Alex Wright

Eleanor Rosch, Recategorized

November 18, 2006

For the last few years, I've been fascinated with Eleanor Rosch's work on prototype theory (which George Lakoff took as his starting point for Women, Fire and Dangerous Things).

Rosch's theory of categorization always struck me as surprisingly compatible with the Buddhist understanding of mind. Briefly, Rosch's theory suggests that people create categories by mapping their sensory perceptions against cognitive "prototypes"; in contrast to the traditional classical view of categories as idealized expressions of some transcendental higher truth. Similarly, Buddhist teachings suggest that mind is more than just a disembodied neurological entity, but rather an aggregate experience that is intimately bound up with our physical bodies and sense perceptions.

So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Rosch turns out to be a Buddhist; I just discovered she was a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In this essay, she discusses the relationship between cognition and art:

According to some meditation traditions (particularly later Buddhism) activity of the senses and of thoughts are inherently double-faced: they arise from and can point back either to their surface confused habitual mode of operation, which is what humans are conscious of most of the time (and which is reflected in most of the portraits of mind in our psychologies), or to a deeper, more panoramic, and more immediate wisdom way of knowing, feeling, and being. Such an underlying nascent wisdom mode is said to be always available, half glimpsed, by everyone. > Eleanor Rosch, "If You Depict a Bird, Give It Space to Fly": On Mind, Meditation, and Art

File under: Dharma

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