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10 Regularities

Unlike the data in a computer memory, human concepts are changeable. The lifespan can vary from a few seconds to a lifetime. Without empowerment, every concept disappears over time. Man is therefore constantly focused on the reinforcement of his concepts for the continued existence of his conceptual system.


10.1 Are concepts durable?

Yesterday I made coffee with my coffee machine. When I got out of bed this morning, the coffee machine was still in the kitchen, just like yesterday, and I used it exactly the same way to prepare a cup of fresh cappuccino. From a realistic point of view, this is self-evident: the machine is in my kitchen and nothing changes unless someone takes it away. And, unless it breaks down, its functions today are of course the same as yesterday: when the reservoirs for coffee, water and milk are sufficiently filled and the right buttons are pressed in the correct order, the cappuccino automatically comes out of the machine.

However, I don't profess the realistic viewpoint and therefore wonder what the described observation means from my conceptualistic viewpoint. When I used the coffee machine yesterday, I apparently owned the concept of the machine, but also the concept of how to prepare a cappuccino. When I get out of bed today, I'm not at all surprised I see the machine still there, which means that my concept of the machine is realized by actualising some of its component types, for example the visual impressions I experience as I walk into the kitchen. A realization which can also be achieved through the actualising of other types. When I'm in bed in the morning and hear a rumbling sound that comes from the kitchen, I know it's my partner who went out of bed before to prepare a cappucino. The auditory impressions, together with other impressions that reflect the context, provide a sufficient actualisation of types that lead to the realization of my concept of the coffee machine. And even if I only think about a cup of coffee, the machine can appear in my consciousness.

The concept of the coffee machine I owned yesterday is still unchanged today. The same concept already existed three years ago when I had just bought the coffee machine, so the conclusion seems justified that concepts can be stable. Very stable even, because concepts like 'water tap', 'mother', 'radio', 'crying' have been around for almost my entire life. Since I acquired those concepts they have never disappeared or even weakened.

Huis met paaltjeHowever, there are also other situations. At a family gathering I speak to my sister about memories from the past. About our school and how we, as a child, walked to school twice a day and back again. At one point my sister tells me about a stone pole in front of a house in the village street where they often made a kind of turn around on their way home from school with a couple of friends, sliding their hands around the smooth spherical head of the pole . My memory of that pole was gone, but when she told this it came up reasonably clear. I remembered how the children stepped up the stone steps and next, with the hands round the stone head, turned downwards. An old memory that seemed to have disappeared, was brought back to life by the story of my sister. We see the same phenomenon when looking at old photos or movies, hearing certain music and the like.

What happens now when these memories suddenly come up? According to the definition memory is a concept. The concept has not been realized for a long time, apparently during that time there was a lack of sufficiently constituent types. Much later, at the moment a situation occurs in which sufficient types are actualized, the concept can be realized immediately. The conclusion must be that the concept has been present in me (in my mind) all this time. Moreover, at the moment that such a memory comes up again, people may experience it as clear and sharp as it was in the past. However, as soon as one talks about it or tries to get a number of details sharper, it turns out the memory is pretty faded.

When I came in my native village later, it turned out the pole was still there, but quite different than I remembered. On closer inspection, I do not really know whether at the time I myself did also slide around the pole, maybe it was more of a girls activity. I don't even remember clearly whether I know that game from my own observation or only from the stories at the time of my five years older sister. At closer inspection, the memory, although at first apparently so clearly present, appears to have become rather vague in course of time.

A memory can be kept for a long time, so concepts can remain for a long time, even if they are not realized. However, more often it happens they are so much weakened or even disappeared that they are not realized at actualizing of any type. Forty years ago I taught physics classes at a high school and sometimes I am still approached on the street by a former student of whom I cannot remember anything, despite mentioning his name, class and year. Even if I see someone like that on old photos, it often doesn't mean anything to me anymore. I have still memories of some former pupils, but most of them have disappeared from my memory.

This phenomenon is even more pronounced in everyday business. When I park my car somewhere I usually know where I've put it when I want to pick it up again. However, I have no idea where I put it three weeks ago. In other words, the concept 'the place where I parked my car' disappears after a short time and can then no longer be realized in any way, whichever types will be actualised.
In daily life there are many cases of things that are remembered for some time (minutes, hours, days, weeks) and then disappear relatively quickly.

Many concepts can exist for a very long time, until - almost - during our whole lives, while others only have a very short lifespan. From the fact that old memories that have never been collected during the conscious life can only be experienced in a relatively vague form, one can conclude that although concepts can exist for a long time, they autonomously, as long as they are not realized, always lose strength in the course of time.

The same also applies to types. Types are the elements of corresponding patterns that have occurred to me in the past. We recognize a pattern because elements from previous realizations have been 'stored' in types. However, if you never experience a congruent pattern again, the memory becomes less and less likely, i.e. relevant types gradually weaken and may even extinguish completely.

