Functional Homology and Functional Variation in Evolutionary Cognitive Science

Biological Theory 5 (2):124-135 (2010)
Abstract
Most cognitive scientists nowadays tend to think that at least some of the mind’s capacities are the product of biological evolution, yet important conceptual problems remain for all of them in order to be able to speak coherently of mental or cognitive systems as having evolved naturally. Two of these important problems concern the articulation of adequate, interesting and empirically useful concepts of homology and variation as applied to cognitive systems. However, systems in cognitive science are usually understood as functional systems of some sort. Thus, talking about functional systems’ being homologous requires one’s having a solid, adequate and empirically articulated concept of functional homology—and the same is true of functional variation. Here I construct an original concept of functional homology that, in my view, adequately systematizes a number of the actual uses of the word ‘functional homology’ in a variety of biological disciplines and in ethology. I also propose a number of criteria for the empirical application of the concept that are analogous to the criteria that are actually used in comparative biology, ethology, and (possibly) molecular developmental genetics. Then I construct a concept of functional variation on the basis of this concept of homology.
Keywords Evolution of mind  Functional systems  Comparative psychology  Ethology
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