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Thread: To categorize is to determine reality

  1. #1 To categorize is to determine reality 
    Forum Ph.D.
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    To categorize is to determine reality

    It is standard practice to categorize things in accordance to what they have in common. We normally think of a category as being a container in which things that are essentially the same are contained. This represents our common folk theory of category and it is also our principal technical theory of category.

    These theories are not entirely incorrect but SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has shown this theory to be far too simple in its comprehension of this important aspect of human thought.

    SGCS has introduced a new theory of categorization; it is called prototype theory.

    There is perhaps no aspect of thought more important than that of how a creature categorizes kinds of things. The life of the tadpole and the banker is often at risk because the creature has failed to categorize properly. All creatures must at least distinguish eat from no eat and friend from enemy.

    Categorization is primarily automatic and unconscious. Humans categorize all things both concrete and abstract. A traditionally Western philosophical view of categorization was a priori and given little thought. But now, since the empirical studies of Eleanor Rosch, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in cognitive psychology, all domains of knowledge have begun a more serious study of this matter.

    Rosch argues that if all members of a category share the same common properties then none can be a better example of the category than any other. Secondly she argues that if categories are defined by the properties inherent in each member then categories must be independent of those who do the categorization.

    Rosch and others observed that empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that categories have best examples, i.e. they have prototypes. Furthermore human capacities play a role in categorization.

    “Prototype Theory, as it is evolving, is changing our idea of the most fundamental of human capacities—the capacity to categorize—and with it, our idea of what the human mind and human reason are like.”

    In this century philosophy and others have viewed reason as a mechanical manipulation of abstract symbols which are meaningless in them self. This has led the first generation of cognitive science to adopt the Artificial Intelligence mode of thinking; thinking that the mind emulates in some fashion the computer.

    Since we reason not only about individual things but also about generalizations and abstract ideas categorization is crucial to all aspects of reasoning. The accepted view of reason as being disembodied, i.e. not affected by bodies, comes with an implicit theory of categorization. “It is a version of the classical theory in which categories are represented by sets, which are in turn defined by the properties shared by their members.”

    Contemporary prototype theory challenges this classical view. Prototype theory hypothesizes that “human categorization is essentially a matter of both human experience and imagination—of perception, motor activity, and culture on one hand , and of metaphor, metonym, and mental imagery on the other…To change the very concept of a category is to change not only our concept of the mind , but also our understanding of the world.”

    Quotes from “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind” by George Lakoff

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