Arthur B. Markman (1998) Domain-independent Representations:. Psycoloquy: 9(86) Representation Mediation (15)

Volume: 9 (next, prev) Issue: 86 (next, prev) Article: 15 (next prev first) Alternate versions: ASCII Summary
PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 9(86): Domain-independent Representations:

Reply to Bringsjord on Representation-Mediation

Arthur B. Markman
Department of Psychology
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712

Eric Dietrich
PACCS Program in Philosophy
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY


Bringsjord (1998) thinks domain-independent states are rare because of the failure of modern education. Bassok, Chase & Martin's (1998) data suggest otherwise.


compositionality, computation, connectionism, discrete states, dynamic Systems, explanation, information, meaning, mediating states, representation, rules, semantic Content symbols
1. We and Bringsjord are apparently in agreement: domain-independent, abstract mental representations exist but are rare. He did get our view wrong by claiming that we denied the existence of domain-independent representations (Bringsjord, 1998; Markman and Dietrich, 1998a). But now we are all on the same page. Good.

2. Bringsjord then changes the topic to WHY domain-independent states are rare. We don't know why such states are rare, speculating on this wasn't part of our target article. Why such states are rare is yet to be determined. We suspect that their rarity has to do with the way cognition actually works, and hence with currently poorly understood principles governing the nature of cognition. Bringsjord, however, has another hypothesis. He claims that such representations are rare because of the failure of modern education, and that were it not for such failure, most humans would be abundantly supplied with domain-independent representations. We are doubtful.

3. Bringsjord's speculative hypothesis is interesting and deserves to be explored further. But the early data are not on Bringsjord's side. For example, as we pointed out in our first reply to Bringsjord (M & D, 1998b), college students who write arithmetic word problems exhibit a strong content effect. Such students prefer to write addition problems using objects from the same taxonomic category (e.g., adding apples and oranges), and they prefer to write division problems using objects from different taxonomic categories that are thematically related (e.g., dividing apples among baskets for holding the apples). In contrast, college students prefer not to write addition problems using objects from different categories (adding apples and baskets) nor division problems using objects from the same category (distributing apples among oranges) (Bassok, Chase & Martin, 1998). College students, by and large, ARE experts at addition and division and it seems likely that if any cognitive process should be domain-independent, it should be addition and division. Though the writing of the problems rather than just solving them may be part of what's causing the content effect, Bassok's data do suggest that domain-independent representations are rare for reasons other than education. So Bringsjord's hypothesis is called into question. Still, his hypothesis might be right, or at least part of the story. Further research will tell.


Bassok, M., Chase, V. M., & Martin, S. A. (1998). Adding apples and oranges: Semantic constraints on application of formal rules. Cognitive Psychology, 35(2), 99-134.

Bringsjord, S. (1998) Domain-Independent Abstract Mediating States Are A Function Of Education, PSYCOLOQUY 9(85)

Markman, A.B. & Dietrich, E. (1998a) In Defense of Representation as Mediation. PSYCOLOQUY 9(48)

Markman, A.B. & Dietrich, E. (1998b) Domain Independent Mediating States are Rare PSYCOLOQUY 9(56)

Volume: 9 (next, prev) Issue: 86 (next, prev) Article: 15 (next prev first) Alternate versions: ASCII Summary