piz

Observing Concept-Formation

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My granddaughter has words! Words I can recognize. :D I had never even heard the word "epistemology" when my kids were her age, but now that I'm 12+ years into Objectivism and I've discovered the field, I'm seeing things I could not have noticed before. This is fascinating to watch.

Her current set seems to be "daddy" ("da da"), "baby" ("ba ba"), "bye bye" (similar to "ba ba" but with a wave that shows she's not saying "baby"), "phone" ("peh"), "kitty" ("kih-eh"), "book" ("buh"), and (my favorite) "bacon" ("bay-keh").* It may be that "grandpa" is "da da da," but that's less clear. ("Mommy" is noticeably absent, because even though she's present Mommy is noticeably absent. But don't get me started down that road.)

In addition, she has what resembles a whole vocabulary of her own, which she uses all the time with all the tone, inflection, facial expression, and body language of anyone speaking adult English. She knows exactly what her meaning is, too, because she often gets frustrated when we don't respond correctly. On the other hand, she's not consistent in her "word" usage, meaning that she can utter an entirely different set of sounds which appear to have the same meaning. For example, "Buh day da ma dat?" and "Dat muh buh ba?" when said one after the other with the same tone, expressions, and gestures will both mean "Can I have that?"

What I'm having the most fun with (and what Grandpa is most proud of) is that she is now actively trying to learn new words. We were reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish not long ago, and when I put it down she picked it up and asked in her own "words" what was clearly "What is this?" I said "book" and she asked again. This question/answer was repeated a few times, and then she said "buh." We said "book"/"buh" back and forth several times and she seemed satisfied. Later she brought the book to me, said "buh," and walked away with it. She hasn't done that with any other book so far (although we haven't finished OFTFRFBF yet - it has many chapters, as you know, and she's a woman with things to do and little patience), so she might think that "book" means that book, but she wanted a name for it and got one.

Watching this develop in her is, now that I understand something of conceptual development, the most incredible thing I've ever seen. I'll post more as she progresses. Any and all replies (technical and personal) are welcome.

_____

*I wish I had a video of me holding her in one arm and cooking breakfast with the other, while she watches in fascination and says "bay-keh, bay-keh, bay-keh" over and over. I do have one of her eating barbecue pork ribs at age 8 months, holding and gnawing on a rib like the good paleo eaters we are - I'm so proud. :)

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Kira (my granddaughter, now age 14 months) knows exactly what eyes, noses, and ears are whenever she sees them on any person. The difference between those three and "book" (see my previous post) is that she uses no words for them. If you ask her, for example, where your nose is, she can find it right away, so she recognizes the word "nose" but she never even makes an attempt to say "nose" (ditto for "ear," "eye," and a number of other words).

So, she knows that those words identify those existents, but she likely can’t say them. I think she has finished the process of concept formation for those existents, because the words do mean for her what they are intended to mean. I don’t think the fact that she can’t or doesn’t say the words makes any difference – it’s probably just a limitation in her ability to speak at this point.

I also want to return to a word she’s using that I mentioned before: Bye-bye (her “ba ba” with a wave). This was her first higher level concept. It would seem her current (implicit) definition for it is something like “what happens whenever someone goes away from here, especially out the front door” (she says “bye-bye” right away whenever anyone moves in the direction of the door). Note that she has an implicit understanding of “here” that appears to amount to “wherever I am right now.” That implicit understanding might explain why she looks confused when presented with “come here” – in her mind, she’s already “here.” She’s also somewhat confused when I say “we’re going bye-bye” and take her along with me – “bye-bye” can’t apply to her, given her “here,” because “here” just moves along with her.

She also has her first phrase (apart from the ones she creates in her own “language”). One of her standard things to do is take whatever she is holding and drop it on the floor. Sometimes it just means she’s done with it, and she moves on to something else. Other times, though, she seems to be experimenting with either what a thing will do when dropped or what is allowed to be dropped (she and I have ongoing struggles with my cell phone on that front). Very often she wants to do that over and over, and she has begun using “gith ih” (the “th” pronounced as in “the,” not as in “thing”), meaning “get it.” She clearly understands “get it” when it’s spoken to her (although she doesn’t always comply :)).

Finally, she as yet has no long vowels. No idea why, I just find it interesting.

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An update: Kira now has many more words, and I'll go so far as to say many concepts. Among others, these include fish ("fiss"), butter ("buh-uh"), milk ("mik"), keys ("kizth"), ball ("bah," 'a' as in "bat"), up, ("bup"), down, ("dahn"), talk ("tok"), sock ("gok"), and shoes ("shiz" - no, we don't play any Snoop Dogg :)). She has always understood more words and phrases than she can say, but she asks the words for things quite a lot. She adds new words daily, today so far has been straw ("taw") and pee pee ("peh peh" - she still has no long vowels).

