What is cognition?

What is cognition?

When people meet at science conferences/meets we return back with more questions than the answers. At CUBE that happens every day. One such discussion that was brought up at the STEM workshop (16-18 Aug) between me and Arunan was - How do we define cognition?

Can the drosophila larvae moving towards food source (or other dead larvae) can be termed as cognition?


Cognition/Cognize is simply to be aware of something which was not known before.

Question is, is drosophila knowing by getting aware that it is food and going towards it?
or is it simply moving towards it as an innate tendency (instinct).

Similarly, is drosophila larvae eating dead larvae/adult fly knowing-fully well it is its same species (brother/sister/relative,etc)?
or does it eat it as an innate tendency (instinct).


Does it have to know?
Could it get infected by eating a dead fly that has died of infection?

If the larvae remain unaffected by infection killed adults, perhaps it has no reason to know.


But if larvae gets affected by infection (in case if it had eaten infected adult fly), will it still come to know about the infection?

I dont think larvae know why they got infection, if so they could investigate their own illnesses, and perhaps do science.

Point is to find out how much cognition larvae can have.


Or just avoid eating such morsels.

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True. there are experiments which can be done to infect flies, and later see if they avoid eating things which caused the infection at first place, inorder to know cognitive capabilities of flies.

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I believe this behavioral capacity is required for cognition. Not sufficient.

Should we define? Which cognition? Memory dependent or without involving memory? Which memory? Conscious cognition or any cognition? Higher order cognitive actions like telling a story or mathematical proof?

Instead of using one term for everything and try to define it, it is good to specify a phenomena and define that. Definitions help us to keep things specific.

Some times we try to define an all encompassing concept, and then we end up with a lot of confusion, since that is not the purpose of defining.

What I am trying to bring home is: let us not try to define broadly what cognition is? Let us think of a list of different cognitive phenomena and try to define them, so that we can have better experimental indicators for each of them.


How will you differentiate between cognition and behavioural science? Is there any difference?


@Rohan In general cognition is defined as the mechanisms that enable the acquisition, processing, storage and use of information such as - attention, learning, memory, decision making etc.! the underlying processes that determine the behavior of the animal.


@G_N Agreed!

In this special case of Drosophila larvae, we can not dismiss it as just instinct. The drosophila bottle is full of olfaction stimulating environment dead larvae, food, ecloding flies, adult flies, other competitor live larvae as well. Moving towards a particular direction would require decision making and internal representation of the surrounding environment.

How do you see this?

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Decision making requires more than one option. What other option does the larvae have?

Behavioral science will understand behavioral patterns, and underlying mechanisms behind it. For eg, behavioral genetics.

Cognition comes at a higher level where awareness also comes into play. Reasons why a particular behavior exists?
Processes involved in changes of behavior, how a particular behavior is embeded into memory.
How behaviors merge and get associated and create a new behavior, predicting abilities and so on higher mental processes which are causations for behavior.

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As I mentioned it’s not just simple single dead larvae in the Drosophila bottle. But various options like food source like the media, several other dead larvae/flies. And several other cues like other competing larvae! In that environment decision making is evident and possibly cognitive maps too!

Point is that something as simple as drosophila larvae could be a model to study cognition!


Indeed. That is much more comprehensive framework to hold on to.

Also to ponder over is if decision making also needs motility/action?

Are we sure that larvae of fruit fly really feeds on dead adult flies?
How to confirm this first?
What could be done to prove or disprove this?

I have an idea to disprove this we can perform an olfactory test with this dead flies as the odorant against distilled water if it gets attracted it is then just a chemotactic movement… What you say?
@Abhishek_Cube @jaikishan @Arunan @G_N @arun


@bivasnag whether it will identify the dead fly of its own specIes? Whether it will feed on its own species? This is more than just chemotaxis. How do organisms identify something as their own species and something as not their own?

How to verify this? How to prove that larvae is feeding on dead fly?

@Lydia did you find anything interesting about this last day. Why dont you share how can we show larvae is feeding on fly?

@jaikishan that’s what I said we need to find out that whether it is chemotaxis or not we need to check it first that we can do it with ori( OLFACTORY assay)

@bivasnag not ORI. what will be design of an experiment, if one has to find if drosophila larvae consumes adult flies or not?