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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    E.S. Spelke: What makes us smart? Core knowledge and natural language. In D. Gentner and S. Goldin-Meadow (eds.): Language in mind: advances in the investigation of language and thought (MIT Press, Cambridge 2003a)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    E.S. Spelke: Core knowledge. In N. Kanwisher and J. Duncan (eds.): Attention and performance, vol. 20: Functional neuroimaging of visual cognition (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2003b)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    S. Carey: Bootstrapping and the origins of concepts. Daedalus, (2004), 59–68Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    N. Humphrey: The mind made flesh (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002) p. 336Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    L. Weiskrantz: Blindsight: A case study and its implications (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1986)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    N.K. Humphrey and L. Weiskrantz: Vision in monkeys after removal of the striate cortex. Nature, 215 (1967) 595–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    N.K. Humphrey: Vision in a monkey without striate cortex: a case study. Perception 3 (1974), 241–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    E.S. Spelke: Core knowledge. American Psychologist 55 (2000), 1233–1243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Y. Sugita: Face perception in monkeys reared with no exposure to faces. PNAS, 105 (2008), 394–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    S.P.R. Rose: God’s organism? The chick as a model system for memory studies. Learning and Memory, 7(1) (2000), 1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    G. Vallortigara: The cognitive chicken: Visual and spatial cognition in a non-mammalian brain. In E.A. Wasserman and T.R. Zentall (eds.): Comparative cognition: Experimental explorations of animal intelligence (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2006) pp. 41–58Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    P.P.G. Bateson: What must be known in order to understand imprinting? In: C. Heyes and L. Huber (eds.), The evolution of cognition (MIT Press, Cambridge 2004) pp. 85–102Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    L. Regolin, G. Vallortigara: Perception of partly occluded objects by young chicks. Perception and Psychophysics, 57 (1995), 971–976Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    S.E.G. Lea, A.M. Slater, C.M.E. Ryan: Perception of object unity in chicks: a comparison with the human infant. Infant Behaviour and Development, 19 (1996), 501–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    E. Valenza, I. Leo, L. Gava and F. Simion: Perceptual completion in newborn human infants. Child Development, 77 (2006), 1810–1821CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    G. Johansson: Visual perception of biological motion and a model for its analysis. Perception and Psychophysics, 14 (1973), 201–211Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    G. Vallortigara, L. Regolin, F. Marconato: Visually inexperienced chicks exhibit a spontaneous preference for biological motion patterns. PLoS Biology, 3(7) (2005), 1312–1316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    N.F. Troje, C. Westhoff: Inversion effect in biological motion perception: Evidence for a “life detector”? Current Biology 16 (2006), 821–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    G. Vallortigara, L. Regolin: Gravity bias in the interpretation of biological motion by inexperienced chicks. Current Biology, 16 (2006), 279–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    E. Clara, L. Regolin, G. Vallortigara, M. Zanforlin: Domestic chicks perceive stereokinetic illusions. Perception, 35 (2006), 983–992CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    L. Regolin, G. Vallortigara, M. Zanforlin: Object and spatial representations in detour problems by chicks. Animal Behaviour, 49 (1994), 195–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    P. Zucca, N. Milos, G. Vallortigara: Piagetian object permanence and its development in Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius). Animal Cognition, 10 (2007), 243–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    L. Feigenson, S. Carey, M.D. Hauser: The representations underlying infants’ choice of more: object file versus analog magnitudes. Psychological Science, 13 (2002), 150–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    L. Feigenson: A double dissociation in infants’ representation of object arrays. Cognition, 95 (2005), B37–B48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    L. Feigenson, S. Carey: On the limits of infants’ quantification of small object arrays. Cognition, 97 (2005), 295–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    R. Rugani, L. Regolin, G. Vallortigara: Discrimination of small numerosities in young chicks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 34 (2008), 388–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    M.D. Hauser, E.S. Spelke: Evolutionary and developmental foundations of human knowledge: A case study of mathematics. In M. Gazzaniga (ed.), The cognitive neurosciences, Vol. 3. (MIT Press, Cambridge 2004)Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    G. Vallortigara: Animals as natural geometers. In L. Tommasi, L. Nadel, and M. Peterson (eds.): Cognitive biology: Evolutionary and developmental perspectives on mind, brain and behavior (MIT Press, Cambridge 2008)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    G. Vallortigara, M. Feruglio, V.A. Sovrano: Reorientation by geometric and landmark information in environments of different spatial size. Developmental Science, 8 (2004), 393–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    V.A. Sovrano, A. Bisazza, G. Vallortigara: Modularity and spatial reorientation in a simple mind: Encoding of geometric and nongeometric properties of a spatial environment by fish. Cognition, 85 (2002), 51–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    C. Chiandetti, G. Vallortigara: Is there an innate geometric module? Effects of experience with angular geometric cues on spatial reorientation based on the shape of the environment. Animal Cognition, 11 (2008), 139–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    S. Dehaene, V. Izard, P. Pica & E.S. Spelke: Core knowledge of geometry in an Amazonian indigene group. Science, 311 (2006), 381–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    P. Pica, C. Lemer, V. Izard, S. Dehaene: Exact and Approximate Arithmetic in an Amazonian Indigene Group. Science, 306 (2004), 499–503CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2009

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations