Thursday, July 24, 2008

CogSci 08: Day One

I missed the plenary talk this morning, mostly because they've scheduled all the plenary talks for the wee hours of the morning, and this one started at 8:15am.

So the first session I attended was a symposium of related talks on conceptual primatives. Jerome Feldman was the chair, and he first said a few opening remarks to frame the other talks. He talked about how the symposium was in the context of Unified Cognitive Science, which means that evidence from multiple subfields would be needed to address the question of the nature of conceptual primitives.

He gave a URL for a working list of possible conceptual primitives, but I wasn't able to jot it down. It is probably in the proceedings, so I'll look for it later. Among the examples were things like:

day/night
near/far
time
animate/inanimate
person
gender
age
possession
event/thing
number
goal
support
containment
true/false

He said that they were advance a "theory neutral" approach, and the only question asked of him was to clarify what he meant by "theory neutral". He said he couldn't clarify it, because it was a self-explanatory term. Fair enough, but I was still wondering what he meant by "conceptual primitive". I assume he means a concept whose representation cannot be broken down any further and represented as a combination of other representations. But who knows? I can definitely see how some of the concepts listed above could be represented as combinations of other concepts. If this isn't the meaning of "primitive", then what does it mean?

Anyway, the first actual speaker was Leonard Talmy. He started out by saying that every language has two subsystems:

open-class - morpheme classes that are large and easy to augment (e.g. the roots of nouns, verbs, and adjectives)
closed-class - morpheme classes that are small and difficult to augment (e.g. bound inflections and derivations, and free prepositions, conjunctions, and determiners)

He said his talk would focus specifically on closed-class forms that relate to representing space. He talked about a methodology of choosing a figure and ground and a particular closed-class form and determining what the constraints are for using that term. The extended example he gave was board (figure) laying across (the closed-class spatial term) a road (ground). He gave several examples of situations where it is entirely appropriate to say "The board lay across the road" and situations where it is not.

For example, if the board is actually perpendicular to the road, it wouldn't be acceptable to say it is laying across it, but something like "The board is sticking out of the road." But he also said a constraint was that the board is touching both sides of the road, in which case you would say "The board lay over one side of the road." But I wouldn't have a problem saying a board lay across a road as long as it almost reached the other side, even if it didn't touch it.


He also said the axis of the figure needed to be horizontal, such as "The spear hung across the wall" vs. "The spear hung up and down on the wall." But that doesn't seem to hold for his own example of the board and the road. Both of these work for across:

But I get the basic idea that there are constraints on the usage of particular terms...that's what makes them distinct concepts. I'm not sure how this helps us narrow down conceptual primitives, whatever those are.

I need to get to the next session, so I'll wrap this up for now. There were three more speakers, and I'll have a separate entry for some or all of what they covered as well.

1 comment:

Kenny Wyland said...

The list of examples look like some really good yin-yang examples that get tossed around in my eastern medicine/philosophy classes.