The Epigenesis of Mind: Essays on Biology and Cognition

The Epigenesis of Mind: Essays on Biology and Cognition

The Epigenesis of Mind: Essays on Biology and Cognition

The Epigenesis of Mind: Essays on Biology and Cognition


Reflecting the focus of a Jean Piaget Symposium entitled Biology and Knowledge: Structural Constraints on Development, this volume presents many of the emergent themes discussed.

Among these themes are:

  • Structural constraints on cognitive development and learning come in many shapes and forms and involve appeal to more than one level of analysis.
  • To postulate innate knowledge is not to deny that humans can acquire new concepts.
  • It is unlikely that there is only one learning mechanism, even if one prefers to work with general as opposed to domain-specific mechanisms.
  • The problems of induction with respect to concept acquisition are even harder than originally thought.


Piaget was always concerned with how best to characterize the biological contributions to cognitive development. This book grew out of the 1988 Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society, with the theme Biology and Knowledge: Structural Constraints on Development. Our invitations to Plenary speakers included a common section on the issues we wanted to address as well as some specific suggestions as to how each speaker's work was related to these. the speakers' attention to the call to the meeting resulted in a connected series of discussions throughout the Symposium as well as a series of interrelated chapters. the common text in our invitation letters to all plenary speakers was as follows:

As we conceive it, the theme has three concepts: biology, structural, and constraint. Biology enters into the discussion in three ways: the specification of the innate initial state, the consideration of the influence of maturational factors on development, and a consideration of the relation between evolution and cognition. Constraint has two senses, a sense in which the which constraints limit the learner, making certain information difficult, even impossible to acquire, and a sense in which constraints potentiate learning by limiting hypotheses the learner entertains. We plan for the program to explore both facets of constraint. Finally, structural refers to the organization of the initial state. At the end of his career, in collaboration with Garcia, Piaget returned to a serious exploration of the parallels between the genesis of knowledge in the history of science and the individual. This work coincides with a resurgence of interest in intuitive theories on the part of cognitive scientists and science educators. Intuitive theories, alternative conceptual frameworks, provide a way of thinking about constraints in both senses--the child, like the scientist, is limited by his or her intuitive theories, without which learning would be impossible. This too will be a focus of several of the plenary sessions. (From our invitation letter of July, 22, 1987)

All save one of the following chapters were presented as plenary talks or discussions at the meeting. Randy Gallistel agreed to rewrite the document that Brown, Carey, Gelman, and Keil put together in 1984-1985 at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. There are a variety of emergent themes, ones that weave in and out of different parts of the following chapters, that we wish to draw to the reader's attention. These are:

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