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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.



Project:

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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