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The basic disciplines of cognitive science. Loosely based on Miller, George A (2003). "The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective". TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 7.

Cognition (from Greekγνῶσις gnōsis "knowledge", via Latincognoscere "(to) recognise, (to) experience, to come to know") is, according to conventional definition, "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses".[1] In terms of information theory, however, it is now understood in the broadest sense as the processing of information carried out by a suitable, sufficiently complex system that controls its behaviour, irrespective of whether or not consciousness is associated with it. Such cognitive systems can also be realised purely technically within wide limits, from simple centrifugal governors to highly complex, computer-controlled automata.

This area also includes, in particular, attempts to mechanically reproduce human intelligence, but also emotions and volitional drives, through artificial intelligence. Cognitive science, which is interdisciplinary between philosophy, psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, anthropology and computer science or artificial intelligence, basically assumes that the human brain also functions like a computer in principle and that all mental and psychological activity is ultimately based on computational processes - a thesis that is vigorously disputed by scientists such as John Searle (* 1932) or Roger Penrose (* 1931). Even Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) advocated an early version of this computationalism, according to which the rational mind of man is based exclusively on computational processes: "Ratiocination therefore is the same with Addition and Substraction..."[2] The possibility that human intelligence could be automated or mechanically reproduced had already been considered by Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) in his major work L'Homme Machine, published anonymously in 1748.

All living beings have at least elementary cognitive abilities through which they adapt their behaviour to changing external living conditions. In plants, these cognitive processes run unconsciously or sleep-consciously. In animals, on the other hand, they are partly accompanied by a dream-like, but in lower animals only very dull consciousness.

The higher cognitive abilities of humans are based to a large extent on mental, i.e. conscious, processes and include, in the broadest sense, perception, discrimination, attention, introspection (self-observation), memory, imagination, (body-bound) thinking and learning - i.e. approximately those abilities that Leibniz had summarised under the term apperception[3][4]. However, there are many cognitive processes that also take place completely or largely unconsciously in humans, such as implicit learning. They form the necessary basis of conscious processes.

A finer division distinguishes sensation and perception from the actual cognitive faculties in the narrower sense, which concern knowledge and memory, and the cogitative faculties (from Latincogitare "to think, to ponder, to be deliberate", from co- "with, together" and agitare "to move violently, to direct, to drive, to hunt, to rush, to plan, to ponder, to consider"), which include imagination, belief and thinking.[5]

Fundamentally, the concept of cognition does not include that intuitive thinking that is free of the body, not directly bound to the physical brain, beyond the subject-object split, in which the essence of the world itself expresses itself directly, as Rudolf Steiner already described it in his fundamental philosophical works[6][7][8][9][10].

„You see, it is an extraordinarily meaningful experience that one has when one has come so far as to grasp thinking in its bodiless state and to compare it with what thinking is like when it is bound to the brain as the ordinary thinking of life. One then sees the difference between man and the animal with regard to thinking. Much has been fabulated about this difference between man and animal, especially much has been fabulated by modern science. But we can only recognise what this difference is by making the kind of comparison I have just indicated.

And if one asks oneself: Yes, what is the origin of ordinary thinking in contrast to bodiless thinking, which is directly connected with the soul being of man, in that it runs only in the spiritual-mental, what is ordinary thinking - one can now ask - from the point of view of this bodiless thinking? This ordinary thinking is absolutely bound to the brain. There must be something of organic organisation through which this ordinary thinking runs. Bodiless thinking, which is acquired through meditation, does not need this nervous tool. Ordinary thinking needs this nervous tool. Man has this nervous tool only because his organisation is not pushed so far as in animals. The animal, so to speak, advances with its animal organisation to a certain point, hardens itself to a certain point. Man does not go so far in the hardening, in the ossification into sclerotisation of the soul-life at the beginning of life as animals do at the beginning of life. But during life man develops this hardening. For that which expresses itself in the hardening of the organism in that the second teeth appear as pure products of hardening, continues in ordinary everyday thinking; only they do not become teeth, they become much milder inserts, I would say, into the organism, which in turn dissolve. But this thinking, this ordinary thinking, consists precisely in the fact that man, in the continuous process, is continually killing that which arises in him, growing, sprouting life. This is revealed in the fact that in us the thought, which has earlier reality than the teeth, shoots out of the organism as dead parts and that this shooting into sclerotisation, ossification, dissolves again. Thinking consists precisely in this, that in relation to our head system, our nerve-sense system, we continually carry death within us.“ (Lit.:GA 334, p. 259f)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.



  1. Cognition. Oxford University Press and Abgerufen am 24 may 2022.
  2. Thomas Hobbes: Elements of Philosophy, The First Section, Concerning Body, anonymous English translation of De Corpore, p. 3 html,
  3. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Monadologie, verfasst 1714, dt. 1720, LS 14
  4. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Neue Abhandlungen über den menschlichen Verstand, vermutlich 1707, Buch II: Von den Ideen, Kap. 1 f
  5. Maxwell R. Bennett, Peter M. Hacker: Die philosophischen Grundlagen der Neurowissenschaften
  6. Rudolf Steiner: Einleitungen zu Goethes Naturwissenschaftlichen Schriften, GA 1 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-0011-0 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  7. Rudolf Steiner: Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung, GA 2 (2002), ISBN 3-7274-0020-X; English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  8. Rudolf Steiner: Wahrheit und Wissenschaft, GA 3 (1980), ISBN 3-7274-0030-7 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  9. Rudolf Steiner: Die Philosophie der Freiheit, GA 4 (1995), ISBN 3-7274-0040-4 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub
  10. Rudolf Steiner: Dokumente zur «Philosophie der Freiheit», GA 4a, ISBN 3-7274-0045-5 English: German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub