The cognitive ratchet. The ratchet effect as a fundamental principle in evolution and cognition (2001)

Alexander Riegler

Cybernetics and Systems 32 (3-4): 411-427

Is the evolution and performance of cognition an asymmetric, directed process? The standard externalist definition of evolution as a mechanism of variation and selection cannot account for directed developments such as an increase in complexity of cognition. A separate cause which is responsible for complexification requires us to deviate from the usual description of cognition as ahistorical logical problem-solving: the anticipation-driven nature of behavior, and hence cognition based on a ratchet effect. On a structural level it is evident that the growth of behavioral competence, similar to biological structures, must build on previously available components, thus yielding a canalization of development. This unavoidably introduces asymmetry in the cognitive evolution. Numerous examples show the relevance of the proposed mechanisms in biology, psychology, and the artificial sciences.

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