Interestingly, she "speaks" the concept "more" only as the American Sign Language gesture (tapping the closed fingertips of both hands together), although she recognizes the word when it's spoken to her. Her babysitter taught her that one.

There are two curious cases where her words don't sound all that close to the fully pronounced words - doggie ("daden") and birdie ("baden"). "Daden" also seems to represent all animals, though she has thus far rarely seen any other than dogs.

She seems to hold a number of concepts without having words for them. For example, she knows exactly what a spatula is, what it's for, and how it's used. She can tell one from other kitchen utensils, and knows that though different spatulas have somewhat different shapes they're all still spatulas. For example, when we're cooking bacon and eggs (still her favorite meal), she will "ask for" the spatula (reach for it and say "Eh!" - her universal method for "I want that!"), take it, and poke at the food on the griddle in imitation of what I do. However she will not do the same if handed a wooden spoon or any other implement. Yet she never even attempts to use a sound for "spatula." I know concept formation is not supposed to be complete until a symbol (i.e. word) is assigned to the mental integration, but there certainly doesn't seem to be anything else keeping these instances from being full concepts.

Some concepts that she does have words for she nonetheless has very broad "definitions" for. The best examples are stuck ("tduk" with a sort of glottal stop representing the beginning 'st'), truck ("guk") and hot ("hot," correctly pronounced though somewhat emphasizing the 't'.) Anything that won't move or go the way she wants it to when she's trying to manipulate it with her hands is "tduk" - toys, doors, people, clothing, bottle tops that are screwed on or child-proofed, drawers she can't open, herself when she's in her car seat, whatever. Every vehicle larger than a car (actual trucks, buses, some SUVs or Jeeps), or that doesn't look like a car (construction vehicles, tractors, riding lawnmowers) is a "guk." (Oddly, she has no word for cars, but doesn't call them trucks.) And anything that might cause a particular sort of pain, especially both hot and cold, she evaluates as "hot," usually as a query before touching something. This is most likely because to date she has virtually no experience with cold intense enough to cause pain, but several encounters with very hot things (like that griddle).

Finally, something that was just adorable and funny: I was sitting on my bed about an hour ago, and she walked over and asked for "bup." I helped her climb onto the bed, and she started exploring some of the things on it (she does this a lot, and there's always something to be explored there). For Kira, "book" has advanced from "buh" to "bak" (again with the 'a' as in "bat"). She found a book on the bed, brought it over to me, said "bak," and started paging through it. Oh, if she only knew - it was Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology!

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All very interesting. Makes one wonder, if left to her own devices, she would create her own language.

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She seems to hold a number of concepts without having words for them. For example, she knows exactly what a spatula is, what it's for, and how it's used. She can tell one from other kitchen utensils, and knows that though different spatulas have somewhat different shapes they're all still spatulas. For example, when we're cooking bacon and eggs (still her favorite meal), she will "ask for" the spatula (reach for it and say "Eh!" - her universal method for "I want that!"), take it, and poke at the food on the griddle in imitation of what I do. However she will not do the same if handed a wooden spoon or any other implement. Yet she never even attempts to use a sound for "spatula." I know concept formation is not supposed to be complete until a symbol (i.e. word) is assigned to the mental integration, but there certainly doesn't seem to be anything else keeping these instances from being full concepts.

How do you know she understands what spatulas are and what they are used for? Asking for one by reaching and saying "Eh" does not distinction spatulas from other utensils. If she does understand the difference but has no name for it yet, she has an implicit concept -- the material necessary for a concept but not yet integrated under a concrete symbol -- or maybe she does have a symbol but has not spoken it yet so you don't know what it is.

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She seems to hold a number of concepts without having words for them. For example, she knows exactly what a spatula is, what it's for, and how it's used. She can tell one from other kitchen utensils, and knows that though different spatulas have somewhat different shapes they're all still spatulas. For example, when we're cooking bacon and eggs (still her favorite meal), she will "ask for" the spatula (reach for it and say "Eh!" - her universal method for "I want that!"), take it, and poke at the food on the griddle in imitation of what I do. However she will not do the same if handed a wooden spoon or any other implement. Yet she never even attempts to use a sound for "spatula." I know concept formation is not supposed to be complete until a symbol (i.e. word) is assigned to the mental integration, but there certainly doesn't seem to be anything else keeping these instances from being full concepts.

