Category Archives: Cognitive Mindfulness Quotes

How I became a Linguist: Characteristics of Intelligent Behavior

Systems thinking about the society

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Sometime in the early nineties my mother gave me a list of Arthur Costa’s twelve characteristics of intelligent behavior.  This list actually had a lot of influence in my life as I stumbled upon the trajectory toward anthropology and linguistics.  It taught me that I could actually organize observations and thoughts and cause them to not only make sense out of reality, but to blend the sense-making process with the process of describing reality.

I wanted to summarize Costa’s 1988 list here and to provide a link to a full article by Costa that explains the rationale behind each of the list items.

  1. Persistence, persevering when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent
  2. Decreasing Impulsivity
  3. Listening to Others – with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Flexibility in Thinking
  5. Metacognition: Awareness of Our Own Thinking
  6. Checking for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Posing
  8. Drawing on Past Knowledge and Applying it to New Situations
  9. Precision of Language and Thought
  10. Using All the Senses
  11. Ingenuity, Originality, Insightfulness: Creativity
  12. Wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving – a sense of efficacy as a thinker [Costa: 1988]

What strikes me as important in this list, is the correlation to the task of conducting both anthropological and linguistic fieldwork.  Wherever one is a stranger this list equips with the basic attitude necessary to learn to fit it, or at least to be welcomed in to a community.

This list is also manifest in anyone doing any kind of systems science.  All twelve of these skills make it possible for you to collect data, analyze it, and turn it into some kind of presentable report that describes the system.  This three activity cycle: collect, analyze, present is what I feel is at the core of being any kind of productively observational person.

Since this original list was published in the 80′s, Costa has revised it under the label “Habits of Mind” and expanded it to include 16 habits.  Since this revised list was not a part of my path to linguistics I chose instead to list the original.  However, the revised list is great and can be found here.


Costa, Arthur, L. (1988). Teaching for Intelligence: recognizing and encouraging skillful thinking and behavior. (p.22) in Transforming Education (IC #8), Context Institute. Stable URL:

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Cognitive Mindfulness # 18

If Aristotle had spoken Chinese or Dakota, his logic and his categories would have been different. – Fritz Mauthner

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A quote from “Working and Thinking on the Waterfront”

Our originality shows itself most strikingly not in what we wholly originate but in what we do with that which we borrow from others. If this be true it is obvious that second-rate writers or artists may stimulate our originality more than first-rate ones, since we borrow more readily from the former.

Eric Hoffer, December 8, 1958 – Working and Thinking on the Waterfront

Cognitive Mindfulness #17

Reading Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar has been a dense pleasure.  I am currently reading part of it in a volume edited by Dirk Geeraerts called Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings (Mouton de Gruyter).  Consider these words about the networked meaning of a lexical item:

Most lexical items have a considerable array of interrelated senses, which define the range of their conventionally sanctioned usage.  These alternate senses are conveniently represented in network form…The nodes and categorizing relationships in such a network differ in their degree of entrenchment and cognitive salience…The precise configuration of such a network is less important than recognizing the inadequacy of any reductionist description of lexical meaning. A speaker’s knowledge of the conventional value of a lexical item cannot in general be reduced to a single structure, such as a prototype or the highest-level schema.  For one thing, not every lexical category has a single, clearly determined prototype, nor can we invariably assume a high-level schema fully compatible with the specifications of every node in the network.

[Langacker's Cognitive Grammar, 31, Geeraerts] (emphasis mine)

This is amazing, it basically asserts that lexical meaning resides in the total package of lexical knowledge and the relationship between points in the network.  In my understanding, this is the basis for grounding a strict reliance on encyclopedic knowledge in sense-making activities.


Geeraerts, D. editor. (2006) Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, Mouton de Gruyter

Langacker, R.W. (1990). Introduction in Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of Grammar, Mouton de Gruyter (Reprint of ‘An introduction to cognitive grammar’. Cognitive Science 10(1):1-40, 1986.)