An example: until the year 2002 the European countries had their own currency; the Netherlands cherished its guilder. I remember when I was young the guilder existed both as a coin and a banknote. Since that time I didn't see the image of the banknote anymore. When I think of it now, in my mind there is at most a vague memory of a brownish small banknote that was always crumpled, probably due to poor post-war paper quality. The pattern, the image of that banknote has never occurred, what has remained in my memory contains only vague images.

1 Gulden voorkantWhen writing this text, I wonder what exactly it looked like. I find via the internet that in and after the second world war, notes of one guilder were issued. The banknote of which I remember the image appears to have been issued in 1949 - I was three years old at the time - and was definitively withdrawn in 1987.
1 Gulden achterkantSo It's indeed patterns from my youth that have not been actualized for at least thirty years.
As soon as I saw the images from the front and back via the internet, however, I recognized them immediately, apparently the relevant types, the images, had not been extinguished completely

I conclude:

10.1.1. The power of types decreases in the course of time if no new experiences occur of congruent patterns of which the type is part


10.2 Reinforcement of concepts

What applies to types applies accordingly to concepts. Periodic realization of a concept is necessary to maintain it with at least equal power. Every time a concept is realized, a reinforcement of it will have to compensate for the natural decline in the course of time. The power of a concept is defined as the probability that the concept will be realized by some form of actualising of a number of the constituent types. Therefore this chance increases as the concept is realized more often. From now on, I'll use the term reinforcement for the combination of an actualising of sufficient constituent types and the realization of the corresponding concept as a result of it.

Example: I see a football. Translated into the conceptualistic model, I experience a number of visual impressions that make my concept 'football' realize. Another possibility is the next situation: while I pass a number of boys who play football on the street, I suddenly feel a huge blow to my cheek. If I realize that it is the ball of the boys they shot against my cheek, my concept of 'football' is strengthened and, if I never had a football before had shot against my face, it also expanded. Although the actualized types are different, in the first case just visual impressions, in the second a sudden pain in my cheek, in both cases my concept of 'football' has been reinforced.

I note that this use of the concept of empowerment is different from the meaning it has in behaviourist psychology. There reinforcement stands for an action, the stimulus, which is followed by a specific behaviour, the response. Seen from the (test) persons point of view, the stimulus is an external event and the response an externally observed behaviour in response to the stimulus. By contrast in this conceptual theory reinforcement concerns just internal events: a limited amount of experiences that occur to me leads to the becoming aware of a concept of which those experiences form part, but which encompasses much more than just those initial experiences. While in the behaviourist psychology reinforcement is just about events and behaviour outside the body, the way I use the notion here do concern purely inner experiences.

On the basis of the findings described, I formulate the following rule, analogous to 10.1.1:

10.2.1 Without reinforcement, every concept loses its power over time and can eventually disappear altogether

After their creation many concepts are reinforced regularly; in this way they maintain or strengthen their power. However, once a concept is no longer validated for a period, it will weaken and, depending on various factors, it may disappear completely. Additional, one can also formulate:

10.2.2 For the full preservation of the power of a concept, periodic reinforcement of the concept is necessary

10.3 Differences between our memory and the computer

The working of the memory is often compared with the memory of a digital computer, a comparison that is contrary to the abovementioned laws. After all, the contents of a computer memory are applied once and then remain unchanged as long as no other data put on the same memory locations. The latter, the overwriting of a memory location, occurs constantly during the functioning of a computer, always with a part of the memory. If the content is overwritten, the old content has immediately gone, if not, then the old content remains unchangeable. Fading of memories is out of question in the case with a computer memory [1].

Take the example of the place where I parked my car. If I capture that location in a computer using a computer program, I can retrieve that location from the computer memory as soon as I need my car again. The next day I want to do the same, so I now put the new place in the computer memory. There are two options, depending on how the program works. The first possibility is the new parking position is put in the same place in the memory as the previous one. That seems the most obvious, because that previous place is no longer necessary, because my car doesn't stand there anymore.

As a second option, for any reason the program can also be constructed so that a new position in the computer memory is selected for storing the new parking space. Then both the old and the new place are immediately available. Incidentally, for practical reasons the programmer will choose not to store an infinite number of parking spaces, since the memory would fill up with unusable information, such as the place where I put my car on Saturday, September 9, 1978. Although nowadays even in small computers a computer memory is large enough to store a lot of information of this kind, even if a photo of many megabytes would be added to each parking space, the guideline for the programmer is clear: information without function will be overwritten. The information about the parking lot is therefore either completely overwritten as soon as new information is entered, or a number of older positions are also retained until one day they will be overwritten too.

