Where does the phrase "central example" come from?

post by Alex_Altair · 2021-03-12T05:57:49.253Z · LW · GW · 1 comment

This is a question post.


    10 Kaj_Sotala
    7 Zack_M_Davis
    7 Unnamed
    2 Charlie Steiner
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We use it all the time, but I can't find a post introducing it into the community. Google search doesn't seem to think it's a thing.


answer by Kaj_Sotala · 2021-03-12T06:19:58.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always assumed it's a reference to the prototype theory of concepts, which holds that for each concept, there's some instance of it that feels more typical or "central" than others. E.g. dogs and cats feel like more central members of the category "pet" than alligators do. Wikipedia (emphasis added):

Prototype theory is a theory of categorization in cognitive science, particularly in psychology and cognitive linguistics, in which there is a graded degree of belonging to a conceptual category, and some members are more central than others.

comment by Alex_Altair · 2021-03-12T06:51:42.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see. I just searched for "central example" on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and it pops up there in tons of results too. Although there still isn't e.g. a page called "Central Example".

answer by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-03-12T06:20:29.139Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Implied by "the noncentral fallacy" [LW · GW]? (I'm surprised at the search engine results (Google, DuckDuckGo); I didn't realize this was a Less Wrong-ism.)

answer by Unnamed · 2021-03-12T06:20:29.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a LW-distinctive phrase. Try searching Google News, for instance. It falls out of spatial models of concepts such as prototype theory, e.g. a robin is a central example of a bird while an ostrich is not.

comment by Unnamed · 2021-03-12T06:31:11.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Searching for the phrase on Reddit does turn up a disproportionate number of hits from /r/slatestarcodex. So not LW-exclusive, but maybe unusually common around here. Possibly traceable to Weak Men Are Superweapons:

What is the problem with statements like this?

First, they are meant to re-center a category. Remember, people think in terms of categories with central and noncentral members – a sparrow is a central bird, an ostrich a noncentral one. But if you live on the Ostrich World, which is inhabited only by ostriches, emus, and cassowaries, then probably an ostrich seems like a pretty central example of ‘bird’ and the first sparrow you see will be fantastically strange.

Right now most people’s central examples of religion are probably things like your local neighborhood church. If you’re American, it’s probably a bland Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians or something.

The guy whose central examples of religion are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama is probably going to have a different perception of religion than the guy whose central examples are Torquemada and Fred Phelps. If you convert someone from the first kind of person to the second kind of person, you’ve gone most of the way to making them an atheist.

Replies from: Unnamed
comment by Unnamed · 2021-03-12T06:39:40.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although maybe not that disproportionate - one recent post was throwing off the search results. Without it, rationalish subreddits still show up a few times on the first couple pages of search results, but not overwhelmingly.

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comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-03-12T06:21:20.422Z · LW(p) · GW(p)