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To cognize is to categorize: from the ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’ to the ‘cognitive commons’

A category is a kind of thing (object, event, action, property, state). To categorize is to do the right thing with the right kind of thing. Hence most of human and animal cognition and adaptive behaviour is categorization. The feature detectors for some categories are inborn, but most categories need to be learned. There are two ways to learn categories: by trial-and-error induction, with error-correcting feedback from the consequences of correct and incorrect categorization – or by verbal instruction (language). Our species is the only one that can learn categories through verbal description and definition. That is the main evolutionary advantage conferred by language. Our dictionaries, encyclopaedias and, lately, all of Google space contain names of our categories and their definitions/descriptions, our “category commons”. New categories can be learned from descriptions combining the names of already learned categories into a subject/predicate proposition. How many words are needed to ground an entire dictionary, or all of Google space?

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