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Cognition. 1998 Jan;65(2-3):231-62.

Reuniting perception and conception.

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Psychology Department, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405, USA.


Work in philosophy and psychology has argued for a dissociation between perceptually-based similarity and higher-level rules in conceptual thought. Although such a dissociation may be justified at times, our goal is to illustrate ways in which conceptual processing is grounded in perception, both for perceptual similarity and abstract rules. We discuss the advantages, power and influences of perceptually-based representations. First, many of the properties associated with amodal symbol systems can be achieved with perceptually-based systems as well (e.g. productivity). Second, relatively raw perceptual representations are powerful because they can implicitly represent properties in an analog fashion. Third, perception naturally provides impressions of overall similarity, exactly the type of similarity useful for establishing many common categories. Fourth, perceptual similarity is not static but becomes tuned over time to conceptual demands. Fifth, the original motivation or basis for sophisticated cognition is often less sophisticated perceptual similarity. Sixth, perceptual simulation occurs even in conceptual tasks that have no explicit perceptual demands. Parallels between perceptual and conceptual processes suggest that many mechanisms typically associated with abstract thought are also present in perception, and that perceptual processes provide useful mechanisms that may be co-opted by abstract thought.

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