By Robert DePaolo
This article discusses cognition as a broad phenomenon, not restricted to brain function or organic complexity but rather as a process that is pervasive throughout nature. The argument is put forth that traditional definitions of cognition might be anthropocentric, that cognition and decision making occur even in the simplest biological configurations and that a more fundamental description of cognition can be developed by examining the roles of informational agreement and pleasure in the pre-cephalic natural world.
Cogito Ergo Sum…
Belief in the idea that cognition emanates from a specific organ (the brain) and can only result from a higher consciousness (the mind of homo sapiens representing the apex of such a capacity) has been passed down through the generations. While this discussion will ultimately attempt to refute that notion, it is not without face validity. Of course we are able to think, make decisions, predict and to an extent control our environment. Some have said that is what makes us human, and in some sense, biologically transcendent, (Bronowski 1973).
On the other hand, human cognition is a funny thing. The same capacity enabling us to think about ourselves, or own immortality, strengths and flaws also leads us to internalize experience and funnel it back into an egocentric mode beyond the concrete world. That can lead to flawed ideas on how nature really works. The trick to understanding nature is to divorce ourselves from that mindset, and in order to do that requires an operational as well as linguistic definition of knowledge.
For example, it was a human who conjured up Special Relativity Theory and made it available through literary communication. Yet birds seem capable of adapting to and operating on the principles inherent in it. Thus they can be said to have non-linguistic knowledge about this phenomenon. Similarly, while the architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Christopher Wren are of human origin, a spider could also lay claim to a non-symbolized but similarly operative capacity. And, while paleoanthropologists have long believed that human civilization resulted from the discovery of agriculture, leaf cutter ants figured out long ago how to plant fungi, wait for it to ferment, then consume it. Furthermore, well before man, insects developed highly complex societies, with fixed roles, social hierarchies and threat-negating group cohesion (anyone who has been attacked by a swarm of wasps after disturbing a nest can attest to that). And while