me in Lynne Valley 2015

Liane (Lee) Gabora

Full Professor

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

Phone: (250) 807-9849
Email: liane[dot]gabora[at]ubc[dot]ca

 Welcome to my homepage!


Liane Gabora is an interdisciplinary psychology professor 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. As a side-project with colleagues, she explores the metaphor between physical light and cognitive processes (creative spark, reflect on an idea, focus attention...) using multidisciplinary methods that include fiction and interactive technologies. She has almost 200 scholarly publications in diverse journals that span psychology (e.g., Psychonomic Bulletin & Review), cognitive science (e.g., Topics in 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 studies (e.g., Interdisciplinary Science Reviews), 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
  • Physical light as metaphor for inner light
  • 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?
  • How can we use the metaphor between physical light and inner light to visualize, and thereby better understand, the complex and sometimes elusive aspects of the human psyche?

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.

My fascination with physical light as a metaphor for cognition and the human psyche dates back to a Grade 11 Physics class in which the teacher (Mr. Webb) explained the processes of reflection and refraction. Ever since that day the topic has been my greatest passion but I did not see a life path in which it could be pursued. After decades of developing ideas on it as a hobby and reading everything I could find on physical light, 'spiritual light', the ubiquity of words that have a meaning that pertains to both light and cognition (flash of insight, light of my life, ray of hope...), etc., my research program has gradually encompassed this lifelong interest.

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. Current funding comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Previous funding comes from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Foundation for the Future, GRAND NCE, and The University of British Columbia.


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