A talk at the 1st Constructed Complexities workshop on "" at the University of Surrey, July 2013. http://constructedcomplexities.wordpress.com/
It is well established that many aspects of human cognition are context-dependent, including: memory, preferences, language, perception, reasoning and emotion. What seems to occur is that the kind of situation is recognised and information stored with respect to that. This means that when faced with a similar situation, beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. that are relevant to the context can be brought to bear. I will call this mental correlate of the kind of situation the “context”. Thus the mental context frames conscious thinking by preferentially providing the relevant information making learning and reasoning practical, as well as allowing relatively “crisp” and logical thought within this frame. This is the “context heuristic” that seems to have been built into us by the process of evolution.
This recognition seems to occur in a rich, fuzzy and largely unconscious manner, which means that it can be hard to give distinct identities and talk about these contexts. It can thus be problematic to talk about “the” context in many cases, and indeed one cannot assume that different people are thinking about the same situation as (effectively) the same context from a third party perspective. Indeed one of the powerful aspects of the context heuristic is that it allows us flip between mental contexts allowing us to thing about a situation or problem from different contextual frames. Due to our facility at automatically identifying context and the indefinable way it is recognised it is hard for people to retrieve what is or signals a context (in contrast to what is relevant when recognised). However, they do seem to be sensitive to when they have the wrong context.
Thus learning is not just a matter of recording beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. but also a matter of learning to recognise the kinds of situation to organise their remembrance. A large part of our world is humanly constructed, or common (e.g. shared human emotions or a shared environment). Our classification of these kinds of situation is thus heavily coordinated among people of the same society – we learn to recognise situations in effectively the same way and hence remember the relevant beliefs, expectations, habits, defaults, norms, procedures etc. for the same kinds of situation. A shared body of knowledge (in its wisest sense) that constitutes a culture does not only include the foreground beliefs, norms etc. but also how the world is divided into kinds of situation. Some of these contexts will have universal roots, such as the emotion of fear or being hungry, and thus might be approximately the same across cultures (without transmission), others will be specific to cultures.