Archive for July 8th, 2011

July 8, 2011

Partitioning and categorization

by Neil Rickert

I discussed the idea of partitioning the world in an earlier post.  Categorization is an old idea, dating back to Plato or earlier.  In this post, I want to compare and contrast the ideas of partitioning and of categorization.

It is widely believed that categorization is cognitively important.  However, heretic that I am, I disagree.  I believe that it is partitioning that is cognitively important, and I suspect that the results of partitioning are often being mischaracterized as due to categorization.

Categorization is usually described as grouping things into categories.  Either one groups things that are similar, or one groups things that are similar to a presumed stereotypical model.  The result is a hierarchical organization of the world, with larger categories composed of smaller categories.  So your pet dog might be an entity.  This, along with other dogs, is grouped into the categories of dogs.  Then dogs, cats and other critters are grouped into the category of mammals, etc.  Partitioning results in a similar hierarchical organization.  The difference is that, with partitioning, one starts at the top (the world as a whole), and looks for reliable ways of dividing that large group into small groups.  So partitioning and categorization can both be said to structure the world, with the structuring being done top-down with partitioning or bottom up with categorization.

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