This time I have a question for you, the kind reader: can anyone tell me (or point me to a study that suggests) whether non-human animals practice their skills outside of a group?
On many a PBS nature documentary, you can find a gathering of young, fury things play-fighting one another to hone their hunting and social skills. However, human athletes will substitute physical competitors with imagined or abstracted ones. It’s common for athletes to compete against recorded times, high scores, or a mental reincarnations of a previous or idealized self during practice in the absence of a physically present opponent. And this sort of activity isn’t confined to sports like running or cycling. Full teams can visualize a routine or match performance for positive effect. Marines are instructed to imagine their hitting a target—and this sort of practice increases accuracy. These pretend opponents have real, demonstrable, and causal power. In short, human imagination is pretty powerful aid to skill acquisition, at least.
So let’s get back to my opening question: to what extent can non-human animals imagine? Please help me out if you can.