How do you know she understands what spatulas are and what they are used for? Asking for one by reaching and saying "Eh" does not distinction spatulas from other utensils. If she does understand the difference but has no name for it yet, she has an implicit concept -- the material necessary for a concept but not yet integrated under a concrete symbol -- or maybe she does have a symbol but has not spoken it yet so you don't know what it is.

I thought my description explained that. She doesn't try to turn food with anything but a spatula. When we are cooking something that needs a spatula she will only try to use spatulas for the purpose. Her motor skills aren't yet developed enough to succeed at turning food; if they were she would be. (As it is, she sometimes accidentally flings a slice of bacon or a sausage pattie all the way across the stove instead.) She also knows how to use spoons and forks, but neither tries to use them as spatulas nor to use spatulas as them.

So, she has differentiated spatulas from all other things (and specifically food-related utensils), integrated them into an abstract unit (by their similar yet varying shape), and she understands (though cannot yet fully execute) their use. What's left but to assign a word? I'm willing to accept that it's an implicit concept if that term encompasses complete mental integrations that only lack an assigned symbol, though I have generally thought of implicit concepts as more "unfinished" than that. She, of course, lacks the vocabulary to state a definition but, as I understand concepts, definitions are external to them. At least, the definition of "concept" does not include a definition as a distinguishing characteristic: "A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Unless I'm missing something, everything necessary for a fully-formed concept is there, with the possible exception of the word to name it. It's perfectly consistent with the way Ayn Rand describes beginning concept formation in children, meaning it is correct but unsophisticated, and more knowledge will not invalidate it, but will refine it. (See ITOE, chapter 2.)

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. . . Unless I'm missing something, everything necessary for a fully-formed concept is there, with the possible exception of the word to name it. It's perfectly consistent with the way Ayn Rand describes beginning concept formation in children, meaning it is correct but unsophisticated, and more knowledge will not invalidate it, but will refine it. (See ITOE, chapter 2.)
That sounds reasonable. This is a concept she is 'discovering', in a sense, rather than creating, as spatulas are already a well-defined (if not-so-well-named) existent. There are entire sites devoted to them, Monuments built to them post-47-1308259254.jpg

, perfect Platonic Spatula Forms, which have been degraded by Reality to allow bacon-flipping and cake batter-mixing.

But the step from recognizing the common attributes between instances of an entity to naming that entity is a big one, one she's taken in many other cases. I'm sure 'spatula' is not far behind. From fork to forklift, though, that takes some heavy mental lifting.

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Sylvester the cartoon cat, used one to free his 'stuck' fried-on paw from a hot stove.

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That sounds reasonable. This is a concept she is 'discovering', in a sense, rather than creating, as spatulas are already a well-defined (if not-so-well-named) existent. There are entire sites devoted to them, Monuments built to them post-47-1308259254.jpg

, perfect Platonic Spatula Forms, which have been degraded by Reality to allow bacon-flipping and cake batter-mixing.

LOL, true. And don't forget Internet Rule 34.

But the step from recognizing the common attributes between instances of an entity to naming that entity is a big one, one she's taken in many other cases. I'm sure 'spatula' is not far behind. From fork to forklift, though, that takes some heavy mental lifting.

Agreed and agreed. For now, a forklift would be a "guk." :)

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I'm thinking that her process, as a member of the class of shorter, younger people, is not that different than that of older, more highly-educated, wrinkled people. When medical folk decide that a certain condition found in the population resembles no known, well-characterized disease, they call it a "syndrome." A syndrome is, essentially, a collection of presenting symptoms without a known etiology (causitive agent). It is a placeholder for something for which, it is hoped, a more comprehensive characterization will yield a causative agent, the mode of action of the agent that cause the presenting symptoms, and, eventually, a treatment based on that knowledge. So, while a condition is still in the syndrome phase of knowledge, it is a loose, placeholder concept, left open to the possibility that some symptoms may not be relevant to the same underlying disease, or that some of significance have not yet been observed. Once the condition has been well-characterized, differentiated from other conditions, and a cause is established, it is now on much more solid footing and we call it a "disease."

Kira understands that there is a thing of use in the kitchen with a set of common attributes, but she doesn't necessarily know the full set; for example, she might or might not see a rubber cake spatula as the same class of implement as a metal or teflon rigid egg-flipping spatula. In fact, what possessed the ancient Greek who invented spatulas to use the same name for these things, anyway? The turkey... But I digress. I think her next larger step is to understand explicitly what attributes apply to make a spatula a spatual, rather than a sieve or a spoon or a trowel and subsume those similarities into a single concept, understanding that there are definite sub-classes that have significantly different attributes, while the key attributes remain.

