Does Labeling Make a Thing “a Thing”?

“Reality is continuous” Zerubavel (1996:426) tells us, “and if we envision distinct clusters separated from one another by actual gaps it is because we have been socialized to ‘see’ them.” This assumption, that without “socialization” an individual would experience reality as meaningless—or as William James (1890:488) said of the newborn …

Categories, Part III: Expert Categories and the Scholastic Fallacy

There’s a story — probably a myth — about Pythagoras killing one of the members of his math cult because this member discovered irrational numbers (Choike 1980). (He also either despised or revered beans). The Greeks spent a lot of time arguing about arche, or the primary “stuff.” Empedocles argued …

Categories, Part II: Prototypes, Fuzzy Sets, and Other Non-Classical Theories

A few years ago The Economist published “Lil Jon, Grammaticaliser.” “Lil Jon’s track ‘What You Gonna Do’ got me thinking,” the author tells us, “of all things, the progressive grammaticalisation of the word shit.” In it, Lil Jon repeats “What they gon’ do? Shit” and in this lyric, shit doesn’t …

Categories, Part I: The Fall of the Classical Theory

In a “monster of the week” episode of the The X-Files, Mulder and Scully encounter a genie, Jenn. She tells Mulder — who has three wishes — “Everyone I come in contact with asks for the wrong things…” Thinking the trick is to ask for something altruistic, Mulder wishes for …

When is Consciousness Learned?

Continuing with the theme of innateness and durability from my last post, consider the question: are humans born with consciousness? In a ground-breaking (and highly contested) work, the psychologist Julian Jaynes argued that if only humans have consciousness, it must have emerged at some point in our human history. In …

Limits of innateness: Are we born to see faces?

Sociologists tend to be skeptical of claims individuals are consistent across situations, as a recent exchange on Twitter exemplifies. This exchange was partially spurred by revelations that the famous Stanford Prison Experiment (which supposedly showed people will quickly engage in behaviors commensurate with their assigned roles even if it means …

Where Did Sewell Get “Schema”?

Although there are precedents to using the term “schema” in an analytical manner in sociology (e.g., Goffman’s Frame Analysis and Cicourel’s Cognitive Sociology), it is undoubtedly William Sewell Jr’s “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation” published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1992 that really launched the career of …

Exaption: Alternatives to the Modular Brain, Part II

Scientists discovered the part of the brain responsible for… In my last post, I discuss one alternative to the modular theory of the mind/brain relationship: connectionism. Such a model is antithetical to modularity in that there are only distributed networks of neurons in the brain, not special-purpose processors. One strength …

Connectionism: Alternatives to the Modular Brain, Part I

In my previous post, I introduced the task of cognitive neuroscience, which is (largely) to locate processes we associate with the mind in the structures of the brain and nervous system (Tressoldi et al. 2012). I also discussed the classical and commonsensical approach which conceptualizes the brain and mind relationship …