Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target article

Précis of Beyond modularity: A developmental perspective on cognitive science

Annette Karmiloff-Smitha1

a1 Medical Research Council Cognitive Development Unit and University College London, London WC1H 0BT, United Kingdom Electronic mail:


Beyond modularity attempts a synthesis of Fodor's anticonstructivist nativism and Piaget's antinativist constructivism. Contra Fodor, I argue that: (1) the study of cognitive development is essential to cognitive science, (2) the module/central processing dichotomy is too rigid, and (3) the mind does not begin with prespecified modules; rather, development involves a gradual process of “modularization.” Contra Piaget, I argue that: (1) development rarely involves stagelike domain-general change and (2) domainspecific predispositions give development a small but significant kickstart by focusing the infant's attention on proprietary inputs. Development does not stop at efficient learning. A fundamental aspect of human development (“representational redescription”) is the hypothesized process by which information that is in a cognitive system becomes progressively explicit knowledge to that system. Development thus involves two complementary processes of progressive modularization and progressive “explicitation.” Empirical findings on the child as linguist, physicist, mathematician, psychologist, and notator are discussed in support of the theoretical framework. Each chapter concentrates first on the initial state of the infant mind/brain and on subsequent domain-specific learning in infancy and early childhood. It then goes on to explore data on older children's problem solving and theory building, with particular focus on evolving cognitive flexibility. Emphasis is placed throughout on the status of representations underlying different capacities and on the multiple levels at which knowledge is stored and accessible. Finally, consideration is given to the need for more formal developmental models, and a comparison is made between representational redescription and connectionist simulations of development. In conclusion, I consider what is special about human cognition by speculating on the status of representations underlying the structure of behavior in other species.