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Brian Kobylarz

I am an independent researcher working on computational social science. My primary research interest concerns the design of new forms of concept analysis through computational text analysis. I am additionally working with colleagues from a number of institutions ranging from the Santa Fe Institute to NASA, George-Mason University, and the Humboldt University of Berlin on interdisciplinary projects ranging from religion to space settlements, and linguistics.


Conceptual Engineering as Informed by Computational Text Analysis

By leveraging methods from corpus linguistics, natural language processing, and complexity science, I design new forms of concept analysis with conceptual engineering in mind. Conceptual engineering is an increasingly popular movement in philosophy. The conceptual engineer asks: what should our concepts mean and how might we go about changing them if desired? To engineer a concept accurately and responsibly, one must have a form of concept analysis that is empirically informed, otherwise the conceptual engineer risks downstream consequences, such as when a change to a concept leads to unforeseen and/or undesired inferences. To capture these relations between concepts, I deploy word co-occurrence networks, distributional semantic models, and word embeddings that visualize concept change over time, how any changes made to a given concept will affect other concepts, and how the introduction/elimination of a concept hangs together with other existing concepts. It is through these models that I believe we can put the ‘engineering’ into ‘conceptual engineering.’

I take us to be as capable as our concepts and to create/refine concepts is to experiment with the evolution of agency in as much of a controlled way as possible. In the age of echo chambers, mass media, and abysmal text production generally: our conceptual resources are under constant revision by external forces sometimes unbeknownst to us. I see in conceptual engineering a way to escape from the grasp of ideological constraints—thereby offering some emancipation from the, at times brutal, social and cultural mechanisms that determine our conceptual resources.

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