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I'm thinking that her process, as a member of the class of shorter, younger people, is not that different than that of older, more highly-educated, wrinkled people...

Learn something new every day. I, of course, knew of various syndromes, but had always thought the term was just a synonym for disease.

Anyway, I think what you describe is accurate. She surely at this point holds the distinguishing characteristics of spatulas perceptually, i.e. shape and (to some extent) function. The same would likely be true for "up," which she presently associates with getting off the floor onto a chair or bed or similar but not, say, with someone lifting her off the ground or with an airplane in the sky. Her concepts are definitely of concretes or as close to concretes as one can come with a slightly higher abstraction like "up." And she naturally doesn't yet have the vocabulary to define or even describe her concepts.

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She seems to hold a number of concepts without having words for them. For example, she knows exactly what a spatula is, what it's for, and how it's used. She can tell one from other kitchen utensils, and knows that though different spatulas have somewhat different shapes they're all still spatulas. For example, when we're cooking bacon and eggs (still her favorite meal), she will "ask for" the spatula (reach for it and say "Eh!" - her universal method for "I want that!"), take it, and poke at the food on the griddle in imitation of what I do. However she will not do the same if handed a wooden spoon or any other implement. Yet she never even attempts to use a sound for "spatula." I know concept formation is not supposed to be complete until a symbol (i.e. word) is assigned to the mental integration, but there certainly doesn't seem to be anything else keeping these instances from being full concepts.

How do you know she understands what spatulas are and what they are used for? Asking for one by reaching and saying "Eh" does not distinction spatulas from other utensils. If she does understand the difference but has no name for it yet, she has an implicit concept -- the material necessary for a concept but not yet integrated under a concrete symbol -- or maybe she does have a symbol but has not spoken it yet so you don't know what it is.

I thought my description explained that. She doesn't try to turn food with anything but a spatula. When we are cooking something that needs a spatula she will only try to use spatulas for the purpose. Her motor skills aren't yet developed enough to succeed at turning food; if they were she would be. (As it is, she sometimes accidentally flings a slice of bacon or a sausage pattie all the way across the stove instead.) She also knows how to use spoons and forks, but neither tries to use them as spatulas nor to use spatulas as them.

So, she has differentiated spatulas from all other things (and specifically food-related utensils), integrated them into an abstract unit (by their similar yet varying shape), and she understands (though cannot yet fully execute) their use. What's left but to assign a word? I'm willing to accept that it's an implicit concept if that term encompasses complete mental integrations that only lack an assigned symbol, though I have generally thought of implicit concepts as more "unfinished" than that. She, of course, lacks the vocabulary to state a definition but, as I understand concepts, definitions are external to them. At least, the definition of "concept" does not include a definition as a distinguishing characteristic: "A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Unless I'm missing something, everything necessary for a fully-formed concept is there, with the possible exception of the word to name it. It's perfectly consistent with the way Ayn Rand describes beginning concept formation in children, meaning it is correct but unsophisticated, and more knowledge will not invalidate it, but will refine it. (See ITOE, chapter 2.)

It may be that "everything necessary for a fully-formed concept is there", but she has not integrated the units (spatulas) into an "abstract unit" if she doesn't have a word for it. The integration is not complete without a perceptual unit, i.e., a word as a symbol, standing for the units in the concept. Without the word there is no integration. At this earlier stage she may not use the same symbol in her mind as the word you use, but you have to look very carefully to try to ascertain if she has one at all.

The uniting involved is not a mere sum, but an integration, i.e., a blending of the units into a single, new mental entity which is used thereafter as a single unit of thought (but which can be broken into its component units whenever required).

In order to be used as a single unit, the enormous sum integrated by a concept has to be given the form of a single, specific, perceptual concrete, which will differentiate it from all other concretes and from all other concepts.

Without the word there is no completed integration and no concept.

Having a word is not the same thing as the kind of definition one has, verbal or ostensive, but some kind of definition is required in some form to identify the essential characteristics. An integration into a concept is not possible without awareness of the essentials of what one is integrating. For early, low level concepts which one learns to form automatically from perceptual observation it is not necessary to explicitly think of it as what we know as a definition, but the integration is not possible without grasping in some form what the essentials are.

