Evolution, selection and cognition: From "learning" to parameter setting in biology and in the study of language

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183 Scopus citations


Most biologists and some cognitive scientists have independently reached the conclusion that there is no such thing as learning in the traditional "instructive" sense. This is, admittedly, a somewhat extreme thesis, but I defend it herein the light of data and theories jointly extracted from biology, especially from evolutionary theory and immunology, and from modern generative grammar. I also point out that the general demise of learning is uncontroversial in the biological sciences, while a similar consensus has not yet been reached in psychology and in linguistics at large. Since many arguments presently offered in defense of learning and in defense of "general intelligence" are often based on a distorted picture of human biological evolution, I devote some sections of this paper to a critique of "adaptationism," providing also a sketch of a better evolutionary theory (one based on "exaptation"). Moreover, since certain standard arguments presented today as "knock-down" in psychology, in linguistics and in artificial intelligence are a perfect replica of those once voiced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-44
Number of pages44
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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