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Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind Paperback – 15 Apr 1990
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From the Back Cover
This book presents some of the most stimulating ideas on mind and meaning I have ever read. It is a book that has far-reaching consequences and is sure to rattle the foundations of thinking and research in the cognitive sciences.
About the Author
George Lakoff is Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books.
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In Part I: Categories and Cognitive Models, Lakoff describes the classical mathematical definition of a category that has been with us since Aristotle. Members of a category have a set of defining features which nonmembers lack. Various sized squares, for example, are squares because they have four sides of equal length which meet at right angles. He then reviews research evidence that most of the categories we think with do not have this structure. The category "bird" contains members like ostriches that are "less good" members than more central examples like robins and sparrows. He explores the implications of non-classical category structures for metaphors, mental models, and other issues in cognitive science.
Part II: Philosophical Implications examines the implications of the previous section for the philosophical underpinnings of cognitive science. Lakoff rejects objectivism--the view that there is a single, objectively-verifiable external reality--as a basis for knowledge. We must instead develop a cognitive semantics that is based on how humans reason without making a claim that it captures the single correct way of understanding the external world. Lakoff makes an extended argument for a disciplined relativism as a basis for both philosophy and cognitive science. Part III: Case Studies closes the book with extended explorations of the concepts of Anger, "Over," and the use of "there" in American English.
This book continues research and theory development Lakoff has done with Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live. Lakoff's work continued after this book in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought and Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being. Perhaps falling victim to the Chomskian curse, Lakoff's later work has taken on a more political focus. It includes The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics and Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Both are interesting reading, even by those with different politics than the author's.
The book is recommended for its summary of classical and post-classical accounts of mental categorization. It will be of most interest to students of the history of cognitive science.
as a web designer, i deal constantly with hierarchies and the ways that things are grouped together. this thick tome on cognitive science made me rethink some of my strategies. although dealing with very complex issues and obviously not for casual reading, i really appreciated the way the author delineates his thinking so clearly. one example is that he rarely drops names without explaining in some detail the contributions of the person cited. i ended up xeroxing several sections fo this book for my coworkers.
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