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Semantics versus Cognitive Representations

24 November, 2015 - 15:07
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Louis Narens 1 presents the idea that there is a difference between descriptive semantics (the words people use to describe something) and cognitive representations (which is basically the image or idea your mind makes up in your head (kind of like an abstract thought)) in evaluating evidence for judgments:

  • Support Theory has an empirical base of results showing that different descriptions of the same event often produce different subjective probability estimates. It explains these results in terms of subjective evaluations of supporting evidence. It assumes that events are evaluated in terms of subjective evidence invoked by their descriptions, and that the observed numerical probability judgments are the result of the combining of such evaluations of support in a manner that is consistent with a particular equation. The processes of evaluation are assumed to employ heuristics like those of Kahneman and Tversky, and because of this, are subject to the kinds of biases introduced by such heuristics.
  • This article provides a New Foundation for Support Theory. The New Foundation makes a sharp distinction between semantical representations of descriptions as part of natural language processing and cognitive representations of descriptions as part of a probabilistic judgment. In particular, judgments of probability employ a complementation operation that has no counterpart in the semantics. The complementation operation is used to construct cognitive events that are employed in the computation of the estimated probability.

So when someone evaluates a piece of information, they describe it in their mind (unconsciously or unconsciously) with words. Then they probably come to a conclusion from the evidence that the description provided.

So describing something with words would be something like, "Linda is a bank teller", or "Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement" Here is the explanation from Narens:

  • Kahneman and Tversky found that over 85% of participants believed it was more likely that Linda was both a bank teller and a feminist than just a bank teller. This is an example of what has become known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Kahneman and Tversky, it is due to representativeness: “bank teller and is active in the feminist movement” is more a “representative” description of Linda than just “bank teller.”

So a humans mind has the verbal description given to them in words, and then their mind forms a representation based off of what they heard (i.e. - possibly an idea of Linda in their minds).

So that means that there must be lots of words use people use to describe things, and also lots of cognitive 'ideas' or 'representations' they have in their mind that might assist these words.

So words, ideas and representations are all things a human's mind uses to think. I don't know when exactly a human mind might use words instead of abstract, non-verbal thoughts - that would be getting unnecessarily detailed into how thinking works, I would say.