Abstraction in perceptual symbol systems

Barsalou, L. W. (2003) Abstraction in perceptual symbol systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 358(1435), pp. 1177-1187. (doi: 10.1098/rstb.2003.1319) (PMID:2903648)

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After reviewing six senses of abstraction, this article focuses on abstractions that take the form of summary representations. Three central properties of these abstractions are established: (i) type–token interpretation; (ii) structured representation; and (iii) dynamic realization. Traditional theories of representation handle interpretation and structure well but are not sufficiently dynamical. Conversely, connectionist theories are exquisitely dynamic but have problems with structure. Perceptual symbol systems offer an approach that implements all three properties naturally. Within this framework, a loose collection of property and relation simulators develops to represent abstractions. Type–token interpretation results from binding a property simulator to a region of a perceived or simulated category member. Structured representation results from binding a configuration of property and relation simulators to multiple regions in an integrated manner. Dynamic realization results from applying different subsets of property and relation simulators to category members on different occasions. From this standpoint, there are no permanent or complete abstractions of a category in memory. Instead, abstraction is the skill to construct temporary online interpretations of a category's members. Although an infinite number of abstractions are possible, attractors develop for habitual approaches to interpretation. This approach provides new ways of thinking about abstraction phenomena in categorization, inference, background knowledge and learning.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barsalou, Professor Lawrence
Authors: Barsalou, L. W.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publisher:Royal Society
ISSN (Online):1471-2970

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