Sunday, February 13, 2005

Note to self and others

While reviewing MB's lecture notes before opening up the mailer envelope containing our midterm, I came across one of those classic plots of voice-onset-time (VOT) versus percent of time the sound is perceived as the intended phoneme. In this plot, there is a sharp transition between perception of the sound as "bah" and perception of it as "pah" when the VOT passes a certain threshold. This is an example of categorical perception, or our tendency to break continuously varying quantities into discrete categories. I've recently felt there's something profound about the brain's ability to make the continuous discrete, and that issues in categorical perception are intertwined with a lot of arguments in politics and life. In fact, it seems that a common arguing tactic is to point out that the quantity that separates what two perceptually discrete categories is continuously varying, and thus the boundary between the categories is arbitrary. I don't have in mind the various times I've observed this phonemenon, but I feel like I've seen it a lot. One of my questions is whether this tactic--the invalidation of categories based on the arbitrary nature of the boundary between them--is valid or bogus.

I guess I don't have anything more to say; I just wanted to make a note of these ideas so that I will hopefully remember to read about theories of categorization at some point in the future.


At 6:20 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

Listen, every time I check your blog, it's this same incomprehensible post. Any chance you could cater to the lowest common denominator and write a new message to entertain me? Thanks, Your Friend, Dawn. PS If it could contain puppies and kittens, that would be awesome.


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