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Cognitive Mindfulness #16

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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I am rereading a book that I have been rereading on a consistent basis for the last twelve years, this time I am thinking more about consciousness than I have in previous readings; accordingly this passage stuck out in a more dynamic way than I remember from times past:

Self-consciousness, however, does not hinder the experience of the present.  It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest.  So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree.  But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities – looking over my own shoulder, as it were – the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown.  And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases.  It dams, stills, stagnates. [82, Dillard]

I am aiming to be more at home in the present, but I am trying not to think too much about it since, paradoxically, the very effort of focusing on the present relegates it to an artifact of the past and a moment to which I become an outside observer who does not belong.


Dillard, A. (1974).  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Harper Perennial

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Cognitive Mindfulness #15

Schema for cognitive differenciation between c...

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Ronald Langacker is considered one of the founding fathers of the Cognitive Linguistics enterprise, his seminal work in Cognitive Grammar has influenced pretty much everyone who does anything at all in Cognitive Linguistics.  Anyway, here is a quote that talks about the conventional meaning of a lexical item, this grounds the notion of encyclopedic knowledge: Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #14

This comes from the introduction to a book edited by Dirk Geeraerts:

If conceptual perspectivization is the central function of a grammar, the typical formal categories of grammatical description (like word classes or inflection) will have to be reinterpreted from a semantic point of view. [7 Geeraerts, 2006]

It made me think twice…especially since syntax has been the normal focus of grammar in the last 50-70 years; a meaning based grammar makes a lot more sense to me than a rewrite rule based grammar.


Geeraerts, Dirk, editor, (2006). Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, Mouton de Gruyter

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Cognitive Mindfulness #13

Viewers of the Jonas Burgert painting Second D...

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In the book The Artful Mind (edited by Mark Turner), Merlin Donald describes art as being characterized by seven features:

  1. Art is aimed at influencing the minds of an audience, and may therefore be called a form of cognitive engineering.
  2. It always occurs in the context of distributed cognition.
  3. It is constructivist in nature, aimed at the deliberate refinement and elaboration of worldviews.
  4. Most art is metacognitive in its role – that is, it engages in self-reflection, both individually and socially.
  5. The forms and media of art are technology-driven.
  6. The role of the artist and the local social definition of art are not necessarily fixed and are products of the current social-cognitive network.
  7. Nevertheless, art, unlike most conventional engineering, is always aimed at a cognitive outcome.

[Merlin Donald, page 19 in The Artful Mind]

This list of characteristics gives me a good sense of context for how to approach art as a producer and a consumer in a way that recognizes and honors the important role that Art has played in the evolution of social cognition.  I appreciate the imagery of cognitive engineering – this is the “magic synthesis” as Arieti would call it.  I want to engage more in the act of engineering cognitive understanding through my art, for me this means approaching the creative process from the vantage point of an artist and a scientist, a generalist and a specialist, a teacher and a learner. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #12

We face the future; the past is behind us.

In English we talk about the future being ahead of us, forward in time, in front of us, what lies ahead, what is to come, what we are facing, what our week looks like, what we see approaching.

We talk about the past as being behind us, something that we look back on, something we have passed through (and as such is behind us), what our year looked like.

This is the way that we use our body and our experience to shape our understanding of the sequence of events in our life, to make sense out of TIME in terms of SPACE. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #11

“No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  Is translation meant for readers who do not want to understand the original?” – Walter Benjamin.

Any thoughts?

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Cognitive Mindfulness #10

This quote is about how to achieve a natural translation.

‘And again,’ went on Claudius, ‘have your French composed by a Frenchman. You gentlemen may pride yourselves on writing good French, grammatical French, but a Frenchman reading it would know it was not written by a Frenchman. I’ll go further than that, gentlemen, Give a Frenchman a passage in English and tell him to render it into French and a Frenchman will still be aware that all is not well when he reads it.  You must have your French composed ab initio by a Frenchmen, contenting yourselves with merely outlining what is to be said.

C.S. Forester ‘s Hornblower and the Crisis

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(b)

Martin Creed 'Work No 850' at Tate Britain

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

This is part two of Cognitive Mindfulness #9, and continues the Evans & Green passage.

