Is the Mystery of Thought Demystified by Context‐Dependent Categorisation? Towards a New Relation Between Language and Thought

Mind and Language 27 (5):595-618 (2012)
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Abstract

We argue that are no such things as literal categories in human cognition. Instead, we argue that there are merely temporary coalescences of dimensions of similarity, which are brought together by context in order to create the similarity structure in mental representations appropriate for the task at hand. Fodor contends that context‐sensitive cognition cannot be realised by current computational theories of mind. We address this challenge by describing a simple computational implementation that exhibits internal knowledge representations whose similarity structure alters fluidly depending on context. We explicate the processing properties that support this function and illustrate with two more complex models, one applied to the development of semantic knowledge , the second to the processing of simple metaphorical comparisons . The models firstly demonstrate how phenomena that seem problematic for literal categorisation resolve to particular cases of the contextual modulation of mental representations; and secondly prompt a new perspective on the relation between language and thought: language affords the strategic control of context on semantic knowledge, allowing information to be brought to bear in a given situation that might otherwise not be available to influence processing. This may explain one way in which human thought is creative, and distinctive from animal cognition

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Michael L. Thomas
University of Chicago

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References found in this work

The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - London, England: Dover Publications.
Philosophical investigations.Ludwig Wittgenstein & G. E. M. Anscombe - 1953 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 161:124-124.

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