Scripting News: “So, is your

Scripting News: “So, is your brain really hierarchic? I think it is. Here’s the informal demo.”

No, the brain doesn’t think in hierarchies. Categories in the human mind aren’t organised in hierarchies. That’s why hierarchical taxonomies ultimately always fail: we don’t think that way, and the world definitely doesn’t work that way (and even if it did it wouldn’t matter since we still wouldn’t think that way). That’s how I understand George Lakoff anyway.

0 thoughts on “Scripting News: “So, is your

  1. “Categories in the human mind aren’t organised in hierarchies.”

    Great point Peter. When I first skimmed your post, and was thinking of writing a responce, I kept hitting up against the fact that items do fall into categories. For instance, a cat and a dog are pets.

    On second reading I paid more attention to your quote and realized that you are absolutely right. *Categories* are not hierarchical. What category does “pets” belong to? Types of domesticated animals? This may be true, but it certainly does not spring to mind. … and can turtles, which some people keep as pets, be called domesticated animals?

    As far a Dave Winers example with q-tips, that’s just rediculous. An important thing to realize about the difference between physical space and “hyper” space, is that in the physical world organizational schemes are constrained to remain heirarchical. You can’t put the same book on more then one shelf at the same time. Thus the hierarchical nature of the dewey decimal system. In hyper-space (aka cyber space) there isn’t this constraint. You can put an item into multiple categories. Another new freedom which TouchGraph takes advantage of is that you can also have multiple adjacency, which is what the “also bought” section of amazon.com simulates.

    The case for associative links over hierarchical ones can be made by this (perhaps amateurish) analysis of the Amazon UI. The “also bought” links are shown right up top, even before the description, while the categories are shown all the way at the bottom. Now can we conclude that the Amazon did this because the associative links are more used, and thus more useful?

    Anyway, hope you don’t mind the long post, it’s just that Dave’s comment hit close to home (and I’m not sure if there is a way to comment on his site)

    Keep up the great work. Ease is my favorite tech weblog (untill I get mine set up that is :-)

  2. “items do fall into categories. For instance, a cat and a dog are pets”

    Items only fall into categories because the way our mind works. There is no *inherent* quality out there in the world that makes cats and dogs both pets – they are purely both pets in *our* view of the world.

    As for the higher categories like “mammal”, those are very much crazy inventions of categorizers. If you study the history of biological taxonomies you realise there is no such thing as a *real* category, it is all just a somewhat misguided attempt to place the world into hierarchies and it *never* really works.

    Lakoff, in his book “Women, fire and dangerous things”, describes something called “basic-levelness” in categories. It means that there is a level of basicness in a category like “cat” that you don’t have in a category like “mammal”. It doesn’t just mean “cat” is lower in the hierarchy. It does mean that we cognitively process “cat” a LOT easier than mammal. Children learn basic level categories first, and they are most easily recognised, remembered and processed.

  3. I think the point is that the brain does not work with strict categories.

    Rather dog and cat belong to multiple categories, such as animals that make me sneeze, pets, pita, etc.

    And then categories themselves belong to multiple categories.

    The world is a multidimensional directed graph.

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