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I'm looking for a simple term or phrase (friendly for laypeople) for the following idea about concepts.

Suppose you have a goal to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. In this instant, you have a concept of "hammer" that fits your goal. The world is filled with instances of hammers are part of that concept and can meet that goal.

Unfortunately, there are no tools nearby. In desperation, you grab a nearby can of soup and pound the nail in with it.

Now, most of the time, you do not consider a can of soup to be part of your mental concept of "hammer." But in this particular situation, you do. In fact, the can of soup is the best instance of "hammer" that meets your goal in this situation.

In the moment, you have constructed a concept "hammer" that has "can of soup" as its ideal instance (sort of like a prototype). The official term for this is "situated conceptualization," coined by Larry Barsalou, but with 11 syllables it's unwieldy for discussing with laypeople.

This is for a document that needs to use the term over and over, so it should be sort, simple, and memorable. Any suggestions?

  • "Representation" or maybe "Instantiation" is the answer, could be "represent" or "instance". "Bricolage" defines the circumstances you speak of. I think I have been blocked from oficially answering by a purported wise man on this forum. – Ron Royston Apr 6 '15 at 15:07
  • MacGyverism? – labreuer Apr 6 '15 at 17:31
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Second attempt..

How about Interpretation?

"Interpretation" may mean an assignment of meanings to symbols and/or to objects.  So in one situation one may interpret a chair as a chair, in another situation as a ladder, in a third situation as a weapon...

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How about Improvisation?

Improvisation is the process of devising a solution to a requirement by making-do, despite absence of resources that might be expected to produce a solution. In a technical context, this can mean adapting a device for some use other than that which it was designed for, or building a device from unusual components in an ad-hoc fashion. (Wikipedia)

  • That's an interesting idea. "Absence of resources" is not required though. Situated conceptualizations are often much more ordinary than my example. If you had a traditional hammer in the room, you'd still be constructing a situated conceptualization to categorize that object as an ideal instance. Every time you perceive any object, such as a chair, you categorize it through the same process. Sometimes you categorize it as an object for sitting on, other times as an object for standing on to reach a high shelf, and other times as a weapon for fending off an attacking lion. – DanB Apr 6 '15 at 0:34
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Well, Hobbes pointed out that men are capable of two different series of thought: from an object to his causes, and from an object to his effects. The second one is the one which allow us to build tools. So, I think that you could say "The objects which better fit the purpose", since when I decide to use the can as a hammer, I know that it can be used in order to reach the same effect.

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