Precepts & Concepts

“One of the deepest problems in cognitive science is that of understanding how people make sense of the vast amount of raw data constantly bombarding them from the environment” [Hofstader, 1995]. How do perceptions occur and formulate conceptions? The lowest perception occurs, of course with the reception of raw sensory information through the various sense organs, described as sensations. Out of the many sensations the mind seeks to find an orderly process by which to make sense of the world. Perceptions, however, may be influenced by belief, goals, Cognitive-Behavior-Sunand external context. This implies that there is a top-down process along with the bottom-up process of the senses. In order for raw data to be shaped into a coherent whole, it must go through a process of filtering and organization, yielding a structured representation that can be used by the mind for any number of purposes. Representations then are the conclusions drawn from sensations.

High-level perception begins at that level of processing where concepts begin to play an important role. Processes of high-level perception may be divided again into a spectrum from the concrete to the abstract. At the most concrete end of the spectrum, we have object recognition, exemplified by the ability to recognize an apple or a table. Then there is the ability to grasp relations. This allows us to determine the relationship between an airplane and the ground ["above"], or a swimmer and a swimming pool ["in"]. Object recognition and relations concepts may be thought of as the knowledge base of the mental domain. As one moves further up the spectrum towards more abstract associations the issues become distant from particular sensory modalities and become the creative substance of thought. The distinguishing mark of high-level perception is that it is semantic: it involves drawing meaning out of situations. The more semantic the processing involved, the greater the role played by concepts in this processing, and thus the greater the scope for top-down influences, since it taps either the knowledge base or the theories, ideologies and/or belief systems of the individual.

The formation of appropriate representation lies at the heart of human high-level cognitive abilities. But it seems that developing representations is even more complex than it might first appear. William James indicates that we have different representations of an object or situation at different times. David Mar [1977] goes even further in suggesting that the perception of an event or object must include the simultaneous computation of several different descriptions of it, that capture the diverse aspects of the use, purpose or circumstances. Each representation thus becomes a vector in a multidimensional space, whose position is not anchored but can adjust flexibly to change in differing environmental stimuli.

The way we learn, according to Hofstader is contingent on pattern perception, extrapolation and generalization. These activities are descriptive of analogical thought. The quality of an analogy between two situations depends almost entirely on one’s perception of the situation. Analogical thought provides one of the clearest illustrations of the flexible nature of our perceptual abilities. Making an analogy requires highlighting various different aspects of a situation, and the aspects that are highlighted are often not the most obvious features. The perception of a situation can change

radically, depending on the analogy we are making. Furthermore, not only is analogy-making dependent on high-level perception, but the reverse holds true as well: perception is often dependent on analogy-making itself. To better understand this, Hofstader divides analogical thought into two basic components. First, there is the process of situation-perception, which involves taking the data involved with a given situation and filtering and organizing them in various ways to provide an appropriate representation for a given context. Second, there is the process of mapping. This involves taking the representation of two situations and finding appropriate correspondences between components of one representation with components of the other to produce the matchup we call an analogy.

It is by no means apparent that these processes are cleanly separable: they seem to interact in a deep way. Given the fact that perception underlies analogy, one might be tempted to divide the process of analogy-making sequentially: first, situation-perception, then mapping. But it has been shown that analogy also plays a large role in perception; thus mapping may be deeply involved in the situation-perception stage. Both situation-perception and mapping processes are essential to analogy-making, but of the two the former is more fundamental, for the simple reason that the mapping process requires representations to work on, and representations are the product of high-level perceptions. The perceptual processes that produce these representations may in turn deeply involve analogical mapping; but each mapping process requires a perceptual process to precede it. Therefore the perceptual process is conceptually prior, although perception and mapping processes are often temporally interwoven.

People are constantly interpreting new situations in terms of old ones. It is this process that allows for the enlargement of our understanding of the world. Analogy-making is going on constantly in the background of the mind, helping to shape our perceptions of everyday situations. One could suggest that it is the breakdown of analogy-making and the onslaught of automatic thoughts which most constitutes the difficulties that people have in using cognition effectively in personal and interpersonal domains. The use of automatic thoughts keeps the person recycling old information instead of learning new information.

Hofstader feels that it is implausible that when a person makes an analogy, their working memory is holding all the information from an all-encompassing representation of a situation. Instead, it seems that people hold in working memory only a certain amount of relevant information. The choice of what is relevant is often part of the difficulty. Helping a persons become aware of other possible representation that they may have for a situation might evoke the ability for them to change both perception and perspective.

“One might thus envisage a system in which representations are gradually built up as the various pressures evoked by a given context manifest themselves. In such a system, not only would the mapping be determined by perceptual processes, but the perceptual processes would in turn be influenced by the mapping process. Representation would be built up gradually by means of this continual interaction between perception and mapping. If a particular representation seemed appropriate for a given mapping, then that representation would continue to be developed while the mapping continued to be fleshed out. If the representation seemed less promising, than alternative directions would be explored by the perceptual process. It would be of the essence that the processes of perception and mapping be interleaved at all stages. Gradually, an appropriate analogy would emerge, based on structured representations that dovetail with the final mapping” [Hofstader, 1995].

Thus, creating change for person’s with problems in living might mean constantly disputing the mapping and representations, while providing alternatives. This would provide stress towards new analogical assessment, hence new information. The pressure of the context could be maximized by in vivo involvement. Since mental representations are often generalized after extensive use, a renewed look at the lowest level perceptions [the basic fundamentals, opens new avenues for new analogies to be drawn and changes in ideology [generalized grouping of representations] to be developed.