studying expertise such as sociology, philosophy, and pedagogy, discussions of demarcation criteria typically centre on how and why human expertise differs from the expertise of artificial expert systems. Therefore, the demarcation criteria has been drawn between robots as formalized logical architectures and humans as creative, social subjects, creating a bipartite division that leaves out animals. However, by downsizing the discussion of animal cognition and implicitly intuiting assimilation of living organisms (LOs) to robots, key features to explain why human expertise is crucially different from robot expertise are neglected. In the absence of clarification of fundamental cognitive principles of LOs, cognitively robots may appear persuasively closer to humans when they are in fact not. In this paper, I will discuss essential features of organic cognition to emphasise why animals are not like robots at all. The purpose is to add a third category when comparing humans and robots to make a tripartite division that consists of (a) humans (b) LOs, and (c) machines. I will argue that LOs, adapted to ever-changing circumstances, are qualitatively different from robots. Humans, in the sense of belonging to the biological class of LOs, also share this central feature. In addition, however, humans alone possess and use language in a way that turns cognition from a predominantly online to off-line activity (e.g. Wilson Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9(4), 625–635 2002) that introduces truly abstract thinking. In the end I introduce the concept of ‘Linguification’ to dissect the particular mechanisms sustaining abstract thinking in the explanation of what makes humans distinct from robots and LOs.


Robots Animal cognition Linguification Contextuality Derived embodiment Language 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program for Future Technologies, Culture and LearningIUP, University of AarhusCopenhagenDenmark

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