Foundations Of Cognitive Science


In a typical instructionist theory, it is assumed that the mind or brain is a blank slate, and that the structure placed there is a consequence of experience.  Selectionism is a radical alternative to this view.  It is the theory, inspired by Jerne’s (1967) analogy with the immune system, that all required structure is already innately available in the brain.  Rather than being “written” by the environment, the environment chooses the existing structure that it needs, making this structure more available in the brain.  This theory is important to cognitive science because it offers a radical alternative to standard theories of learning (Piattelli-Palmarini, 1989), and can lead to artificial neural networks that quickly adapt to the requirements of an environment (Lowry & Dawson, 2005).


  1. Jerne, N. K. (1967). Antibodies and learning: Selection versus instruction. In G. C. Quarton, T. Melnechuk & F. O. Schmitt (Eds.), The neurosciences: A study program (pp. 200-208). New York: Rockefeller University Press.
  2. Lowry, R. B. T., & Dawson, M. R. W. (2005). Connectionist selectionism: A case study of parity. Neural Information Processing -- Letters and Reviews, 9, 59-67.
  3. Piattelli-Palmarini, M. (1989). Evolution, selection and cognition: From "learning" to parameter setting in biology and in the study of language. Cognition, 31, 1-44..

(Added October 2009)