Categories as heuristics
Walking along the Mississippi I told Colin, “What I realized, writing Surrogation, was that if I wanted to take the project any further, I’d need a serious understanding of causality and inference.”
But I’ve also developed a hunch that understanding (1) heuristics (2) meta-heuristics (the learning, mimesis, explore-exploit algorithms that dictate acquisition, spread, and discovery of heuristics across a population) is key to everything we’re interested in at TIS.
I’m coming to think that we should think of the meaning & use of words & categories as heuristics—their efficacy, when deployed, is receiver-dependent and prone to intra-population frequency-dependent dynamics; words/categories’ meaning/boundaries are tethered to an environment & set of goals which is constantly morphing; different strategies (words/categories) develop connotations or “reputations” that alter acquisition & deployment.
The heuristic is a simple but powerful concept which goes: we can’t know perfectly the effects of our actions in a novel situation, but we can categorize the situation and choose an action that probabilistically/historically has high efficacy in that “type” of circumstance. And this gets right back to functional pragmatism, action-oriented ontologies, Hazard’s “words as decision rules,” etc. Building communicative and interpersonal skills looks like ongoing ontological remodeling + building a toolkit of S-R patterns.
And because “fitness” is central to the heuristic, we can take a whole bunch of evolutionary dynamics with respect to selection, environmental drift, frequency dependency, etc and plug them in to our understanding of language & concepts.