The functioning of human memory is different. When in the morning I park my car in street x on the right just behind a electricity building, in the afternoon I still know the location quite accurate and I walk there without difficulty. Sometimes it turns out to be wrong and I have to walk a hundred meters further, where I find my car. It may happen, when coming from a side street, I no longer know if I've to go to the left or right, so I have to search. Sometimes I recognize further landmarks, for example I had put my car right behind a parked old trailer or in front of a striking house.
The digital computer doesn't suffer from such uncertainties. If the information about the parking lot is entered correctly in a computer and is not overwritten by a program, that information remains exactly available and can be called up at any time.

Our memory, on the other hand, knows many kinds of inaccuracies and vagueness and decreases with time. At Schiphol airport, this is achieved by dividing the endless parking garages into sections each with its own name and pictogram. If one then runs from the car to the terminal one comes across several signs to remember that the car is parked in section "mill", therefore not in the section "cheese", apparently in the expectation the parking location is easily remembered in that way. This points to a second difference with a computer memory: the extent to which we remember something depends on both the distinctive nature of the information to be remembered and the amount of attention we spend on storage. A computer does not know all these problems, once data have been entered they are immediately recorded, even if it concerns unclear information such as the 'number' QdB6Ecck39Jhl, information that can also be accessed five or ten years later without any inaccuracy.

There are more differences between my memory and that of a computer. Of course I do not know where I have parked my car twenty years ago, except for the one time on the large parking lot of the Academic Medical Centre, where one day in the afternoon the battery of my car proofed to be empty and it took me an hour to get out of there with the help of the Auto Club. Although I have lost the date and no longer might be able to pinpoint the exact location, I think I still know which part on which parking lot it was. Another remembrance is the time I did not find my car back at an Amsterdam canal and began to fear it had been stolen, until after some time of looking around I got the hunch maybe I had parked it at the corresponding spot at the next canal. The canals in Amsterdam look very similar, If one doesn't pay close attention to them, it's hard to tell them apart.
Sometimes it happens that I put my car somewhere and suddenly remember a few weeks ago I put it in exactly the same place.
None of those phenomena are to be seen with a computer, its information about a parking space in the past is either gone or completely accurate.

So we see the following differences between our memory and that of a traditional computer memory:


So if I want to set up a model for my conceptual system, the way in which a traditional digital computer works is not appropriate for this. For some time [2], neuromorphic computers have been developed in various scientific programs, which should basically work according to our brains and are self-learning.
To which extend these machines will offer an adequate model for the human mind remains to be seen.

10.4 The adaptation of concepts

We need concepts to be able to think, speak, communicate, to get food and to defend ourselves against dangers, so to survive in all facets of existence. And we own very much of it. In 10.1 I have formulated the law that, in the course of time, without reinforcement every concept will weaken, lose strength. I formulated it in a very general way and didn't indicated how fast that process of deterioration takes place. Beside concepts with a very short lifespan a lot of lifelong concepts exist. The speed of fading will depend, among other things, on the concepts' power.

I also indicated what does the mechanism of reinforcement mean in a simple case. A number of types are actualized by some circumstance, after which one specific concept of which those types form part is realized. Such a realization causes an endorsement of the concept: after the realization it is more powerful than before. In this simple case, the actualized combination of types only belongs to one particular concept, which is then automatically realized and thus enforced. In practice, the combination of updated types will also be part of - many - other concepts, as a result of which it has not a priori been determined which concept will be realized at the actualizing of a number of types.

Another possibility is that although a certain combination of types that is actualized is to a large extent part of one concept, it also contains one or more types which were until now not part of it. Apart from realisation the concept in that case also may be extended with the new types that will be bound to the concept from that moment on.

For example, if a neighbour boy we regularly see one day suddenly wears a pair of glasses, it immediately will be noticed, maybe we even give extra attention by making a comment about it and telling to our neighbours: "Jantje now also wears glasses, still so young!" Of course he will also be able to wear a green sweater, that too is a new type that we add to our concept of him, but because clothes often change, those types are weakly bound which later will be no longer actualized and thus after a period will disappear from the concept. On the other hand, a sudden pair of glasses, does attract more attention, thanks to frequent reinforcement, becomes an important constituent type of our concept of the neighbour boy. In this way concepts are not only strengthened, but also expanded.

The opposite also occurs: if certain constituent types are never been updated again, their connection to the concept is weakened, the bond can disappear completely, so that the type no longer forms part of the concept. "Did not you wear glasses before?" "Yes, but no more since I had my eyes lasered".

