Cognitive biology 2-IKV-191

This course provides a comprehensive overview of principles of cognition, seen as a natural biological phenomenon. The main objective is the formulation of substantiated interrelation of cognition and evolution. The interdisciplinarity of research in cognitive biology requires students to think multi-disciplinary and on multiple scales.


The first lecture will be held on Wednesady, Feb 21, 2018 from 16:30 to 19:00 (exact time to be detemined). See more details in the schedule below.

Study materials

  • other research papers

The scientific concept of cognitive biology draws from the assumption that cognition is a natural biological phenomenon and can thus be approached by comparative studies of different types of organisms assuming a meaningful degree of continuity among them. The main objective is the formulation of substantiated interrelation of cognition and evolution. By understanding the underlying physicochemical and electrical principles of cognitive processes, cell-cell communication, and molecular mechanisms, the basics of homologous processes in increasingly complex systems (from simple model systems to humans and their socio-physical environment) can be tackled.

Cognitive Biology: Wikipedia Reference


Isabella Sarto-Jackson, isabella.sarto-jackson{@}


Session type Study group Day of week Time Room
Lectures 1IKV, 2IKV, ... Wednesday 16:30 to be announced
Seminar / Discussion round 1IKV, 2IKV, ... 18:00 to be announced

Assessment and evaluation

You can earn points in the assessment activities spread throughout the semester listed in the following table. The table also shows the required minima and possible maximal point evaluations.

Activity Possible maximum Required minimum
Teaching period 1st assignment 25 10
2nd assignment 25 10
3rd assignment 25 10
Evaluation period Active involvement during course / discussion 25 20
Course total 100 50

The final mark will be awarded according to the following table:

Course evaluation
Points earned Mark
〈90, 100〉 A
〈80, 90) B
〈70, 60) C
〈60, 70) D
〈50, 60) E
〈0, 50) FX

Course Outline

1. A Brief History of Cognitive Biology: 
Goodwin, Piaget, Kuhn, Riedl, Kovac, Lyon, Keijzer, Godfrey-Smith

2. The Underlying Principles of Cognitive Biology:
 Kovac´s Fundamental Principles; Physicochemical Groundwork (Self-Organization; Thermodynamics vs. Kinetics)

3. The Basal Level of Cognition I: 
Molecular Mechanisms: From Signaling in Single Cell Organisms to Action Potential

4. The Basal Level of Cognition II: 
Concept of Information; Biosemiotics; Chemotons & Autocatalytic Sets

5. The Medial Level of Cognition: 
Cellular Communication, Neural Networks; Network Information Processing

6. The Apical Level of Cognition I: 
Organismal Behavior (Action [Doing/Knowing], Decision Making); “Rationality”; Goal-directedness

7. The Apical Level of Cognition II
: Emotions; Mechanisms for Learning & Memory; Associative Learning Paradigm; Brain Modularity; Onticity

8. The Ontic Level of Cognition: Developmental Processes I: 
Developmental Genetics; Gene Regulatory Networks; Epigenetic Landscape; Principles of Homology/Analogy; Convergent Evolution

9. The Ontic Level of Cognition: Developmental Processes II: 
Generative Entrenchment & Ratchet Effects; Developmental Constraints; Hierarchical Processing

10. The Supra-Individual Level of Cognition I: 
From Eliminative Reductionism to Organicism; Evolutionary Epistemology; Teleonomy / Teleology

11. The Supra-Individual Level of Cognition II
: Social Cognition: Beyond the Nature-Nurture Divide; Cultural Evolution; 
Environmental Complexity; Umwelt; Niche Construction

12. The Supra-Individual Level of Cognition III
: Evolution of Complex Systems; The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis; Major Transitions in Evolution

13. Resumé & Outlook