Review: Women, Fire and Dangerous Things

from (if not by) David Hopwood

Cognitive science is a new field that brings together what is known about the mind from many academic disciplines: psychology, linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, and computer science. It seeks detailed answers to such questions as: What is reason? How do we make sense of our experience? What is a conceptual system and how is it organized? Do all people use the same conceptual system? If so, what is that system? If not, exactly what is there that is common to the way all human beings think? The questions aren't new, but some recent answers are. "This book is about the traditional answers to these questions and about recent research which suggests new answers. [...] "Both views take categorization as the main way we make sense of experience. Categories on the traditional view are characterized solely by the properties shared by their members. That is, they are characterized (a) independently of the bodily nature of the beings doing the categorizing, and (b) literally, with no imaginative mechanisms (metaphor, metonymy, and imagery) entering into the nature of categories. In the new view, out bodily experience and the way we use imaginative mechanisms are central to how we construct categories to make sense of experience.

Reading Notes

ICM stands for idealised cognitive model, and is a representation for a context, of which a stereotype occupies the center.

p 5

The title of the book was inspired by the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal, which has a category, balan, that actually includes women, fire, and dangerous things. It also includes birds that are not dangerous, as well as exceptional animals, such as the platypus, bandicoot, and echidna.

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Here is a brief version of the Dyirbal classification of objects in the universe, as described by R. M. W. Dixon (1982):
  1. Bayi: men, kangaroos, opossums, bats, most snakes, most fishes, some birds, most insects, the moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, some spears, etc.
  2. Balan: women, bandicoots, dogs, platypus, echidna, some snakes, some fishes, most birds, fireflies, scorpions, crickets, the hairy mary grub, anything connected with the fire or water, sun and stars, shields, some spears, some trees, etc.
  3. Balam: all edible fruit and the plants that bear them, tubers, ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine, cake
  4. Bala: parts of the body, meat, bees, wind, yamsticks, some spears, most trees, grass, mud, stones, noises and language, etc.

p 11

In concluding that categorization is not classical, the book simply suggests that the PC (Predicate Calculus) view of scientific rigor is itself not scientifically valid.

p 16

The first major crack in the classical theory is generally acknowledged to have been noticed by Wittgenstein (1953, 1:66-71).

Wittgenstein pointed out that a category like game does not fit the classical mold, since there are no common properties shared by all games.

p 39

It was Eleanor Rosch who first provided a general perspective on all these problems. She developed what has since come to be called "the theory of prototypes and basic-level categories," or "prototype theory."

[page non recorded]

Borges attributes the following taxonomy of the animal kingdom to an ancient Chinese encyclopedia entitled the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.

On these remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble from a distance. (Borges 1966, p. 108)

p 63

Consider the nouns toe, breath, way, and time, as they occur in the expressions: ...within these expressions, toe is nounier than breath, which is nounier than way, which is nounier than time. Ross (1981) gives the syntactic environments that demonstrate the hierarchy:
Modification by a passive participle
A stubbed toe can be very painful
I held my breath and she hers
Betty and Sue held their breaths
Harry lost his way, but found it again

p 74

The models in the cluster are:

p 85

Most metonymic models are, in fact, not models of categories; they are models of individuals.

p 86

Stereotypes are used in certain situations to define expectations, make judgments, and draw inferences. Thus, for example, if all one knew about someone was that he was a bachelor, one might be surprised to find that he loves housework and does it well, likes to care for children, etc. Thus, even though the bachelor ICM is defined within the classical theory and has clear boundaries in situations that conform to the background assumptions, prototype effects may still occur internal to the category boundaries, because of the presence of a social stereotype. [see myths: Tournier, Barthes]

p 90

The following is a typical example of the kind Tversky and Kahneman used. One group of subjects was asked to rate the probability of:
A massive flood somewhere in North America in 1983, in which more than 1000 people drown.
A second group was asked to rate the probability of
An earthquake in California sometimes in 1983, causing a flood in which more than 1000 drown.
The estimates of the conjunction of earthquake and flood were considerably higher than the estimates of the flood.

