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...

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