Conceptual thought expert to visit Wednesday

An expert on human conceptual thought from Rice University will deliver a lecture open to everyone Feb. 26 in the Lowman Student Center Room 315 at 3:30 p.m.

Eric Margolis, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Rice Cognitive Sciences Program, will give a speech titled “Acquisition of Number Concepts as a Question of Developmental Psychology.”

Margolis has written and edited various publications on the topic of cognitive science, which deals with how human beings are able to think in conceptual terms.

Margolis said that his speech would focus on number concepts as a particular case study of the subject, since he said that it is the intrinsic nature of numbers that may distinguish humans from animals. Animals, he said, do not think of far reaching future actions and do not have a concept of infinity.

“It is not possible for animals to achieve complete abstract thought like humans do,” Margolis said.

Margolis said when human beings think about most objects, they get a visual picture of the item in their mind. But this does not always work when the thought is of an idea and not an item.

“You can picture in your mind’s eye a triangle,” Margolis said. “But if concepts are like pictures, then there’s a problem because there are some concepts that can’t be pictured, like democracy.”

It is because of this that Margolis said human concepts couldn’t be exclusively based on images.

“Images can not be the full story behind concepts,” said Margolis. “And if they’re not, then what is?”

Margolis said that concepts are what make humans smart, and the concepts of the mind are what make them interesting.

“It should be transparent; the science is seeing how the human mind works,” Margolis said. “And if you want to understand how the mind works, you must understand how concepts are created.”

Frank Fair, SHSU professor of philosophy, suggested inviting Margolis to speak after reading the book “Concepts Core Readings,” which Margolis co-edited.

Genevieve Brown, dean of the College of Education and Applied Sciences, approved Fair’s proposal, as well as the CEAS Enrichment Committee, which approved the issuing of funds to pay for Margolis’s honorarium. The Psi Chi philosophy organization also responded favorably to the proposal of having Margolis speak.

Fair spoke favorably of Margolis’s skills and experiences in the conceptual field, saying how it the topic crosses various disciplines in the university, such as psychology, sociology and mathematics.

“He is an expert on the area of thinking about concepts and how we acquire them,” said Fair.

He added that the location of Rice University in the near vicinity to SHSU also prompted his desire to bring Margolis to the campus.

“We have an expert right down the road on what concepts are, so why not invite here to share his insights and perspectives,” said Fair.

Fair said that the actual definition of concepts is debated heavily in philosophy, and that the university will benefit from hearing Margolis’s thoughts on the topic.

“The university is in the business of generating new knowledge,” Fair said. “What we’re doing in inviting Dr. Margolis is to extend knowledge.”

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