Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Relational Reinterpretation Hypothesis Anno 1840

Last year Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli published a quite controversial article called "Darwin's mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds."
In it they argued that what is special about human cognition is our innate analogical ability, an ability to reinterpret sensory and cognitve data in terms of abstract relational terms.
The system enabling "higher order, abstract, role-governed, relational reasoning” is grafted on top of our primate cognitive system and explains why our cognitive capacities are so widely different from that of other animals.

The main tenet of this proposal is shared by many researchers, as seen, for example, in Anette Karmilof-Smith's (1992) concept of "Representational Redescription" Hypothesis or Jean Mandler's (2004) "perceptual meaning analysis"
"as the central, attentive process that redescribes attended perceptual information into a simpler and conceptual (accessible) form."

Interestingly, I just found a similar proposal in John Pringle Nichol's "Views of the Architecture of the Heavens" from 1840, although I am quite sure that similar views can be traced much farther back in time :

"We are bound by the inherent necessities of our Being to search for the explanation of every fact or phenomenon, through its relations with some actual order, present or past" (281).


Karmiloff-Smith, Anette (1992): Beyond modularity: A developmental perspective on cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mandler, Jean (2004): A synopsis of The foundations of mind. In: Developmental Science 7:5 , 499–505.

Nichol, John Pringle (1840/1851) Views of the Architecture of the Heavens. London.

Penn, Derek C, Keith J. Holyoak. and Daniel J. Povinelli (2008): Darwin's mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences (31:2): 109-130.

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