“The difference between the domains of TIME and SPACE is that while TIME has the property of progression, SPACE is static.  ‘Progression’ means that the quantity within this domain is made up of a sequence of distinct representations because it changes from one instance to the next.  By way of illustration, imagine photographing someone engaged in an activity like stroking a cat.  Each of the photographs you take will be different from the previous one, and together they portray the activity.  In contrast, change is not an inherent property of objects, although of course objects can be involved in processes of change.”  [515-516, Evans & Green, 2006]

Immediately this reminds me of Dave Eggers and his quote about relationships from his work “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(a)

This passage covers a discussion of the conceptual domains of space and time while introducing the quantities of each domain and their instantiation in reality.  I like this passage because it differentiates basic concepts in matter and action; since these are the components of productive creativity I feel that this clear exposition of these concepts enables me to be more creative with my art.

The quantity that exists in the domain of SPACE is matter, which may be either continuous or discrete.  We return to these terms directly, but for the time being we can think of ‘continuous’ matter as having no inherent ‘segmentation’ in its composition; this type of matter is mass, illustrated by AIR. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #8

The City of London

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Today’s quote comes from one of my favorite books about architectural design, Archetypes In Architecture. The book explores the functional grounding of the major elements of architecture.

“Shared experiences, like symbolic meanings, are based on recognition, but this time with reference to our bodily experiences… Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

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Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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Cognitive Mindfulness #6

Thought is Metaphorical:

“A consequence of the claim that conceptual organization is in large part metaphorical is that thought itself is metaphorical.  In other words, metaphor is not simply a matter of language, but reflects ‘deep’ correspondences in the way our conceptual system is organized.  This being so, we expect to find evidence of metaphor in human systems other than language.” [303, Evans & Green, 2006]

Evans, V. & Green, M. (2006). Cognitive Linguistics an Introduction, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

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Cognitive Mindfulness #5

Thomas Young's sketch of two-slit diffraction,...

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On Beauty:

“It is much harder to study the psychology of aesthetic pleasure in reference to fine art.  Many artists, aestheticians, and philosophers who have tried to do so have not gone very far.  They have advanced hypotheses that seem valid for some cases but not for others.  In relation to wit and the comic, the corresponding problem is relatively simple.  In considering poetry (or literature in general), we have the great advantage of dealing with cognitive symbols.  Thus any thought that we may have about a literary work, even when we focus on forms, is closely related to its content.  But in visual art, any thought is widely separated from the perceptual aesthetic perception.  Certainly we know that beauty in visual art, as in any aesthetic experience, is an encounter between something that resides in the aesthetic object, and a subjective feeling.  In this dual quality the appreciation of beauty is not different, let us say, from the appreciation of a color.  When we see something green or red, the greenness or the redness exists in the external object but also in ourselves.  Without us there to experience the green and the red, there would only be light waves.  However, whereas it is relatively easy to determine the wave length that we will perceive as yellow, blue, or green, it is impossible to determine the “wave length” that will make us see beauty when we see an object of art.” [235, Arieti, 1976]

Arieti, S. (1976). Creativity the magic synthesis, Basic Books

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Cognitive Mindfulness #4

Cover of "A Simpler Way"

Cover of A Simpler Way

A quote from one of my favorite books

“The universe is a living, creative, experimenting experience of discovering what’s possible at all levels of scale, from microbe to cosmos.”

“Life’s natural tendency is to organize.  Life organizes into greater levels of complexity to support more diversity and greater sustainability.”

“Life organizes around a self.  Organization is always an act of creating an identity.”

Wheatley, M.J. & Kellner-Rogers, M. (1996). A simpler way, Berrett-Koehler (page 3)

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Cognitive Mindfulness #3

“…perceptual symbols are multi-modal, drawing information from different sensory-perceptual and introspective (subjective) input ‘streams’.” [241, Evans & Green]

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Cognitive Mindfulness #2

“Starting from a different perspective, using relevance theory one can claim that when a meaning has been assigned to a form but that meaning is dependent on the context, then the meaning is derived from the context and is not essentially a part of the form.” [244, Loos]

Loos, Eugene, E. editor, (1999) Logical Relations in Discourse, Summer Institute of Linguistics

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Cognitive Mindfulness #1

“If Aristotle had spoken Chinese or Dakota, his logic and his categories would have been different.” – Fritz Mauthner

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