Human Uniqueness, Cognition by Description, and Procedural Memory

John Bolender, Burak Erdeniz, Cemil KerimoÄŸlu


Evidence will be reviewed suggesting a fairly direct link between the human ability to think about entities which one has never perceived — here called “cognition by description†— and procedural memory. Cognition by description is a uniquely hominid trait which makes religion, science, and history possible. It is hypothesized that cognition by description (in the manner of Bertrand Russell’s “knowledge by descriptionâ€) requires variable binding, which in turn utilizes quantifier raising. Quantifier raising plausibly depends upon the computational core of language, specifically the element of it which Noam Chomsky calls “internal Mergeâ€. Internal Merge produces hierarchical structures by means of a memory of derivational steps, a process plausibly involving procedural memory. The hypothesis is testable, predicting that procedural memory deficits will be accompanied by impairments in cognition by description. We also discuss neural mechanisms plausibly underlying procedural memory and also, by our hypothesis, cognition by description.


basal ganglia; cerebellum; cognition by description; knowledge by description; language evolution; procedural memory; theory of descriptions

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