Biological Theory

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 124–135 | Cite as

Functional Homology and Functional Variation in Evolutionary Cognitive Science



Most cognitive scientists nowadays tend to think that at least some of the mind’s capacities are the product of biological evolution, yet important conceptual problems remain for all scientists in order to be able to speak coherently of mental or cognitive systems as having evolved naturally. Two of these important problems concern the articulation of adequate, interesting, and empirically useful concepts of homology and variation as applied to cognitive systems. However, systems in cognitive science are usually understood as functional systems of some sort. Thus, to be able to talk about functional systems being homologous requires having a solid, adequate, and empirically articulated concept of functional homology—and the same is true about functional variation. Here I construct an original concept of functional homology that, in my view, adequately systematizes a number of actual uses of the word “functional homology” in a variety of biological disciplines and in ethology. I also propose a number of criteria for the empirical application of the concept that are analogous to the criteria that are currently used in comparative biology, ethology, and (possibly) molecular developmental genetics. Then I construct a concept of functional variation on the basis of this concept of homology.


cognitive science descent with modification evolution of mind functional systems molecular developmental genetics morphology 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones FilosoficasUniversidad Nacional Autonoma de MexicoMexico CityMexico

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