What is a Basic-Level Category?

Posted by: coberst

What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/02/09 07:01 PM

What is a Basic-Level Category?

Consider the category hierarchies: {furniture--chair—rocker} and {vehicle--car—sedan}. The middle categories--chair and car--have been discovered to be “basic”—they have a cognitive priority. “Basic-level categories are distinguished from subordinate categories by aspects of our bodies, brains, and minds: mental images, gestalt perception, motor programs, and knowledge structure.”

The basic level is characterized by at least four conditions: 1) It is the highest level at which a single mental image can represent the entire category (you can’t get a mental image of vehicle or furniture). 2) It is the highest level at which category members have a similarly perceived overall shape. 3) It is the highest level at which a person uses similar motor actions for interacting with category members. 4) It is the level at which most of our knowledge is organized.

The division between basic and non-basic level is body-based. It is based upon gestalt (overall part-whole structure) perception, motor programs, and mental images. The basic-level is that level at which people more optimally interact with their environment.

The basic-level does not merely apply to objects. “There are basic-level actions, actions for which we have conventional mental images and motor programs, like swimming, walking, and grasping. We also have basic-level concepts, like families, clubs, and baseball teams, as well as basic-level social actions, like arguing. And there are basic-level emotions, like happiness, anger, and sadness.”

“Our categories arise from the fact that we are neural beings, from the nature of our bodily capacities, from our experience interacting in the world, and from our evolved capacity for basic-level categorization—a level at which we optimally interact with the world. Evolution has not required us to be as accurate above and below the basic level as at the basic level, and so we are not.”

We have a gut feeling about some things because our sense of correctness comes from our bodies. When Newton provided us with his theory of physics we could “feel” the correctness of much of it because he was using such concepts as acceleration, momentum, distance and velocity all of which we knew because we could intuit them, we could “feel in our gut” these concepts. Such was not the case when the physicist attacked the problem of quantum physics. Who has a gut feeling for the inner workings of the atom?

Our “gut feeling” constantly informs us as to the ‘correctness’ of some phenomenon. This gut feeling is an attitude; it is one of many types of attitudes. What can we say about this gut feeling?

Philosophy in The Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson says a great deal about this gut feeling. Conceptual metaphor theory, the underlying theory of cognitive science contained in this book, explains how our knowledge is ‘grounded’ in a manner in which we optimally interact with the world.

Our basic-level categories are created unconsciously based upon our bodily interaction with our world.
Posted by: eccles

Re: What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/02/09 11:05 PM


we are neural beings

......not really !

Lakoff et al are entrenched in Anglo-American philosophy. The paradigm has shifted !

You are at the simplistic level of the ontology of "substance" and need to read up on Heideggar's rejection of it.

Better still, try this.

Posted by: Ellis

Re: What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/03/09 12:44 AM

What an extraordinary concept! Surely such straification of experiences would defy any rational definitions-- in fact it would be irrational to attempt it. I have for instance no idea what is meant by 'base-level happiness'. Is there such a thing? I really hope not!

What really gives the the heebie-jeebies though is thought of 'base-level sadness'. The term is enough to make me want to cry-- thus providing the base-line--- Hooray!
Posted by: coberst

Re: What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/03/09 01:39 PM

‘Container’ is a ubiquitous (constantly encountered) metaphor in the cognitive sciences.

Life needs a boundary.

A single cell creature, such as the amoeba, is not merely alive but has the urge to stay alive. This creature knows nothing of intentionality; nevertheless such a form exists and expresses itself in the manner by which it maintains the chemical balance within its enclosing membrane.

The urge to stay alive exists in most living organisms. This urge is not a modern phenomenon but exists in degrees throughout living creatures. Life is carried out within a boundary. Life needs a container with an interior, a boundary, and an exterior.

The internal milieu, as named by French biologist Claude Bernard, is largely characterized by stability and sameness. Internally there exists an ability to maintain the stability required by life. This internal stability necessitates some form of sensing, some form of memory, and some form of controlling activity within the container. One might compare this internal system as having, to some very small degree, the same ingredients as does a neural network like a brain.

Container schema (a structured framework or plan)

Humans and I suspect all creatures navigate in space through spatial-relations concepts, i.e. schema. These concepts are the essence of our ability to function in space. These are not concepts that we can sense but they are the forms and inference patterns for our movement in space that we utilize unconsciously. We automatically perceive an entity as being on, in front of, behind, etc., another entity.

The container schema is a fundamental spatial-relations concept that allows us to draw important inferences. This natural container format is the source for our logical inferences that are so obvious to us when we view Venn diagrams. If container A is in container B and B is in container C, then A is in C.

A container schema is a gestalt (a functional unit) figure with an interior, an exterior, and a boundary—the parts make sense only as part of the whole. Container schemas are cross-modal—“we can impose a conceptual container schema on a visual scene…on something we hear, as when we conceptually separate out one part of a piece of music from another…This structure is topological in the sense that the boundary can be made larger, smaller, or distorted and still remain the boundary of a container schema.”

“Image schemas have a special cognitive function: They are both perceptual and conceptual in nature. As such, they provide a bridge between language and reasoning on the one hand and vision on the other.”

Categories are containers

A common conception that has become a commonplace metaphor is ‘category is container’. We can thus image categories as a bounded region with members of the category as being objects inside that region. A subcategory is another bounded region, another container, within the original category container.

Container as fundamental to logic

‘Logic’ is a word with more than one meaning; but it, like ‘science’, ‘Kleenex’ etc, has become a word with a common usage. In our common mode of speaking ‘logic’ means Aristotelian Formal Logic.

Aristotle said “A definition is a phrase signifying a thing’s essence.” Essence is the collection of characteristics that makes a thing a kind of thing. Such a definition expresses what is called a concept.

Aristotle equates predication (all men are mortal, I am a man) with containment. Predication is containment. To make a predication is to create a ‘container’ that contains the essence of a thing being predicated.

This containment leads us to the obvious logic (formal principles of a branch of knowledge) of containers. If container A is in container C and container B is in A then B is in C. This container schema is where all of these Latin terms, such as Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens, come from. This is, I think, the source of all of the principles for syllogisms. In other words just imagine containers and various juxtapositions of these will lead one to the principles of Aristotelian logic. I suspect many Greeks scratched their heads and wondered “why didn’t I think of that?”

Container as an essential element of our world view

Is there a demarcation boundary between instinct and reason? Is there a demarcation boundary between anything between here and the Big Bang? Is demarcation boundary a part of nature or is it just a necessity of human comprehension? Is category a fact of nature or is category a necessity of human comprehension? Is anything different in kind from anything else? Is everything different only in degree from everything else?

I conclude that demarcation boundary is not an essential characteristic of nature but is an essential characteristic of human comprehension. Everything is a seamless flow from the Big Bang to now. Only in our mind do we have a difference in kind.

Reality is a rainbow but we humans perceive reality as a myriad of containers! We perceive reality as containers because our “gut” tells us so and because classical metaphysics tells us so. Reality without demarcation boundaries means that everything is a seamless reality from everything else. It means that everything is not a kind of thing with its own necessary and sufficient nature but that all reality runs together and it is only in our minds that these containers exist.

This is kind of a synthesis of ideas contained in The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio and Where Mathematics Comes From by Lakoff and Nunez.

Posted by: eccles

Re: What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/03/09 02:25 PM

...So there you have it. grin

...Next !
Posted by: Ellis

Re: What is a Basic-Level Category? - 05/03/09 11:50 PM

MMMMMM--- Personally I prefer my joy to be uncontained!