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Address for correspondence: Elizabeth S. Spelke, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 1130 William James Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; e-mail:


Human cognition is founded, in part, on four systems for representing objects, actions, number, and space. It may be based, as well, on a fifth system for representing social partners. Each system has deep roots in human phylogeny and ontogeny, and it guides and shapes the mental lives of adults. Converging research on human infants, non-human primates, children and adults in diverse cultures can aid both understanding of these systems and attempts to overcome their limits.

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