A cognitive model may function to allow a salient example to stand metonymically for a whole category.

p 113

The fact that extensions from the center of categories are neither predictable nor arbitrary, but instead are motivated, demonstrates the ecological character of the human mind. I am using the term "ecological" in the sense of a system with an overall structure, where effects cannot be localized -that is, where something in one part of the system affects things elsewhere in the system. Motivation depends on overall characteristics of the conceptual system, not just local characteristics of the category at hand.

p 157

Philosophy matters. It matters more than most people realize, because philosophical ideas that have developed over the centuries enter our culture in the form of a world view and affect us in thousands of ways. Philosophy matters in the academic world because the conceptual framework upon which entire academic disciplines rest usually have roots in philosophy -roots so deep and invisible that they are usually not even noticed. This is certainly true in my own field, linguistics, where the classical theory of categories and certain attendant philosophical assumptions have been taken so much for granted that alternative assumptions seem unthinkable. One of my purposes is to show that the classical theory of categories is inadequate for the study of natural language as well as other aspects of the mind and that new philosophical assumptions are required in order to make sense of linguistic phenomena and other aspects of cognition.

p 163

The basic doctrines:
Objectivist cognition:
Thought is the manipulation of abstract symbols. Symbols get their meaning via correspondences to entities and categories in the world. In this way, the mind can represent external reality and be said to "mirror nature".
Objectivist concepts:
Concepts are symbols that (a) stand in relation to other concepts in a conceptual system and (b) stand in correspondence to entities and categories in the real world (or possible worlds). [see Hofstadter: emergent concepts]

p 176

Scientific objectivism doesn't claim to be a general approach to the study of language, meaningful thought, and human reason.

It makes claims only for the "hard" sciences.

p 177 The Mathematization of Objectivist Semantics

The goal is to construct mathematical models that correspond one-to-one with any given objectivist universe.
Let objects be represented by abstract entities of any kind
Properties of Objects:
In a given state of affairs, every property will be in one-to-one correspondence with the set of objects having that property. Let that set of objects correspond to the property.
Relations among Objects:
For any n-place relation, there will be a set of n-tuples (e.g., pairs, triples) of objects standing in that relation. Let the set of n-tuples correspond to that relation.

p 184

There is a major folk theory in our society according to which being objective is being fair, and human judgment is subject to error or likely to be biased.

p 188

According to this concept, then, the members of a species constitute (1) a reproductive community. The individuals of a species of animals respond to one another as potential mates and seek one another for the purpose of reproduction.... The species is also (2) an ecological unit that, regardless of the individuals composing it, interacts as a unit with other species with which it shares the environment. The species, finally, is (3) a genetic unit consisting of a large intercommunicating gene pool, whereas an individual is merely a temporary vessel holding a small portion of the contents of the gene pool for a short period of time. The species definition that results from this theoretical species concept is: Species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups. (Mayr 1984a, p 533)

p 215

Thus, trees, for example, are climb-up-able. Gibson speaks of such opportunities as affordances. Gibson's environment is, thus, close in some respects to what we have called the world-as-experienced.

p 254 Where Model Theory Goes Wrong

[Putnam explains that the problem] has to do with viewing a language as separate from its interpretation, as is done in standard formalist mathematics.

Putnam's insight is that this very separation of the "language" from its interpretation -that is, making syntax independent of semantics- makes it in principle impossible to characterize meaning adequately.

p 260

Thus, Putnam concludes, there cannot be such a thing as "exactly one true and complete description of 'the way the world is'" -that is, there can be no God's eye view of reality. The crucial words here are "description" and "view". They presuppose an external perspective: a symbol system external to reality, related to reality by a reference relation that gives meaning to the symbols. Putnam is not saying that there is no reality. And he is not saying that there is no "way the world is". He is not denying basic realism. He is only denying a certain epistemology.

What is possible is knowledge of an other kind: knowledge from a particular point of view, knowledge which includes the awareness that it is from a particular point of view, and knowledge which grants that other points of view can be legitimate.

p 262

Putnam, being a realist, does not deny that objects exist.

