Knowledge and culture


In various domains of cognitive science ? psychology, mathematics, cognitive neuroscience, linguistics, music cognition, and biology ? a new paradigm is being developed that will profoundly affect research in the humanities. This emergent view holds that humans and non-human animals are born with core knowledge systems: a small set of hard-wired cognitive abilities that are task-specific, language-independent, and non-species-specific. These innate cognitive skills have the capacity for building mental representations of objects, persons, spatial relationships, numerosity, and social interaction. In addition to core knowledge systems, humans possess species-specific, uniquely human, cognitive abilities such as language and music. Spelke (2003) has suggested that the language faculty allows core knowledge systems to expand their limits, laying the foundation for the development of more complex cognitive abilities through experience.

This view on human cognitive abilities throws a new light on problems that were long thought to exclusively belong to the realm of the humanities. Indeed, morality, mathematics, geometry, music, navigation, reasoning, and language are traditionally viewed as cultural achievements. The study of their development and variation is seen as part of the humanities and the social sciences. Hitherto, the humanities have mainly studied these human properties as unbounded properties of culture and nurture, not as the result of the interaction between core knowledge systems and language.

The ?core knowledge? paradigm challenges scholars in the humanities to ask the question which parts of culture belong to nature, and how nurture and culture build on nature. In this research program, four domains of the humanities will be investigated from the point of view of core knowledge: music cognition; language and the core knowledge of number; visual arts and geometry; and poetry, rhythm, and meter.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. J.E.C.V. Rooryck

Affiliated with

Stichting LingOA

Team members

Prof. dr. L.C.J. Barbiers, Dr. E.G. Bylinina, Prof. dr. ir. M.J.F. Delbeke, Drs. S.J. Feenstra, Prof. dr. H.J. Honing, Drs. M.L. Lau, Prof. dr. M. van Oostendorp, Dr. M.P. Roncaglia-Denissen, Prof. dr. J.E.C.V. Rooryck


01/05/2013 to 31/01/2019