me in Lynne Valley 2015

Liane (or Lee) Gabora

Full Professor

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus), CANADA

Research Affiliate at:

 Welcome to my homepage!


Liane Gabora is an interdisciplinary cognitive scientist at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on how culture evolves, how the creative process works (with an emphasis on concept combination and cross-domain thinking), and how it fuels the evolution of culture, as well as more generally, the different ways in which evolutionary processes could--and do--work. Her Ph.D. thesis was the first publication to introduce a quantum formalism for modeling the contextual nature of concept interactions, and she is the first author (with her Ph.D. supervisor, Diederik Aerts) of the first paper on this topic. She was the first to develop a computational model of cumulative cultural evolution, to develop an autocatalytic framework to explain the integrated nature of human cognition, and to explain creative insight at the level of neural cell assemblies. Over the last two decades, further developments of these ideas, both theoretical and empirical, has led to the Self-Other Reorganization (SOR) theory of cultural evolution, and a theory of creativity--honing theory--that synthesizes research on complex systems, associative memory, and formal models of concept combination. She has over 200 scholarly publications in diverse journals that span psychology (e.g., Psychonomic Bulletin & Review), cognitive science (e.g., Cognitive Science), biology (e.g., Journal of Theoretical Biology), computer science (e.g., Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence), physics (e.g., Foundations of Physics), mathematics (e.g., Journal of Mathematical Psychology), anthroplogy (e.g., Current Anthropology), archaeology (e.g., World Archaeology), and interdisciplinary reserach (e.g., Journal of the Royal Society Interface), as well as literary journals (e.g., Fiction). She has given lectures worldwide. She is a published fiction writer, and composes music. She is writing a nonfiction book titled Dawn of the Creative Mind and will eventually return to a novel titled Quilandria.


(For details see my Research Page.)

General Areas

Specific Questions

  • Evolution of human cognition
  • Creativity
  • Comparative study of evolutionary processes: biological and cultural
  • Under what conditions can something evolve? In what sense does culture evolve?
  • How did the human mind become capable of evolving culture? How did it become so creative?
  • How does the creative process work?

The overarching goal of my research has been to develop a coherent theory of the process by which culture evolves. I aim to bring forward a theoretical framework for cultural evolution that is as sound as our theoretical framework for biological evolution, and apply it to the tasks of reconstructing our past, exploring possible futures, and furthering human wellbeing. A major component of this interdisciplinary enterprise involves explicating the mechanisms underlying creativity and how the complexity and creativity of the human mind came about. The methods used by my students and I to gain insight into cultural evolution and the creative process include mathematical and computational modelling, as well as human experiments.

The undergraduate experiences that I am most grateful for are a course on the psychology of creativity, a professor's suggestion that I read Flatland, The Tao of Physics, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and another professor's acceptance of my proposal that I develop a computer model of the rabbit circulatory system in place of the mandatory dissection. Back in the 80s it would have been so easy for him to dismiss this request as looney or squeamish but he took it seriously, and gave me an A, and this changed the course of my life. Finally, the influence of my Ph.D. supervisor, Diederik Aerts, permeates almost everything of a remotely academic nature that I have ever done.

Current, past and upcoming research projects are outlined in more detail here.


This research has recieved over one million dollars in funding. Funding has come from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC),the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Foundation for the Future, GRAND NCE, The University of British Columbia, Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) of Flanders, Belgium, and a private gift from Susan and Jacques Leblanc, coordinated by the UBC Okanagan Development and Alumni Engagement Office.


I was awarded the 2011 Berlyne Award for outstanding research by a junior scholar from the American Psychological Association, Division 10.

Curriculum Vitae

Intellectual Lineage

Here is something cool. This website shows the 'intellectual genealogy' of each person who has earned a PhD in mathematics or a related discipline, showing who their doctoral advisor was, and his/her doctoral advisor, and so forth. My intellectual lineage includes Bohr, de Broglie, Poincare, Poisson, Euler, Newton, and Galileo! (Some of these people had two co-advisors so there are multiple branches.)


Representative Publications

Complete List of Publications (most with URLs)

Journal Articles

Book Chapters

Papers in Conference Proceedings