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  1. #1
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    Default When folk theory meets scientific theory?

    When folk theory meets scientific theory?

    All of us ordinary folks, even those with little or no technical expertise, have theories. These theories are the way that we try to comprehend our world. Some are explicit and some implicit. Cognitive scientists call these folk theories.

    In the West and most likely in all cultures there is a common world view that there is a single correct taxonomy (classification system, taxonomies divide things into kinds) of natural things. These classifications are very important aspects of how human beings make sense of experience. “People have many ways of making sense of things—and taxonomies of all sorts abound. Yet the idea that there is a single right taxonomy of natural things is remarkable persistent.”

    It is natural for humans to seek knowledge. In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle wrote “All men by nature desire to know”.

    The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. Cognitive science identifies several ideas that seem to come naturally to us and labels such ideas as “Folk Theories”.

    The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World
    The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

    The Folk Theory of General Kinds
    Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

    The Folk Theory of Essences
    Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

    The consequences of the two theories:
    The Foundational Assumption of Metaphysics
    Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

    Since scientific theories start with presuppositions they must rely on these folk theories for these presuppositions. Steven Gould provides us with an interesting example of this matter in his What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?.

    There are two types of biologists, cladists and pheneticists: “The pheneticists look at overall similarity in form, function, and biological role, while the cladists are primarily concerned with branching order…Ideally, overall similarity ought to converge with evolutionary branching order and yield the same taxonomy.”

    These two different modes of classification yield two categories of Zebras.

    The details are difficult to follow but the general point is clear. There are at least two kinds of categorizations for Zebra, they should converge but they do not. We have here an example of the rare case when folk theory clashes with the scientific theory.

    “A folk theory defines common sense itself…Biology has conflicting taxonomic models that reflect different aspect of reality. The folk theory that there can be only one correct taxonomy of living things seems to be at least partly behind the conflict between the pheneticists, the cladists, and the evolutionary taxonomists.”

    Quotes from Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind by George Lakoff

  2. #2
    Occasional Member Evan's Avatar
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    You're obsessed with Lakoff huh?

    He does have some really cool ideas.

    What kind of discussion do you want to have about this stuff?

    (Do you study cogsci somewhere?)

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Evan View Post
    You're obsessed with Lakoff huh?

    He does have some really cool ideas.

    What kind of discussion do you want to have about this stuff?

    (Do you study cogsci somewhere?)
    What I really want is for the reader to become excited about the idea and then go to the books to learn more about it. I want each reader to get an intellectual life, i.e. to become a self-actualizing self-learner so that they can become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We lack the sophistication required to comprehend the problems our world faces.

  4. #4
    . Blank's Avatar
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    Being a poor college student whose money goes straight into textbooks...and Jimmy John's, I cannot afford to purchase so many various kinds of books with fanciful titles and ideas.


    I'll pirate, though.
    Ti = 19 [][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Te = 16[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Ne = 16[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Fi = 15 [][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Si = 12 [][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Ni = 12 [][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Se = 11[][][][][][][][][][][]
    Fe = 0

    -----------------
    Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
    Man got to sit and wonder why, why, why;
    Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
    Man got to tell himself he understand

  5. #5
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    Hi coberst,

    I disagree that an "attempt to seek knowledge presupposes that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern." I think knowledge is more sensibly understood as the proposal that there is order in the universe. In other words, to seek knowledge does not presuppose order, rather to seek knowledge is to propose it. Therefore, to call the view that the "world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it" a folk theory (as opposed to a scientific theory) seems misleading; both folk theories and scientific theories are merely proposals that there is order in the universe. It is logically conceivable that no such order exists, but a seeker of knowledge endevours to find it nonetheless.

    Anyway, I agree that people have a tendency toward essentialism and not just in the taxanomies of animals; a similar preoccupation with an imagined "essence" occurs in language -- there is a consistent resistence to the principle that words are arbitrary symbols. As you note, philosophers have often been the victim of these essentialist tendencies, and they have developed elaborate metaphysical theories upon them. Unfortunately, this has often blinded them to alternative interpretations and languages with which to expres order in the universe. (A clear example of an essentialist debate today is that concerning alternative "theories of truth".)

    It has long been a preoccupation of mine to purge essentialism from philosophy. Although it may have served our ancestors well in the upper paleolithic, it has no place in academia today.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blank View Post
    Being a poor college student whose money goes straight into textbooks...and Jimmy John's, I cannot afford to purchase so many various kinds of books with fanciful titles and ideas.


    I'll pirate, though.

    If you ask someone on campus they will be able to pont out to you the library. A library has lots of books and a student is allowed to borrow books from the library.

  7. #7
    . Blank's Avatar
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    But alas, I will have to be troubled enough to remember returning the items one day.

    Thanks for ponting [sic] me in the right direction.
    Ti = 19 [][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Te = 16[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Ne = 16[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Fi = 15 [][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Si = 12 [][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Ni = 12 [][][][][][][][][][][][]
    Se = 11[][][][][][][][][][][]
    Fe = 0

    -----------------
    Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
    Man got to sit and wonder why, why, why;
    Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
    Man got to tell himself he understand

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