Friday, April 28, 2006

Potential difficulties with cognitive resource classification

For now, this is just a quick post so that I don't forget a thought that I had during yesterday's CogGroup presentation by JED. Before the presentation, I used a white board to draw a cladistic representation of a classification system for cognitive resources. One of the theoretical benefits of cladistic classification is that, as Dawkins points out in The Blind Watchmaker, with perfect information, and with consideration only of currently (emphasis mine) living individual organisms, we should be able to make a branching represenation that has only binary pathways. This is part of his discussion on dealing with intermediate forms in systemics - Dawkins argues that the biosphere is unique in that it is possible to perfectly classify organisms in unique and non-overlapping categories (i.e. an organism can only belong to one species, whereas I might want to classify my CDs by Mos Def and Talib Kweli as both "Hip Hop" and "Urban Folk").

Now let's shift into considering classification activities with regard to cognitive resources - the species of thought, which exist in what is called the noosphere. The thought I had yesterday is with regard to intermediate forms. I was showing my advisor how the cladistic representation has a "built-in" ability to show the results and process of at least one type of conceptual change (dual construction). The problem, though, is with the common ancestor: is it really "dead"? It seems that the context sensitivity and complexity of the neurocognitive system would make it very difficult to survey the cognitive ecosystem (an issue with "perfect information"), and anecdotal experience along with intuition tells me that the ideas that students have when they begin a learning process (the common ancestor) will likely persist beyond conceptual change. So, there is certainly divergence of a population and speciation, but the common ancestor still seems to survive. This common ancestor is, by definition, an intermediate form! this feels familiar. A wrench in the works: cognitive evolution can occur within the neural life cycle. Must be on to something :) Now it's time to teach...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cognitive systematics and an ontology of cognitive resources (Part 1)

Within the realm of scientific classification, there appear to be three prominant methodus: heirarchical categorization, cladistics, and phenetics.

The first method for classifying the biosphere is based on heirarchical categorization, as per the familiar derivative of the Linnean system: (kingdom (phylum (class (order (family (genus (species))))))). The actual objects that are categorized are individual organisms, with the most specific and exclusive category - species - describing a population of organisms that are similar in some aspect (there are many perspectives on the relative importance of similarities - some definitions of species are biased toward sexually reproducing organisms, while others focus on common ancestry). Perhaps the most important aspect of the species category is that it is the only level of classification that is based on physical objects. All higher, more abstract levels of the heirarchy are based on similarities between and among categories, not on physical objects (because of genetic variability within a population of individuals, I reject the notion that there can be an actual physical instance of species, even among asexual organisms - this debate is even less appropriate among sexual organisms). The system terminates in the most general and inclusive category of kingdom, although the inherent difficulty of such abstract processing has resulted in the recent recognition of a 6th kingdom (archaebacteria) and the suggestion of a category more abstract than kingdom, called domain.

The second method of biological classification is known as cladistics, and is based on the notion of binary pathways forming tree-like branching patterns that demonstrate the relationships of organisms with regard to common ancestry. In this system, the most specific and exclusive category of organisms is still the species, but this method differs from heirarchical categorization because the more abstract connections between species are not guided by categorical similarity, but by the degrees of separation between two species and a common ancestor. Terms used to describe abstract groups of species use the root "phyletic", with prefix modifiers "mono", "para", and "poly".

Coming up: a brief summary of phenetics, and the beginnings of applying these methods to the cognitive domain. In short, I started my thinking about classifying cognitive resources using the familiar heirarchical categorization method, with resources as "species", groups of resources as more abstract "classes", and functions of groups of resources in conceptual change as the most abstract level of categorization, or "kingdoms". While I think that this system will present more utility than currently available, I'm beginning to think that a cladistic representation might also have utility, especially with respect to the developmental patterns observed in long-term learning (specifically I'm interested by the late onset of epistemological resource maturation mentioned in a Hofner article I have in a stack somewhere...). Further, the phenetic system appears to be most useful at the species level of biological classification, so I'm going to explore its utility at the interface between neurological activity and cognitive resources.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fossil Find Is Missing Link in Human Evolution, Scientists Say (National Geographic)

Also see the article from Yahoo News, and the article from the San Francisco Chronicle. The co-leader of this particular effort is Tim White at UC Berkeley, and it's noteworthy that SFC article is linked from the UC Berkeley research news announcement page. Specifically, the SFC reporter emphasizes the importance of the Middle Awash region in Ethiopia to providing hominid fossil data. Also, it's interesting to note how different news sources report on the same event: Yahoo's article title claims proof of evolution, while National Geographic and the San Francisco Chronicle seem to let the data present itself. Yet again, it brings up the issue of scientific literacy in the media, especially with regard to the differences between data, evidence, and proof. Perhaps the variety of word use and emphasis in these articles also demonstrates important differences in the scientific epistemologies of the authors.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Life is busy

Wow, I started off here with a bang a few months ago, and I think I've just hit a wall over the past two months. First I got the stomach bug that was going around and was out of commission for a solid 48 hours. Catching up with missing a day of school is tough. You catch up, you get behind, and the cycle continues. Then Ayla was born, and it was great to take a day off to be with the fam, but again, got behind. Then the next week I took my old car in for an oil change, and came out 4 hours later with a new one -- OK, I guess I can't complain too much about that. But in any case, life's been busy. Last week I put a ton of effort into my self-evaluation for work - I'll probably post a bit of that material. It was great to have an opportunity to reflect back on the past two years of work since I wrote my first self-evaluation in my first year, when I was teaching part-time. My oh my how things can change - I'm teaching full-time, I've completely changed my thesis project, I bought a house with my partner and then we got married! Woosh!

So, long story short, I haven't had a lot of time to work on the ol' research project, but I was happy to get a comment from Mentifex, with a link showing that this blog has been linked from the Mind.Forth project on SourceForge. Tres cool! I'm looking forward to doing some reading and checking out the project in more detail.

In any case, I'll be on vacation from teaching for a week, starting tomorrow afternoon. I'll be putting some energy into putting some new material up here. I'm excited to make a presentation to our Cognitive Group at UMaine - perhaps not on April 20th as we had scheduled, but hopefully soon. I'm focusing my efforts a bit more (at least, when I have spare brain cycles) on a more narrow aspect of my work: developing a taxonomy for cognitive resources, with a particular emphasis on categorization according to functional roles involved with conceptual change (learning).