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George Lakoff delivers a book-long explanation of mental categorization from his perspective as a cognitive linguist. When this book was first published, cognitive psychology had recently escaped the limitations of behaviorism and was focusing on the mind. While this was progress, there was for a time an over-emphasis on disembodied computer models of thought. Lakoff's book helped counter this extreme by highlighting ways that our minds draw on culture and on our physical form to create concepts and reason with them.

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.
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on 8 October 1998
When I read this book for the first time, it was like a revelation - Lakoff concentrates on the way people *really* think, not the way philosophers would like them to. His approach: We use cognitive models that we acquired in childhood to solve almost every problem - to estimate, to schedule, to infer. What strikes me most about the cognitive science of metaphor is the possibility to apply it to many fields like computer interface design, social sciences, linguistics, you name it. His argument is partly very sophisticated, yet understandable also for a non-philosopher, and he comes up with lots of examples and evidence. This book has become a kind of "creativity technique" to me, I find myself developing new ideas based on Lakoff's approach all the time. Among the people who have no scientific interest in the matter, I recommend this book to designers, programmers and everybody in the field of communication. It is worth every minute you read.
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on 5 August 1998
this book explores the way language is a reflection of the inner workings of the brain. it specifically examines the way we think about grouping things. for instance: should red and orange belong to the super-category "color"? how about lavender? which is the best example of "color"?
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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on 12 February 1999
George Lakoff, the premier cognitve scientist, overwhelms the reader with evidence that there is no disntiction between the body and the mind. All humans think in terms of the relationships it has with the body. The categories whether it is a radial or idealized cognitive model, show this relationship between the body and the mind, not separated from it. Moreso, the metaphors humans use have a connection with the body and mind relationship as well. Unlike the previous philosophers and linguists, these metaphors are intelligable if they are investigated with the proper methods as Lakoff shows. This leads to conclude that their is no such thing as an objective reality, and that due to putting all these bits of information into 5 to 7 main categories, humans overlook and categorize things in terms of characteristics that they look for to put it into categories. A truly objective reality is a chaotic reality. This book, when applied to the different cultures, does put a more relativistic approach as to how one should study a culture. Without a deep investigation into the language, there is no possible way to understand how one thinks. Categories are hidden in the language not just in the grammar, phonolgy or morphology, but in metaphors as well. Lakoff gives excellent methods to do this, and therefore, a much better way to understand human thought.
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on 3 March 2014
An exciting book that has helped me to understand better the way my mind works. Particularly valuable section on the question of how we perceive reality. Makes so much more sense than the relativist view that we cannot know reality and that therefore anyone's view is as valid as anyone else's.
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on 2 April 2015
A mine of information and although I disagree with his thesis concerning objective knowledge a thoroughly worthwhile purchase.
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on 4 October 2014
Beautiful book on language, metaphor, and embodied cognition. Recommend to Everyone. Enough Said.
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on 14 October 1998
Lakoff's is one of the best books ever written on the nature of language and cognition, vastly more original and powerful than all the recent, more popular attempts combined. It has already influenced Gerald Edelman and other sensitive minds; and its influence, I predict, will spread in generations to come.
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on 23 May 2016
If you've any interest in language - read this.
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on 6 July 2008
This is a long book with a great deal to say about the pros and cons of the objectivist approach to linguistics and semantics. Who should read it?

Academics and practioners whose work touches on linguistics and semantics? Very probably. This might be an excellent book for these people. As I am not one myself, I cannot say for sure.

Philosophers / philosphy students? It has some interesting bits and pieces, but be prepared to skim. It is not a top-rate book on philosophy.

The interested layperson? You have to skim a lot. I found myself thinking "this is academic" and "this is just semantics" a lot. There are hundreds of pages about arguments I think could only be of interest to someone who has studied / is studying this at college / university.

Good bits include:
* The difference between statements such as "John is stingy" and "John is thrifty". (Both imply John is careful with money, but with negative and positive spins)
* How people can react the same language in different ways according to the mental models in their minds.
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