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    Categories, genres and labels, oh my...
Thoughts on Art and categorization from a cognitive linguist.
By Eve Sweetser
VI. Suggestions of interesting reading on these subjects:

Forest Man: by Mark Wagner
The few works I present here are by some of the major figures writing on Embodied Cognition. They are chosen partly as being salient and central examples; and partly as being accessible. I've left out things which are intended for narrower, more specifically trained audiences, in favor of ones directed at broader interdisciplinary audiences (references to the former works, including some of my own publications, are readily to be found in the latter, however). I've also left out articles in favor of books; many of these books are readily available in paperback on Amazon. By and large, these folks write well — even the most academic prose on this list is straightforward and unstuffy, while the best is downright...artistic.

On categories formed by "embodied minds:" George Lakoff is one of the founders of Cognitive Linguistics and of what might be called Embodied Cognitive Science. His Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1987) is not new, but not yet superseded; and it is far broader — also far more interesting reading — than some of the attempts at superseding it. It covers the earlier literature on categorization in detail, so you'll find a flock of added citations there. And it makes some of the arguments I have not made here, about why we can't reduce human categories to logical ones. Among the literatures reviewed are the psychological literature on category processing, including Eleanor Rosch's influential work on prototypes and basic level categories; the psychological and anthropological literature on color terms, including Brent Berlin and Paul Kay's World Color Survey; work on cross-cultural variability (e.g. Whorf); and a range of philosophical and linguistic work at large.

Mark Johnson's The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987). Johnson is a philosopher; this book tackles the ways in which a human's bodily experience of the world constitutes a basis for meaning, imagination, and rationality. There are some fascinating discussions of artistic examples (in particular, one of balance in sculpture).

On embodied cognition, imagination, culture and creativity in general: Lakoff and Johnson's joint Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (Basic Books, 1999). The first is a highly readable work, which was just a beginning to the project it embodies; in a way, it's an extended essay. It has been hugely influential, and translated into a myriad of languages. The second is the major pull-their-work-together book they couldn't have written back in 1980; but, fat tome though it is, it is not written for a narrow scholarly audience in a technical discipline.

Mark Turner's work in general. Turner's a crossover figure, with a background in math and computer science before he took a Ph.D. in English; he's now a Professor of both English and Cognitive Science at the University of Maryland. (He also happens to be married to fantasy author Megan Whalen Turner. Incidentally, both Johnson and Lakoff are married to artists; there is definitely something going on here.) One of the uniting themes of his work is the need for both literary analysts and cognitive scientists to see texts as among the most complex and interesting products of human cognition. You might try Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science (Princeton University Press, 1991) or The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language (Oxford University Press, 1996), or Cognitive Dimensions of Social Science: The Way We Think About Politics, Economics, Law, and Society (Oxford University Press, 2001). His early book Death is the Mother of Beauty: Mind, Metaphor, Criticism (University of Chicago Press, 1987) is specifically on metaphor; the later ones are cognitive approaches to language, literature, and social science. Lakoff and Turner coauthored a delightful volume called More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (University of Chicago Press, 1989), which is exactly what it claims to be. Very generally accessible as well as insightful.

Turner's recent book coauthored with Gilles Fauconnier is entitled The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities (Basic Books, 2002). It's a highly readable work, intended for people who are not experts in some particular field, because it's intended to reach a highly interdisciplinary audience. It's about strategies of conceptual integration (or blending) as the basis for human cognition, and as an explanation for how humans have art, language, and culture in a way that our closest non-human relatives don't. It's controversial, accessible, and state-of-the-art.

For added fun in the interface between culture and cognition, check out the Anthropology shelves and try Edwin Hutchins' Cognition in the Wild (MIT Press, 1995) or Bradd Shore's Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning (Oxford University Press, 1996). As ever, real data turn out to be even wilder and cooler than nearly all fiction. These are the Margaret Meads of their generation, and their interest is cultural cognition in context.

And for anyone interested in specific discussion of how mathematical cognition is based in bodily experience and in metaphor, try George Lakoff and Rafael Nunez' Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being (Basic Books, 2000). Both Lakoff and Nunez are polymaths, and Lakoff here returns to an early academic interest in math and logic.

And for those with interest in the neuroscientific basis for this approach to cognition, try out Antonio Damasio's readable and fascinating The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (Harcourt, Brace, 1999). Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio are leaders of the current neuroscience community, and he eloquently here explains his certainty that neuroscience does not let us separate rationality from emotion. Or try the fascinating reinterpretation of modern neuroscience in a Buddhist philosophical framework (Varela was a highly regarded neuroscientist, and Rosch is both a top experimental cognitive psychologist and a practicing Buddhist), in Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch's The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991).
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