Neural reuse: A fundamental organizational principle of the brain

Michael L. Anderson
2010 Behavioral and Brain Sciences  
An emerging class of theories concerning the functional structure of the brain takes the reuse of neural circuitry for various cognitive purposes to be a central organizational principle. According to these theories, it is quite common for neural circuits established for one purpose to be exapted (exploited, recycled, redeployed) during evolution or normal development, and be put to different uses, often without losing their original functions. Neural reuse theories thus differ from the usual
more » ... derstanding of the role of neural plasticity (which is, after all, a kind of reuse) in brain organization along the following lines: According to neural reuse, circuits can continue to acquire new uses after an initial or original function is established; the acquisition of new uses need not involve unusual circumstances such as injury or loss of established function; and the acquisition of a new use need not involve (much) local change to circuit structure (e.g., it might involve only the establishment of functional connections to new neural partners). Thus, neural reuse theories offer a distinct perspective on several topics of general interest, such as: the evolution and development of the brain, including (for instance) the evolutionary-developmental pathway supporting primate tool use and human language; the degree of modularity in brain organization; the degree of localization of cognitive function; and the cortical parcellation problem and the prospects (and proper methods to employ) for function to structure mapping. The idea also has some practical implications in the areas of rehabilitative medicine and machine interface design. Although an organ may not have been originally formed for some special purpose, if it now serves for this end we are justified in saying that it is specially contrived for it. On the same principle, if a man were to make a machine for some special purpose, but were to use old wheels, springs, and pulleys, only slightly altered, the whole machine, with all its parts, might be said to be specially contrived for that purpose. Thus throughout nature almost every part of each living being has probably served, in a slightly modified condition, for diverse purposes, and has acted in the living machinery of many ancient and distinct specific forms. Abstract: Presenting evidence from the social brain, we argue that neural reuse is a dynamic, socially organized process that is influenced ontogenetically and evolutionarily by the cultural transmission of Commentary/Anderson: Neural reuse: A fundamental organizational principle of the brain Abstract: The posterior cortex, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex in the Leabra architecture are specialized in terms of various neural parameters, and thus are predilections for learning and processing, but domain-general in terms of cognitive functions such as face recognition. Also, these areas are not encapsulated and violate Fodorian criteria for modularity. Anderson's terminology obscures these important points, but we applaud his overall message.
doi:10.1017/s0140525x10000853 pmid:20964882 fatcat:y7oh5ex7trgznd536qkje7quji