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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

7 - Situating Abstract Concepts

Summary

Roughly speaking, an abstract concept refers to entities that are neither purely physical nor spatially constrained. Such concepts pose a classic problem for theories that ground knowledge in modality-specific systems (e.g., Barsalou, 1999, 2003a,b). How could these systems represent a concept like TRUTH? Abstract concepts also pose a significant problem for traditional theories that represent knowledge with amodal symbols. Surprisingly, few researchers have attempted to specify the content of abstract concepts using feature lists, semantic networks, or frames. It is not enough to say that an amodal node or a pattern of amodal units represents an abstract concept. It is first necessary to specify the concept's content, and then to show that a particular type of representation can express it. Regardless of how one might go about representing TRUTH, its content must be identified. Then the task of identifying how this content is represented can begin.

The primary purpose of this chapter is to explore the content of three abstract concepts: TRUTH, FREEDOM, and INVENTION. In an exploratory study, their content will be compared to the content of three concrete concepts – BIRD, CAR, and SOFA – and also to three intermediate concepts that seem somewhat concrete but more abstract than typical concrete concepts – COOKING, FARMING, and CARPETING. We will first ask participants to produce properties typically true of these concepts. We will then analyze these properties using two coding schemes.

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Grounding Cognition
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