At the start of this book, I talked about how hard it is to define a career. That’s partly because in the cognitive brain, a career is part of what’s called an ad hoc category. Larry Barsalou coined this term after noticing that people invent categories such as diet foods (celery, carrots, calorie-free soda) and things to take out of the house if there’s a fire (children, pets, family photos). Your career falls into the category contributions I made during my work life.
Barsalou found that people evaluate a member of an ad hoc category according to how close it is to the ideal member of that category. This contrasts with how they judge the goodness of categories that are based on the members’ shared features. In that case the comparison ...