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In his research on the issue of belief formation Daniel Gilbert (1991. How Mental Systems Believe) claimed that cognition "is an evolutionary outgrowth of [perception]." What he meant is that the cognitive system processes propositional information the same (or similar) way the perceptual system processes visual images. I assume his claim implies that, apart from some of its components, the cognitive system of comprehension of communicative stimuli (utterances) uses the same subsystems of the brain which are used by the perceptual system to comprehend visual stimuli.

If my interpretation is correct, from the evolutionary point of view comprehension of the above-mentioned types of information is embodied in the same neural structures. Given that visual perception precedes perception of language, we can plausibly conclude that there is a neural structure in the brain which had evolved to process perceptual stimuli which later also begun to function as a system of processing of verbal stimuli.

Regardless of the correctness of this view, I wonder if there are any examples of the systems of an organism which were evolutionarily formed to perform some specific type of tasks and subsequently acquired an ability to perform another type of tasks? Could anyone advise on some literature related to this topic?

P.S. I hope it is clear that I don't mean the sort of acquisition of new functions which can be attributed to our motor system, which was formed to perform such functions as walking, running, grabbing, throwing, etc., and now is used to play musical instruments or paint pictures :)

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Converting my comment to an answer because apparently it was what OP wanted.

The technical term for this is a spandrel, a term borrowed from architecture in a classic paper by Stephen Jay Gould.

There is considerable debate about what organismal features exactly might serve as spandrels, which is difficult to decide due to the issues with the fossil record. Examples cited in the wiki page might include the human chin, or language. However if we consider exaptations more broadly (another possible term that includes spandrels), there is potentially a very wide set of traits that might be considered spandrels.

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  • $\begingroup$ The answer indeed helped me a lot, although the question touched a little bit different aspect of the issue. What is really useful in the approach of Stephen Gould is his critique of what he called adaptationism, which claims that every trait of an organism has some adaptive features. My hypothesis, based on the Gilbert’s account of belief formation, is that some traits are not adoptive, but are emergent characteristics of systems of organisms which really are adoptive. Recently, I have read a similar point made by Jonathan Heidt regarding reasoning and moral judgement (see the next comment). $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 8, 2022 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ “Most propose that the building blocks of human morality are emotional [...] and that some early forms of these building blocks were already in place before the hominid line split off from that of Pan 5 to 7 million years ago. Language and the ability to engage in conscious moral reasoning came much later, [...] so it is implausible that the neural mechanisms that control human judgment and behavior were suddenly rewired to hand control of the organism over to this new deliberative faculty.” (Heidt, J. (2007) The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology. Science 316. P. 998) $\endgroup$
    – David
    Nov 8, 2022 at 6:35

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