But [they] may be viewed correctly in many ways.

p 263

Internalism does not deny that there are experiential inputs to knowledge; knowledge is not a story with no constraints except internal coherence; but it does deny that there are any inputs which not themselves to some extend shaped by our concepts.

p 278

Schemas that structure our bodily experience preconceptually have a basic logic. Preconceptual structural correlations in experience motivate metaphors that map that logic onto abstract domains. Thus, what has been called abstract reason has a bodily basis in our everyday physical functioning.

p 280

Consider the concept of a MAN. It comes with a rich mental image, characterizing overall shape. But that mental image also comes with a schematic structure. The image of the man is structured as having an UP-DOWN organization; it is structured as a container having an INSIDE and an OUTSIDE; it is also structured as WHOLE with PARTS; and so on. In general, rich mental images are structured by image-schemas, but they are not exhaustively structured by them.

p 282-283 The Structure of Cognitive Models

The basic idea is this: Recall for a moment some of the kinds of image-schemas that we have discussed: schemas for CONTAINER, SOURCE-PATH-GOAL, LINK, PART-WHOLE, CENTER-PERIPHERY, UP-DOWN, FRONT-BACK. These schemas structure our experience of space. What I will be claiming is that the same schemas structure concepts themselves.

p 284 The Structure of ICMs

We previously described ICMs as falling into five basic types: (a) image-schematic; (b) propositional; (c) metaphoric; (d) metonymic; (e) symbolic. We have already described image schemas. Let us now turn to the propositional ICM. I will describe several common types: (a) the proposition; (b) the scenario; (c) the feature bundle; (d) the taxonomy; (e) the radial category.

p 294 Truth

We understand a statement as being true in a given situation if our understanding of the statement fits our understanding of the situation closely enough for our purposes.

p 295

Ways of understanding situations change in the course of history. The metaphorical understanding of time as something that can be "wasted" is only a recent innovation in the history of man, and it is certainly not a universally shared was of understanding time. But because it is accepted in present-day Western culture, there is no problem evaluating the truth of sentences like I wasted an hour this morning.

p 350

Categorization phenomena are in conflict with with a mind-as-machine paradigm that insists on a separate, independent, disembodied, and algorithmic character of mind.

p 365 A Richer View of Reason

To give up on a transcendental rationality -a God's eye view of reason- is not to give up on reason and rationality.

p 368

By looking at categorization phenomena, we have discovered that reason is embodied and imaginative. Reason is embodied in the sense that the very structures on which reason is based emerge from our bodily experiences. Reason is imaginative in the sense that it makes uses of metonymies, metaphors, and a wide variety of image-schemas.

p 370 Overview

p 371

Our strategy was to demonstrate three things:
  1. Conceptual categories are not merely characterized in terms of objectives properties of category members
  2. The real world cannot be properly understood in terms of the classical theory of categories.
  3. The relationship between conceptual categories and real-world categories cannot be as the objectivist view claims.

p 455

Let us turn to the question of how it is possible for an image schema to fit a perception or an image. The hypothesis I am putting forth is that our perceptions and our mental images are structured by image schemas and that the schemas associated with lexical items are capable of fitting the schemas that structure our perceptions and images.

This hypothesis is anything but uncontroversial. For example, it appears to conflict with Kosslyn's cathode-ray-tube model of mental imagery.
According to Kosslyn, images are stored in the mind in dot-matrix fashion, just as they would be in a computer.

p 480

The problem we began with was a conventional syntactic problem: What kinds of constructions can occur in what kinds of subordinate clauses? The solution to the problem requires constructions to be paired in the grammar with the illocutionary forces they express. Once this is done, a general rule can be stated in purely semantic terms. In other words, a complex syntactic problem can be solved by a simple semantic principle -provided we have the means in the grammar to pair constructions with the meanings they convey.

p 488

In technical formal systems, syntax is independent of semantics and pragmatics. In cognitively based linguistics, syntax is to a very significant extent (though by no means entirely) dependent on semantics, pragmatics and communicative functions.

p 489-490 The Central ICM: An Experiential Gestalt

The entire ICM is understood as being psychologically simpler than its parts -hence the term gestalt. Although a great many conditions may enter into the description of such a gestalt, it is important to realize that the complexity of the description is an artifact of our notational system. If we had a notational system that reflected psychological reality, the entire ICM would be representable by a simple description and its parts by a more complex one.

p 537

The generalized deictic represents the result of abstracting out the common properties of the various kinds of deictic there-constructions. To claim that it plays no cognitive role is to claim that seeking common properties -as linguists are trained to do- does not always lead to the best analysis, even when one can find such common properties.

George Lakoff
Marc Girod
Last modified: Tue Mar 1 11:02:48 EET 2005