Cognitive Processing

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 11–29 | Cite as

The biogenic approach to cognition

  • Pamela LyonEmail author


After half a century of cognitive revolution we remain far from agreement about what cognition is and what cognition does. It was once thought that these questions could wait until the data were in. Today there is a mountain of data, but no way of making sense of it. The time for tackling the fundamental issues has arrived. The biogenic approach to cognition is introduced not as a solution but as a means of approaching the issues. The traditional, and still predominant, methodological stance in cognitive inquiry is what I call the anthropogenic approach: assume human cognition as the paradigm and work ‘down’ to a more general explanatory concept. The biogenic approach, on the other hand, starts with the facts of biology as the basis for theorizing and works ‘up’ to the human case by asking psychological questions as if they were biological questions. Biogenic explanations of cognition are currently clustered around two main frameworks for understanding biology: self-organizing complex systems and autopoiesis. The paper describes the frameworks and infers from them ten empirical principles—the biogenic ‘family traits’—that constitute constraints on biogenic theorizing. Because the anthropogenic approach to cognition is not constrained empirically to the same degree, I argue that the biogenic approach is superior for approaching a general theory of cognition as a natural phenomenon.


Cognition Theory Explanation Biology of cognition 



I would like to thank Jon Opie for his invaluable help in developing the anthropogenic/biogenic distinction, and to two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved the paper.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian National University/University of AdelaideEvandaleAustralia

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