, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 213-241

Recursion Hypothesis Considered as a Research Program for Cognitive Science

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Abstract

Humans grasp discrete infinities within several cognitive domains, such as in language, thought, social cognition and tool-making. It is sometimes suggested that any such generative ability is based on a computational system processing hierarchical and recursive mental representations. One view concerning such generativity has been that each of the mind’s modules defining a cognitive domain implements its own recursive computational system. In this paper recent evidence to the contrary is reviewed and it is proposed that there is only one supramodal computational system with recursion in the human mind. A recursion thesis is defined, according to which the hominin cognitive evolution is constituted by a recent punctuated genetic mutation that installed the general, supramodal capacity for recursion into the human nervous system on top of the existing, evolutionarily older cognitive structures, and it is argued on the basis of empirical evidence and theoretical considerations that the recursion thesis constitutes a plausible research program for cognitive science.