As i’m toiling away on my first comprehensive exam paper, i thought i’d document my current, perhaps rather muddled, thinking. Lately, when not procrastinating, i’m working on synthesizing the literature on mental models, conceptual metaphor and cognitive anthropology to develop a new (“folk”) model of human cognition–homo (analogicus) interconnectivus –that can be applied to analyzing social-ecological (amongst other) systems.
Without giving too much away (i.e. boring you, the imaginary reader), the core idea here is that humans tend to reason analogically, meaning they make sense of new information largely in terms of past experience. Whenever we’re confronted with some sort of ill-defined conceptual domain (e.g. love), we tend to draw on more familiar, concrete domains (e.g. journey, partnership, attachment) to discuss, think and make inferences about that new domain. And underlying that tendency toward analogical (or ‘case-based’) reasoning lies a pretty simple principle of relative association or, put another way, qualified interconnectivity. (Haven’t really settled on one or the other yet. None is perfect.) Anyway, this is the idea that each object of cognition or memory, be it a word, a taste, an emotion, an image, etc., shares ‘tags’ (in a metaphorical sense) with other objects. What matters for the purposes of cognition and inference is the strength and quality, or nature, of the connection between a given object and other objects, which we could imagine as a function of tag-similarity, or tag-closeness, etc. This means that objects of cognition exist in a sort of ‘cloud’ of relative interconnectivity with other objects in our minds, which pre-disposes us to making certain inferences, and not others, when confronted with something new.
It likely sounds complex, but that’s just because i’m not explaining it well at all. It’s actually very, very simple, and provides a pretty good shared base for generating (and validating) other constructs related to how humans reason and act in response to their environment (e.g. schemas, scripts, prototypes…). I’m sure someone else has said this before, using much better language. In any case, the task i’ve set for myself in this case is showing how mental models, conceptual metaphor and model-based reasoning all overlap on this core principle, and what sorts of pragmatic utility such a lens affords us when analyzing complex systems.
Below are some of the tag clouds i’m thinking of using as part of a figure in one of my sections. They’re created using Wordle, a fun little online app.