Categorisation, causation, and the limits of understanding

Although recent work has emphasised the importance of naı¨ve theories to categorisation, there has been little work examining the grain of analysis at which causal information normally influences categorisation. That level of analysis may often go unappreciated because of an ‘‘illusion of explanatory depth’’, in which people think they mentally represent causal explanatory relations in far more detail than they really do. Naı¨ve theories therefore might seem to be irrelevant to categorisation, or perhaps they only involve noting the presence of unknown essences. I argue instead that adults and children alike effectively track high-level causal patterns, often outside awareness, and that this ability is essential to categorisation. Three examples of such pattern-tracking are described. The shallowness of our explanatory understandings may be further supported by a reliance on the division of cognitive labour that occurs in all cultures, a reliance that arises from welldeveloped abilities to cluster knowledge in the minds of others.
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