Original Knowledge and the Two Cultures

  • Giorgio Vallortigara


A common, crucial theme for the two cultures is the issue of the origin of knowledge. In this paper I shall argue, on the basis of evidence fromcomparative cognitive neuroscience, for widespread common mechanisms among vertebrates underlying basic cognitive processes, and I shall also argue that these mechanisms are largely available at birth, little (if at all) affected by past experience. These are in no way novel ideas. They belong to the tradition initiated by Socrates (more precisely by Plato’s account of Socrates’ thinking) and have their most inspiring source in today’s research in developmental sciences (see in particular [1, 2, 3]). Nonetheless, I hope the type of evidence that I am providing is novel, or at least “personal”. Speaking of the theme of the “two cultures”, I was impressed years ago by a short paper by Nicholas Humphrey [4] on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Newton’s Principia Mathematica.In contrast to C.P. Snow who, in The Two Cultures, labeled great scientists as “sitcientific Shakespeare”, Humphrey stressed that the individual persons that make science are replaceable: without the person Newton, sooner or later, the same scientific discovery would be made by someone else, whereas without the person of Shakespeare nothing similar to his specific creation would have appeared. For ultimately Newton (and science in general) uncover pre-existing truths in nature, whereas the same cannot be said for artists and humanities in general. In Nicholas Humphrey’s words: “There are no pre-existing novels out there waiting to be written, nor pre-existing pictures waiting to be painted”.


Biological Motion Occlude Object Object Permanence Core Knowledge Amodal Completion 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giorgio Vallortigara
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Mind/Brain SciencesUniversità degli Studi di TrentoItaly

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