Monday, October 22, 2007

Shared Symbolic Storages

The last kind of category discussed in Pierre Poirier, Benoit Hardy-Vallée, and Jean-Frédéric Despasquale’s (2005) article about “Embodied Categorization” are ‘linguistic categorizers.’

Poirier et al. call linguistic categories ‘concepts’, that is, first and foremost public objects whose usage is controlled by the linguistic community. Seen this way, the generally established system of concepts is the shared symbolic storage of a community. Jerry Fodor (1998) has a similar notion of concepts, stating that one requirement (Nr. 5 of 5, to be precise) for concepts is that they be
“public; they’re the sorts of things that lots of people can, and do, share” (p. 28).
Fodor’s other requirements for concepts are that they:
  1. are states of the mind/brain that function as mental effects or causes.
  2. that they are categories, that is that they function as mental operations “by which the brain classifies objects and events” (Cohen/Lefebvre 2005: 2).
  3. that they are compositional, that is that they, one the one hand, consist of constituents (of other, hierarchically intertwined, ‘lower’ concepts), and, on the other hand, that they are the constituents of what Fodor calls ‘thoughts’(i.e. his “cover term for the mental representations which […] express the propositions that are the objects of propositional attitudes.” (p. 25) As if that would make anything clearer, since ‘proposition’ and ‘propositional attitude’ are terms that are just as controversial)
  4. that a lot of them are learned. (Jesse Prinz (2005) even argues that all concepts are learned, a hypothesis Fodor definitely wouldn’t like. And of course, Prinz’s definition of concepts is different, too.)
Hurford (2007) further differentiates between ‘proto-concepts’, ‘pre-linguistic concepts’ and ‘linguistic concepts’ in order to account for neuropsychological (Barsalou 2005a) and ethological evidence (Cheney & Seyfarth 2007) for mental and conceptual representations in other animals (= ‘proto-concepts’ and in higher mammals probably (and definitely so in our ancestors) even ‘pre-linguistic concepts’). Thus, the shared/public-requirement of Fodor (1998) only holds for linguistic concepts.

Concepts and Categories
Regarding the difference between concepts and categories: concepts can be said to represent categories, e.g. when we encounter a member of the category DOG, the DOG concept is activated (Prinz 2005), or, in Barsalou’s (2005) terms, a category corresponds to a component of experience, whereas the conceptual system consists of the collected representations of these categories.
Thus, on seeing a dog, the human conceptual system construes this perception as a category instance of DOG by binding the specific perceived token (i.e. the individual dog) “to knowledge for general types of things in memory (i.e., concepts)” (p. 581).
Poirer et al. argue that linguistic categorizers are "farthest removed from their basic sensorimotor counterparts” (p. 761),although, as argued by Lakoff and Johnson (1980,1999), they still seem to be heavily influenced by embodied experience.

Linguistic Categories and Language Acquisition

Poirier et al. make an interesting analogy between the embodiment perspective they adopt throughout their paper and language acquisition. A child can be seen as simulating the arbitrary word-category/siginfiant-signifié contingencies she is presented with through her linguistic environment, forming “internal models of her community’s lexicalized categories”(p. 761) which enables her to communicate with others. Evidence for the importance of linguistic/lexicalized categorization comes from the fact that words help us to acquire new categories, “that category labels play a role in the formation and shaping of concepts” (Lupyan 2006) and that they
“play an especially important role in shaping representations of entities whose perceptual features alone are insufficient for reliable classification.” (Luypan 2005).

To conclude, it seems that all forms of categorizations may in some way be present in human cognition, and that many of the feats that make us ‘uniquely human’ are augmented by sophisticated forms of categorization which can best be described from the perspective of embodied evolutionary-developmental computational cognitive neuroscience.

Next week I will try to discuss the implications of computational/AI/robotics research, as presented by Poirier et al, for the study of human cognition and behavior.

Barsalou, Lawrence W. 2005. “Continuity of the conceptual system across species.” Trends. Cog. Sc. 9.7: 309-311.

Cheney, Dorothy L. and Robert M. Seyfarth. 2007. Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cohen, Henri and Claire Lefebvre. 2005 “Bridging the Category Divide.” Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Eds. Henri Cohen and Claire Lefebvre. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 1-15.

Fodor, Jerry A. 1998. Concepts. Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong. Oxford Congitive Science Series. Oxford: Clarendon.

Hurford, James R. The Origins of Meaning: Language in the Light of Evolution 1. Oxford OUP.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Book

Lupyan, Gary. 2005. “Carving Nature at its Joints and Carving Joints into Nature: How Labels Augment Category Representations.” Modelling Language, Cognition and Action: Proceedings of the 9th Neural Computation and Psychology Workshop. Eds. A. Cangelosi, G. Bugmann & R. Borisyuk Singapore: World Scientific. 87-96

Lupyan, Gary. 2006. “Labels Facilitate Learning of Novel Categories.” The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 6th International Conference. Eds. A. Cangelosi, A.D.M. Smith & K.R. Smith Singapore: World Scientific,190-197

Poirier, Pierre, Benoit Hardy-Vallée and Jean-Frédéric Depasquale. 2005. “Embodied Categorization.” Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Eds. Henri Cohen and Claire Lefebvre. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Prinz, Jesse. 2005. "The Return of Concept Empirism." Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Eds. Henri Cohen and Claire Lefebvre. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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