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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 12:55pmSanction this postReply
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Joe,

As a further reference on concept formation and Rand's thinking about it, I would like to share the Abstract of my 1990 essay on the topic in Objectivity.


ABSTRACT

“Capturing Concepts” by Stephen Boydstun

                Volume 1, Number 1, Pages 13–41

            Concepts are thoughts indicating and specifying kinds and sets of items. Concepts are marked and evoked by words. Starting with that general view of concepts, Boydstun brings the research of developmental cognitive psychologists to bear on philosophic accounts of what concepts are and how we acquire our earliest concepts. He reviews the phenomena of categorical perception, perceptual recognition, and iconic representation (i) for their contributions to our concepts and (ii) for the ways they are different from our earliest genuine concepts.

            Boydstun examines Ayn Rand’s distinctive theory of concepts as abstractions from perceptual concretes by a process of measurement-omission. He draws forth the theory’s kinships with the views on abstraction of Aquinas and Ockham, as well as its contradiction of the view of Berkeley and Hume. Boydstun holds to Rand’s view of what concepts are, the view of concepts standing as with measurements omitted from the particulars they subsume. Rand’s conjectures concerning the formation of our earliest concepts are critically reviewed in light of developmental psychological research: on the acquisition of language; on the early method of classification, by overall similarity; on the emergence of a principle of identity privileged over similarity; and on the eventual ability to organize classifications according to abstracted ordinal dimensions.




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Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:30pmSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Excellent illumination of how differentiation precedes the conceptual discernment of anything in reality (against a background other existing things in reality) ...

=======================
Well, related to being similar is being different. Similar actually means not very different. So to form the concept blue, we don't just need blue objects. We need other colored objects as well. We have to differentiate the blue ones from something else. By seeing that the blue ones are not very different with respect to each other as they are with respect to other colors like red, white, orange, green, and purple, we are able to place them in their own category.

So the ability to integrate referents based on their similarity is actually part of the differentiation process. You'll notice that to see this kind of difference, you need two or more things that end up being "similar", and at least one other thing that's "different". To see that the difference between one shade of blue and another is not very big, it has to be compared to something that has a very big difference, relatively.

In fact, without differentiation, you can't even be aware of something. Imagine you could only see the color blue, and to further confuse the matter, it's uniform in shade. Everything shows up as blue. You wouldn't even notice the blue because it's always the same.

There's no other color or other visual signals to let you differentiate it, which means you can't draw your attention to it. If everything were the same color, you wouldn't have a concept for color. It's the differences that make it possible to identify something because you're differentiating it from the background. Identification requires differentiation.
=======================

Excellent.

Ed





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Post 2

Friday, December 4, 2009 - 2:10amSanction this postReply
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Some recent research on unit reduction and concepts:
Conceptual Knowledge Increases Infant’s Memory Capacity
Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda (2008)

“Capturing Concepts” is now available here with supplements.




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Post 3

Friday, December 4, 2009 - 3:24pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Stephen!

I didn't know that 14-month old infants utilized concepts! What's cool is that the researchers triple-checked their work -- with visual cues as the only variable, audio cues as as the only variable, and spatial cues as the only variable. In all cases, these tiny humans rocked.

I also didn't know that adult humans -- like infants -- can only retain 3-4 things in short term memory. I thought it was 5-9 things (as most psychologists think or thought).

Ed

p.s. Now, after accounting for differences in short-term memory, it'd be cool to re-run this experiment with chimpanzees. My money is on the infants.

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/04, 3:25pm)




Post 4

Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 8:42amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

In the “First Words, First Universals” section of Genesis, I maintained that infants have a concept by the time they use their first referring word, which is at about 12 months. I noted (#37) that this is what Terrence Deacon calls an indexical form of reference, not yet a fully symbolical form of reference. Rand’s concept spans both. My heading “First Words, First Universals” for that subsection in Universals and Measurement was a takeoff from the old saying “first year, first word.”

Of related interest: Adele Diamond 2006.


