PhD ceremony: Mr. M. van Duijn, 14.30 uur, Aula Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen
Dissertation: The biocognitive spectrum. Biological cognition as variations on sensorimotor coordination
Promotor(s): prof. T.A.F. Kuipers
Van Duijn’s dissertation develops a new theory on biological cognition, or biocognition: The process by which motile organisms adaptively coordinate their sensors and effectors in order to optimize the external conditions for their metabolism. Contrary to most well-known theoretical approaches to cognition, which presume that brains are necessary for natural forms of cognition, Van Duijn shows that biocognition already applies to organisms without a brain or nervous system, such as bacteria.
Van Duijn discusses bacterial chemotaxis as a form of sensorimotor coordination that provides an example of minimal cognition, the most elementary form of biocognition. By detecting and moving along chemical gradients using a primitive, molecular form of memory, bacteria such as E. coli are able to find an optimal physico-chemical environment to sustain their metabolic functions. Another central claim in the thesis is that sensorimotor coordination is the cornerstone of the vast spectrum of biocognitive abilities that can be found throughout the phylogenetic tree, from bacterial chemotaxis to human cognition. That is, bacterial chemotaxis and human cognition are first and foremost biological regulatory mechanisms that are variations on the same theme that has been reinvented and expanded upon many times throughout evolution. Bacterial cognition and human cognition make-up two opposite ends of a vast biocognitive spectrum with sensorimotor coordination as its common currency. This theory of biocognition grounds the growing consensus that the phylogenetic and ontogenetic basis of natural cognition lies in sensorimotor coordination, and develops a biogenic approach to cognition that merges cognitive science with biology.
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