De intuïties voorbij | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 108, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244



How can the study of cognition become an ordinary science that is intrinsically connected to the other natural sciences? Since the cognitive revolution in and around psychology, ‘cognition’ has become the standard term to refer to the processes that make us – humans – intelligent. The interpretation of this cognitive domain and cognition itself, however, has never become really clear. First, cognition is a mental concept that is conceptually linked with theories and ideas that are not self-evidently connected to the world as described by the natural sciences. In addition, cognition tends to remain a phenomenon that we recognize ‘on sight’, without the need for an explicit demarcation criterion, a ‘mark of the cognitive’.

In this paper, I abandon this intuition-based demarcation of cognition and propose an unequivocal biological one. This biological demarcation does not build on our current intuitions concerning cognition and in any many cases will not be in line with these. As a consequence, the direct conceptual connection between cognition and the traditional notion of ‘mind’ will be cut and the term ‘cognition’ will acquire a fundamentally different meaning. However, the term ‘cognition’ can and will be maintained, as with its new meaning it still refers to the processes that make us humans – as well as other organisms – intelligent: it still covers the scientific domain that its original form was meant to cover, although now with some additional areas.

The proposal states that cognition is to be interpreted as the interactions between organisms and their environments together with the organismal structures specifically involved in this interaction. This proposal gives a specific material foundation to cognitive phenomena, which can act as the empirical basis for existing and new cognitive theory formation that will place human cognition unequivocally in the wider framework of living organizations.

Some of the implications of the proposal will be further illustrated by differentiating between agents and organisms. When organisms rather than agents form the focal point for cognition, due consideration can be given to ongoing research on intelligence in bacteria, plants and fungi, as well as research concerning the fundamental roles played by nervous systems in animals.


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