The Complexity of Cognition: An Example (Part 1 of 3)

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The Complexity of Cognition: An Example

As one way of conveying these points, consider this little story (adopted from Charniak, 1972): “Betsy wanted to bring Jacob a present. She shook her piggy bank. It made no sound. She went to look for her mother.”
No one has any trouble understanding this four-sentence tale, but you should reflect for a moment on what makes this possible. The story is comprehensible. indeed. is coherent, only because you provide some important bits of background. For example, in order to understand this story, you need to know these facts:

1. The things one gives as presents are often things bought for the occasion, rather than things already owned. Otherwise, why did Betsy go to her piggy bank at all? (Surely you did not think she intended to give the piggy bank as the present, or its contents!)

2. Money is kept in piggy banks. One often does not keep track of how much money is in the bank, and one cannot simply look into a piggy bank to learn its contents, Without these facts, how could we explain why Betsy shook the bank?

3. Piggy banks are made out of hard material. It’s usually coins, not bills, that are kept in piggy banks. Coins make noise when they contact hard material. Otherwise, why would it be informative that the bank made no sound?

4. Children, not adults, are the ones who keep piggy banks, and children tend not to have credit cards. Otherwise, Betsy could compensate for her lack of cash by pulling an American Express card out of her wallet.

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