Notes in Feb 2018

What is a Choice Category within Jens Mammen’s framework? In my understanding, a Choice Category is tied to two other concepts. On one hand, it is tied to the concept of identity and, on the other hand, it is tied to self-reference. You could think of identity and self-reference as two sides of the same coin. And that coin is the category of Choice (Mammen, 2016).

“… two people are perceiving one and the same object through the manifolds of appearances that each enjoys from his own perspective. Then, one of the persons draws the attention of the other (as well as his own) to the object as a whole, in its identity. He names the object and establishes a reference, for another as well as for himself. By using a name, he sets up the object as the subject, as the thing that is going to be articulated.” (Sokolowski, 2008, p. 59)

Here is an example. A student approached me after the class to let me know that I had misspelled her name. I apologized. We both smiled and said goodbye to each other. Why is our name important to us? Could it be because it signifies that we are subjects? Could it be that it signifies that we can be “predicated” in an infinite number of ways? As Jens Mammen (2016) might say, a name signifies the fact that a person belongs to an infinite number of sense categories and that, by implication, we are more than the sum of those categories.

Jean Piaget described two kinds of same-ness (von Glasersfeld, 1995). This red ball is the same as that other red ball. He called the first kind equivalence. Two objects are equivalent, in so far as they belong to a set of common sense categories, e.g., redness, roundness, solidity. There is another kind of sameness that underlies identity. This melted chocolate is the same as the solid chocolate I put into my pocket an hour ago. Identity indicates persistence through time. It indicates a Choice Category (Mammen, 2016).

It seems, furthermore, that appreciating identity rests on a subject’s ability to track things through time. I kept track of the chocolate I put in my pocket, and I am still the same subject. The melted chocolate has preserved its reference to me (or my pocket) even though it has transformed in other ways.


Mammen, J. (2016). Using a topological model in psychology: developing sense and choice categories. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science50(2), 196-233.

Sokolowski, R. (2008). Phenomenology of the human person. Cambridge University Press.

Von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Radical constructivism. Routledge.

Notes in Feb 2018

You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. Academic politics is as unavoidable as politics in any other communal domain. Your withdrawal, your inaction, your compliance will help perpetuate existing structures, unexamined positions, and rent seekers.

academic olympics

At first glance, it may seem like the stakes are not high. Ego strokes seem to be the primary currency. But that itself is the outcome a diversion. The diversion begins when an academic sees him/herself as outside of the real world. It begins when we see ourselves as stroke accumulators. Yes, feel free to replace “stroke” with “h-index”, “citation”, or “publications”.

We ought to be more than that, but what exactly?

There is ambiguity in the identity of a scholar, and I think that ambiguity has to be embraced. If I am an agent of a specific theoretical position, e.g., responsible for defending a side in a debate, then I am a partisan. Being a partisan is relatively easy. We want to be more than that. We want to be scholars. But what is that exactly?

Forced Positions

A student stopped me on the corridor the other day, and asked: “I’m doing some research on task-switching, but I don’t know what is the relevance of this research to everyday life. How is my work relevant? How can I apply it?”

I told him, in a tone that I believed was playful and lighthearted, that there might not be any application. Basic research does not promise applicability. It’s better to accept that possibility, rather than hold on to the delusion that every experiment we conduct has a direct, important, real-life application.

Today, I saw him again. He told me he had shared my sentiment with his supervisor, and that his supervisor had strongly disagreed with my “partisan” position. Of course, he was talking about the partisan position that he had manufactured for me.

You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. Your withdrawal, your inaction, your compliance might force you into positions with which you disagree. Sometimes it is necessary to take a side. Other times, it may be necessary to be able to clearly express not taking sides. It may be necessary to get out of forced positions.