Turning Intelligence on Its Head: Grounding Cognition in Biology, not Brains​

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    September 1, 2020 - August 31, 2023

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Priority:

    Diverse Intelligences

  • Region:


  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Monica Gagliano

Institution: Southern Cross University

Where are intelligences found in the natural world? Attempts to answer this deceptively simple question generally assume the presence of a brain. But new empirical evidence casts doubts on the validity of this brain-centered view. By focusing only on brainy organisms, such an approach leaves us with an inadequate account of what and where intelligences are.

This project challenges the notion that intelligence is restricted to the brain and neural systems. Through rigorous experiments, the team will investigate the basic conditions that generate learning and decision-making in brainless organisms. By adopting an approach that is biogenic—i.e., grounded firmly in the principles of biology—it seeks to develop new theories that bring clarity to debates in philosophy and science.

The project outputs will engage not only scholars in science and the humanities (e.g., through articles in high-impact journals and workshops on non-neural intelligences) but also the broader public. Through this work, the team hopes to ignite a public conversation that changes the way we think about intelligence.

Image credit: Jules Smith-Ferguson


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