Authors Archives: Gordon H. Orians

Metaphors, Models, and Modularity


Conceptions of the human brain range from the blank slate to a strongly modular structure produced by adaptations to problems our ancestors encountered in African savannas. Metaphors and models can help us formulate hypotheses about the level of constraining structure built into the brain. Here I discuss David Sloan Wilson’s use of the immune system as a model for human cognitive flexibility. The immune system has evolved to cope with the challenges posed by disease-causing organisms that are highly diverse, short-lived, and rapidly evolving. I argue that this model is not a good guide to the kind of cognitive structure that has evolved in response to challenges from more stable features of the ancestral environment, for instance, coping with large predators and hostile conspecifics or finding and selecting food.

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