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Re: [ontolog-forum] George Lakoff - Women, Fire, Dangerous Things - Embo

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:21:25 -0400
Message-id: <53CE8175.5070308@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Bruce, Rich, and Chris,    (01)

Bruce
> It's a powerful sophisticated highly detailed and substantial book
> -- and the entire 631 pages are available in a pretty good .pdf...    (02)

Thanks for the URL.  I agree that it's an important book.  I bought
it shortly after it came out, but I'm glad to have an electronic copy.    (03)

General observation about George Lakoff:  I have a large overlap
of agreement with most of his conclusions, especially on metaphors,
word meanings, the relationships between syntax and semantics, and
the nature of the embodied mind.    (04)

But his history of ideas is almost always *spectacularly* wrong.  See
the excerpt below from p. 9 of the book.  I agree that every one of
those points is false or at least misleading.  But every one of them
was debated and rejected by some Western philosophers since the Greeks.    (05)

Rich
> I havenít yet read Lakoff [philosophy] in the flesh...    (06)

That's another good book that suffers from the same historical flaws.
I said that in my review:  http://www.jfsowa.com/pubs/lakoff.htm    (07)

Chris
> the book makes a persuasive case that prototype theory is a
> good model for how humans categorize things in their world.    (08)

I agree.  So did Wittgenstein.  Lakoff cited Rosch, and he mentioned
Wittgenstein.  Rosch wrote her PhD dissertation on using Wittgenstein's
theory of family resemblance.  But related ideas were very widely
proposed, analyzed, and debated since the ancient Greeks.    (09)

William Whewell made a strong case for prototypes in biology in 1858
(but he did not use the prefix 'proto').  Kant used the word 'schema',
which was widely used in psychology by Selz, Piaget, Bartlett, etc.
Another term is Gestalt.  Unfortunately, Lakoff's citation for 'schema'
is Rumelhart, 1975.    (010)

Peirce had read Whewell and Kant.  He said that the notion of schema
in Kant was his single most important notion, which Kant should have
made the centerpiece of his Critiques.  Otto Selz was a psychologist
who did make the schema his central focus.  Herb Simon cited Selz's
notion of schematic anticipation as a predecessor and inspiration
for his theory of chunks and pattern-directed search in AI.    (011)

Chris
> Current methods rely on domain experts or knowledge engineers
> abstracting a variety of observations into a system of axioms that
> can be used downstream for deductive reasoning. This can lead to
> rigidity, bottlenecks, etc.    (012)

I agree.  Such methods are valuable for solving particular problems.
They correspond to the microtheories in Cyc.  But they are far too
limited and brittle to put in a top-level ontology.  For citations
and discussion, see http://www.jfsowa.com/pubs/cogcat.htm    (013)

Some corrections to Lakoff's history:    (014)

  1. Pythagoras and Plato had a theory of a detached or at least
     a detachable psyche.  Pythagoras had a notion of migration of
     souls (which he probably picked up from Eastern philosophy).
     Both Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived in Anatolia, where they
     undoubtedly got ideas from the gurus who traveled the silk road
     from China to the Greek colonies.    (015)

  2. But Aristotle had a hierarchy of *embodied* psyches, which were
     not detachable.  They ranged a from vegetative psyche for plants
     to more complex psyches for animals from sponges, to worms, to
     mammals, to humans.  By the way, Aristotle was the first person
     to recognize that sponges were animals, not plants.    (016)

  3. The great Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas was a good
     Aristotelian.  He used Aristotle's theory as a basis for
     explaining the dogma of the resurrection of the dead at the
     end of the world:  the human soul without a body is pale
     shadow (as Homer said in his description of Hades) and the
     soul requires the body to support all its faculties.    (017)

  4. The Greek atomists, starting with Leucippus and Democritus, had
     a different view, but it was also embodied.  They assumed atoms
     of different shapes for the four elements (earth, fire, air,
     and water).  They assumed that the psyche consisted of spherical
     atoms, because they were more penetrating.  The atoms of the
     psyche swirled around and thereby directed the motions of the
     other atoms of the body.  (If you relate the psyche atoms to
     modern theories of the electron, that's not a bad summary.)    (018)

  5. The mind-body problem was invented by Descartes.  It was a huge
     source of confusion that the Greeks never suffered from.  Many
     philosophers, such as Peirce and Whitehead, had read Aristotle,
     and they argued for a continuum of psychological (or mind-like)
     phenomena from the lowest level to the human (and perhaps beyond).    (019)

  6. The theory of prototypes was well established by Aristotle in
     his biological writings.  His logical writings were the source
     of the theory of categories that Lakoff criticized.  But in his
     more voluminous biological writings, Aristole argued for a
     bottom-up theory of analysis based on *prototypes* rather than
     top-down definitions.  He explicitly said that any definition
     of species or genera must be based on a detailed description
     of a specimen, and that the definitions must *change* when
     new discoveries are made.  Kant and many others made similar
     observations -- but with the term 'schema' rather than prototype.    (020)

  7. Lakoff's primary opponents are Descartes and Chomsky (who wrote
     a book with the title _Cartesian Linguistics_).  Many logicians,
     such as Frege and Russell, were guilty of the errors cited below.
     But Peirce, Whitehead, and others were not.  In fact, Whitehead
     explicitly disavowed the introduction that Russell had written
     in the 1925 revision of the _Principia Mathematica_.  ANW wrote
     a letter to _Mind_ saying that he had no part in the revision,
     and he did not want to have his name associated with it.    (021)

If Lakoff had focused his attack on Chomsky, I wouldn't complain.
Marvin Minsky said something similar:  Chomsky's contributions from
the mid 1950s to mid 1960s were extremely valuable.  But linguistics
would have progressed much better if Chomsky had stuck with politics
instead of returning to linguistics after the Vietnam War.    (022)

John
_____________________________________________________________________    (023)

> A number of familiar ideas will fall by the wayside. Here are some
> that will have to be  left behind:
>
> - Meaning is based on truth and reference; it concerns the relationship
>   between symbols and things in the world.
> - Biological species are natural kinds, defined by common essential
>   properties.
> - The mind is separate from, and independent of, the body.
> - Emotion has no conceptual content.
> - Grammar is a matter of pure form.
> - Reason is transcendental, in that it transcends-goes beyond-the
>   way human beings, or any other kinds of beings, happen to think.
>   It concerns the inferential relationships among all possible concepts
>   in this universe or any other. Mathematics is a form of transcendental
>   reason.
> - There is a correct, God's eye view of the world-a single correct way
>   of understanding what is and is not true.
> - All people think using the same conceptual system.
>
> These ideas have been part of the superstructure of Western intellectual
> life for two thousand years. They are tied, in one way or another, to the
> classical concept of a category. When that concept is left behind, the
> others will be too. They need to be replaced by ideas that are not only
> more accurate, but more humane.    (024)

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