You also have to be careful not to read too much into what she understands. In being attracted to 'spatulas' she may only be fascinated with the shear motions of the larger utensils (i.e., the spatulas) flipping the food around with no idea of why or the notion of food being "turned over". Or she may be beyond that. Analyze carefully and be careful not to jump to conclusions about her epistemological status, reading too much of what you know about concepts into what she is actually doing in her progress at an early stage.

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HUGE progress in this, but I just want to quickly report:

She has achieved "Mine!"

Here's to raising a good little capitalist pig!

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HUGE progress in this, but I just want to quickly report:

She has achieved "Mine!"

Here's to raising a good little capitalist pig!

Congratulations! Now show her how she can gain and keep what's hers.

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Another quick update: She has comprehensible sentences, and can say new (simple) words as soon as they are said to her. In other words, she's developed conscious control over her voice, even if her motor skills related to speaking are still "gross" rather than "fine."

Examples:

"Where'd it go?" is "Air ih goh?"

"I'm a good girl." is "Ahm ah gooh guh."

"One more?" is "Un moh?"

Her number of new words is too long to list from memory at this point, and can be added to at any time. She's still best at understanding concretes, but her collection of abstracts grows daily.

She also likes to count things, although for now every number is "un."

Cute converstaion last night:

Kira: Pop? (meaning her favorite mini ice pops)

Daddy: No pop.

Kira: Pop?

Daddy: You already had 3 today, no more pops.

Kira: Un moh?

Daddy: Mo more.

Kira: Un moh?

Daddy: OK, one more, but only if you're a good girl.

Kira: Un moh pop?

Daddy: Only if you're a good girl.

Kira: Un moh?

Daddy: If you're a good girl.

Kira: Ahm ah gooh guh. Un moh?

Daddy and "Ba Ba": [laughing too hard to say no]

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Another quick, rather humorous addition - a new phrase she repeats several times a day following The Incident: "No potty phone!" (Fortunately it was not my phone involved in The Incident.)

She also now has possessives, though not fully pronounced properly. For example, my pillow is "Ba Ba piwoh" and her pillow is "Baby piwoh" or "mah piwoh." Her fork is "mah fowk" and my fork is "Ba Ba fowk."

And there are some processes, such as (e.g. at breakfast), "Igg cook." Or at bedtime, "Ba Ba eep."

She's finally saying more understandable things than made up stuff, about 70%/30% at this point, and new words come about as quickly as you could imagine.

For reference, she turned 22 months last week.

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That's good to hear, piz. I like that you're so aware of how she's developing, that's got to be an asset for her.

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That's good to hear, piz. I like that you're so aware of how she's developing, that's got to be an asset for her.

That's very important. When my son was a toddler, another mother in our play group was amazed at his huge vocabulary and how well he spoke and asked me, "Do you talk to him a lot?"

"No," I answered, "I listen to him a lot."

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Apropos of nothing in this thread, my granddaughter has figured out how to field-strip and reassemble a Cross Classic Black ball-point pen. :)

More on topic, she also assembled another in her growing collection of whole sentences: "Ba-Ba pop-pop off."

There's a little app on my phone called "Toddler Lock," which blocks all phone functions and lets her draw and "pop up" shapes on the screen. She calls it the "pop-pop." Exiting the app is complictaed enough that a toddler is highly unlikely to do it by accident. She has learned which screen icon turns it on, and how to scroll to the correct screen where the icon is located. Now the popular game is to start Toddler Lock, then have Ba-Ba exit it for her so she can start it again.

Hence "Ba-Ba pop-pop off."

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It sounds like Kira is a young lady who knows what she wants and isn't shy about asking for it. Enjoy!

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An update: Kira is now just over 28 months. She and I were outside this evening. She looked up and saw something. This was the conversation:

Kira [pointing]: Ba Ba, what that?

Me: That's the moon.

Kira: Moon?

Me: Yep, the moon.

[Kira thinks for a moment.]

Kira: Da moon is way up high. [pause] It too high for birdies.

That whole concept-formation thing? I think we're pretty much there.

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An update: Kira is now just over 28 months. She and I were outside this evening. She looked up and saw something. This was the conversation:

Kira [pointing]: Ba Ba, what that?

Me: That's the moon.

Kira: Moon?

Me: Yep, the moon.

[Kira thinks for a moment.]

Kira: Da moon is way up high. [pause] It too high for birdies.

That whole concept-formation thing? I think we're pretty much there.

Your daughter has all her marbles. Mazel tov.

ruveyn

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[Kira thinks for a moment.]

Kira: Da moon is way up high. [pause] It too high for birdies.

That whole concept-formation thing? I think we're pretty much there.

She's making causal connections! That already puts her way beyond many adults I know.

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