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 12/05, 8:52am)




Post 5

Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 11:31amSanction this postReply
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Stephen,

You have certainly done your homework. I was aware of 'gaze time' research indicating that 18-month olds expect 'object permanence' (i.e., they expect that "Existence Exists") -- as when either 1, 2, or 3 objects are passed behind a screen and then variations of 1, 2, or 3 objects are pulled back. However, I was not aware of all of this:

At 6 months, the infant will have some sensitivity to numerosity; will be able to detect numerical correspondences between disparate collections of items, even correspondences between visible objects and audible events; and will be able to detect the equivalence or nonequivalence of numerical magnitudes of collections (Starkey, Spelke, and Gelman 1990). At 7 months, still without words, the infant distinguishes global categories (e.g., animals v. vehicles) which will later become superordinates of so-called basic-level categories (e.g., dog v. car) yet to be formed (Mandler and Bauer 1988; cf. Rand 1969, 213–15). By 12 months, the infant reliably interprets adult pointing, looking from hand to target (Butterworth and Grover 1988).
Holy cow, Stephen. Impressive findings. I have got to re-adjust my understanding of the conceptual learning curve for humans. All that said, however, I do have a contention with the writings of the British Columbia research article to which you linked as being related:

I suggest that instead of having problems deducing abstract concepts, they have a more elementary problem – perceiving conceptual connections between physically unconnected things. If items that infants are meant to relate conceptually are presented physically connected, infants of only 9–12 months can grasp abstract, conceptual relations.
The problem I have with this is philosophical. The "elementary problem" as described does not extend the reach from the perceptual (concrete) to the conceptual (abstract) but, instead, keeps the reach perceptual -- merely "calling" it conceptual. Here is a re-wording of the above, in general terms, to show what I mean:

I suggest that instead of having problems deducting abstract concepts, that infants (and animals) have a more elementary problem -- that of using only their perceptual powers of awareness in order to ... [magical explosion and smoke here] ... using only perception to become conceptually aware!

If you firmly attach prizes to objects so that the infant (or animal) "perceives" the object as something with a novel identity which always includes the prize -- i.e., if you pretend that the problem of the conceptual can be solved by doubling-down on the perceptual -- then the kids (and the animals) really do come to "understand" the supposed abstract relations!

In other words, perceptual powers of awareness can be taken as evidence of conceptual powers of awareness!
I don't buy that.

Ed




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Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 11:44amSanction this postReply
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Recap:
Regarding the trouble I have with the Adele Diamond article, the epistemological problem is that the infants are being "tricked" into perceiving a reward as being part of the identity of a stimulus. And then the researchers proclaim: "See? We can get evidence that the child is conceptually aware of something!"

How?

"By making them more perceptually aware of something."

The problem is that the researchers "know" that the stimulus and the reward are things that don't normally go together like that -- they know that they went to some work to physically attach the reward to the stimulus (creating a new thing with a new identity). For the unsuspecting infants, they just "see" this new stimulus-reward thing as one thing -- one novel thing (a proper noun) which can be merely remembered rather than conceived of.

The empirical behavior of the infant remembering the thing (memory is a perceptual power) is then inadvertently presumed to be evidence of conceptual power.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/05, 2:22pm)




Post 7

Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 11:58amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

Good observation.

jt



Post 8

Saturday, December 5, 2009 - 2:38pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Jay.

What tipped me off to the flaw in this methodology was when the researcher, Diamond, was writing about how animals have conceptual awareness of things. She pointed to research where animal behavior supposedly showed that animals had acquired a conceptual understanding of various parts of the world around them.

It's been a good Litmus test for me, to double-check the work of scientists who proclaim that animals can think like humans can (and see how they arrived at that conclusion).

However, this kind of a rationalization -- where you start with a pre-conceived notion like "animals can't think" -- and then work backwards to try to defend it, is potentially epistemologically disastrous (though not necessarily so). It's just integration, really. Having a pet theory (no pun intended) about our "pets" having a human-like mind or not, and then working backwards is fine -- as long as you consistently validate the thing with all findings and inferences.

On this note, it's the "fallacy of the vulgar empiricist" (FVE) to avoid all rationalizations as if they weren't evidence-based and, therefore, to always proceed from an empirical blank slate, with few or no assumptions (read: integrations) about the world.

Addendum: For instance, an animal researcher may start with the idea that nothing prevents animals from thinking like humans do. Carried where it leads, the argument then extends to plants, and eventually even to sticks and stones. The telling point is that it's more wise to assume vast differences (as a more proper null hypothesis) and then work to see if you can disprove that.

The idea that one hypothesis is better than another with regard to being a null hypothesis is philosophical. It's a general truth and you would have to integrate some things correctly (i.e., use a proper philosophy) in order to arrive at it.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 12/05, 7:14pm)




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