Our concepts constantly change and adapt to the actualized types, which leads to both expansion and reduction of the number of constituent types of the concept in question. This ability to adapt, both the possibility of expansion and reduction, is essential for our daily functioning. For example, if a baby is hungry, the mother gives him the breast or bottle. A while later she gives him mashed vegetables, still later he just eats with the adults. Suppose that the concept of a ten-year-old's mother still contains the type 'breastfeeding' in full strength and in addition also the type of 'mashed vegetables'. He would be surprised if his mother, when he says he is hungry, offered her breast or a snack of pureed vegetables. The concept of the mother concerning her son has evolved over the years, the types of breastfeeding and mashed vegetables are only very weakly bound to this and are only actualized in special circumstances, for example as an emerging reminder or when seeing old photos. The concept of 'the breastfeeding that I gave to my son' is something the mother can still possess very well. Her memory of it can still be very alive, but no longer refers to the daily food of the son. Her memory of breastfeeding at the time will, as a type, be part of her concept of 'breastfeeding', but will no longer be strongly tied to her 'my son' concept. The daily food the son eats has replaced it, so the mother serves him the normal daily food when he says he is hungry. The concept of 'food' that the son possesses also evolves, albeit that breast milk and mashed vegetables probably never became part of it at the time because of his young age [3].

For the progress of our lives, continuous adaptation and change of our concepts is essential. This mechanism can only function thanks to the two properties: on the one hand, the weakening of concepts in the course of time and on the other hand the periodic reinforcement needed to maintain or strengthen a concept. Usually the human quality to forget impressions - in our terminology: types and concepts weaken over time - is considered as a shortcoming of the human mind, certainly in comparison with the digital computer, which excels in remembering even the most miniscule and complex details. It's clear, however, that the automatic fading of types and concepts is essential for the adaptation of the concepts to the changing circumstances in the course of life, thus essential for human functioning.

Computers seem perfect in this respect, but are in fact relatively awkward, unable to keep their knowledge at an adequate level. If the mother described above were to feed her hungry teenage son and behave like a computer she would first have to ask how old the son is, in which food interval he is, and only then come to the conclusion that he is neither breastfed nor should get mashed vegetables, but just a sandwich with peanut butter. It seems contradictory, but thanks to our intrinsic forgetfulness people function in a certain sense more efficiently than computers. The computer programmer can object to the fact that a computer can easily be programmed in such a way that it exhibits corresponding behaviour. That is correct, but it is an external trick that shows some resemblance to the functioning of our mind, not a mechanism built into the hardware of the computer.

The other side is of course that, in order to maintain them, we need to reinforce our concepts on a regular basis. Or, regularly, different types need to be actualized so that concepts are realized. It is not difficult to see the large number of sensory and non-sensory impressions that constantly reaches us consciously, yields exactly what is needed: a continuous stream of actualizations of types, leading to a continuous flow of realizations, thus reinforcement and adaptation of our concepts. I will come back to this extensively, but already formulate:

10.4.1. During the periods of conscious living, man is constantly focused on and busy with empowering his concepts


10.5 Different types of reinforcement

I distinguish a number of different types of reinforcement

  1. Sensory passive reinforcements that occur to us through daily behaviour and circumstances. The house in which I live, all the objects I use, the daily change of day and night, the plants in my garden, my work with everything that goes with it, such concepts are prolonged frequently thanks to everyday life and by this alone has a considerable life span. The frequent reinforcement is usually unaware, the constant flow of impressions that reinforce our concepts every day does not strike us as anything special. However, if I come to work one day and a bright pink telephone is on my desk instead of the grey device I had so far, I am suddenly very aware of it. All the earlier moments that I saw or used the phone confirmed the concept of a grey telephone, without me realizing it.

  2. Sensory active reinforcements. That sudden pink phone asks for further investigation, as it were. Is it really pink or might it be the light? Is it a real phone or a joke from a colleague? The new reinforcement does not fit entirely with my existing concept and even if it concerns only the colour, a detail that is unimportant for the functioning of the device, I still have an irrepressible tendency to check what is going on.

  3. Non-sensory reinforcements, activities of our mind. In the case of the pink telephone, I also wonder when I have seen the grey one for the last time, how it ended up at my desk, what the meaning can be of it and so on. I can think of a foolish joke from a colleague, as a result of which my concept of the grey telephone might just be confirmed. But I can also think of the mechanic who was yesterday and possibly temporarily placed a pink phone to have my own phone repaired. Within my mind I can focus attention on different possibilities, always leading to the actualizing of types and the reinforcement of concepts.

  4. Reinforcement through language. In the case of the pink telephone, it is easy to imagine which conversations will develop in the office. The language plays a prominent and essential role in our conceptual system. So far, however, I have not yet introduced that element because many concepts are not lexical. I will get back to it later.


[1] At micro level this is not entirely correct: the memory elements of a DRAM memory have to be constantly refreshed, but that happens automatically and does not lead to changes in the memory content.

[2] See for example the SyNAPSE project

[3] Moreover, I apologize for the traditional role view presented that a mother puts meals for her son. In general I only use the male form, but because of breastfeeding I had to make an exception here that I have consistently continued.