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Nicely written, but overlong and misleading
am 31. Oktober 1998
An example of the narrow-mindedness encouraged by Pinker's computational brain:
In the middle of the book Pinker cites Lakoff (1987) and a few of the examples given in the latter's _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_ to show that the traditional criterial-attribute model of categorization is incorrect. Now, the well-read reader knows what Lakoff was trying to demonstrate; that classical logic is inadequate when it comes to explaining how people categorize. Much of his book is devoted to showing the many interesting ways people actually do categorize. It's all centered around Eleanor Rosch's prototype theory, and the significant factor played in best examples of a category, radial categorization, metaphor, metonomy, etc., etc.
Pinker's "refutation" of Lakoff's examples is amazing. Without mentioning prototype theory (there or in the entire book), he argues that Lakoff's mistake is not realizing that such fuzzy categories are the result of "idealizations". Having satisfied the ignorant reader that Lakoff is on the wrong track, Pinker moves on to other topics.
But the hypocrisy is obvious. Pinker's concept of an "idealization" is not too far removed from Rosch's "prototype"!And in the process of ignoring the vast empirical data in support of how minds *really* categorize, Pinker feels safe to remain in the classical framework of categorization.
Since I cannot believe that Pinker is ignorant of what Lakoff was actually talking about in his book, or the work of Rosch, I must conclude that by avoiding the real issues behind prototype theory he was being deliberately deceptive. And he is a very charismatic writer and speaker, so his popularizations have a better chance of reaching the public than the sometimes admittedly dense and verbose _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_. He leaves his readers with a biased report on the state of cognitive science, using what appears to me to be outright deception in the process, such as in the above example.