What is it about?

Drawing on the material culture of the Ancient Near East as interpreted through Material Engagement Theory, the journey of how material number becomes a conceptual number is traced to address questions of how a particular material form might generate a concept and how concepts might ultimately encompass multiple material forms so that they include but are irreducible to all of them together. Material forms incorporated into the cognitive system affect the content and structure of concepts through their agency and affordances, the capabilities and constraints they provide as the material component of the extended, enactive mind. Material forms give concepts the tangibility that enables them to be literally grasped and manipulated. As they are distributed over multiple material forms, concepts effectively become independent of any of them, yielding the abstract irreducibility that makes a concept like number what it is. Finally, social aspects of material use—collaboration, ordinariness, and time—have important effects on the generation and distribution of concepts.

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I am interested in how societies become numerate by using and recruiting material forms into the cognitive system for numbers over generations of collaborative effort. The manuovisually engaged domain of material forms is a primary mechanism for realizing and elaborating numerical concepts. I also look at the effect this elaborational mechanism has on conceptual content, and what this might augur about the future of human cognition.

Dr. Karenleigh A. Overmann
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

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This page is a summary of: Concepts and how they get that way, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, October 2017, Springer Science + Business Media,
DOI: 10.1007/s11097-017-9545-8.
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