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8 The meaning of the definition

The term 'concept' is now defined as: A concept C is a dynamic collection of different types that are connected in the mind. In this chapter we look at the various elements of this definition.

8.1 Connected types

Let's take the term 'chair' again as an example. To be precise: my concept 'chair', because a concept is defined as an individual phenomenon. It can be activated in me in different ways. For example when I see a chair, when I sit on it, when I hear the sound /tʃeər/ or read the word "chair", when I think of a particular chair, when someone tells me about it, and so on. Pavlov In psychology such connections are known as associations, where an idea or concept evokes a number of other concepts, images or thoughts that are apparently connected in some way. Without fixed connections in the mind, associations would always occur randomly. Ivan Pavlov already showed a dog can be learned to separate saliva at hearing a certain sound by serving food every time the particular sound is heard. The dog responds by separating saliva. Over time, the dog always separates saliva when the sound is heard, even if no tasty bone is being served. By repetition of a fixed pattern a connection between the sound and saliva secretion has been formed in the dog brains. Psychologists call this classical conditioning, a mechanism that has been labelled by the behaviourists as the universal cause of every learning process. Wrongly, it turned out later, the human mind works more complex and many things are already innate.

So concepts are connections in the mind of a - often large - number of types. The effect of this is that, if one or more types that are bound to a certain concept are activated in one way or another, there is a chance the concept as a whole appears in the mind. This can happen both consciously and unconsciously. Certainly not all types of the concept will be consciously experienced at the same time: consciousness only has a limited focus, as the light beam of a cave researcher always makes only a part of a dark cave visible.

The activation of one or more types is not the same as what the psychologists call stimulus. A stimulus comes from outside, while the activation of a type can take place in different ways. You can see, hear, feel something, but the type can emerge from your own thoughts too. The type emerges due to various causes. Subsequently, as a result of it, an associated concept emerges too. To avoid confusion, it is useful to indicate both phenomena differently. For the sake of distinction from now I will use the following terms:

8.1.1 If in any way a type appears in the mind, I say it is being actualised


8.1.2 The concept that, as a result of it, emerges in the mind, I call realized

The definition of the term 'concept' now states that in my mind a number of types are interconnected: the image of a chair, sit down, beautiful furniture in my room, chair legs, backrest, the word 'chair' in letters written, the word 'chair' pronounced as sound, and so on. Essentially this is the core of the notion of concept: the mind connects, often for a longer period of time, things with each other which are completely independent and which, also for myself, a priori have nothing to do with each other.

Before I continue I have to make a general comment. I describe the example of a chair that exists outside myself, which is contrary to my earlier claims that I refrain from things in reality and only want to describe the human mind conceptually from my own experiences. If, however, I did so consistently, the texts would become rather hard to read. For example, I could formulate the previous passage - partly - as follows:

The concept of 'chair' can be activated in me in different ways. For example, if I experience an image of a chair, if I experience that my body makes a movement that, to my will, evokes the experience that I am going to sit on it, if I hear the sound sequence /tʃeər/ or see the symbol 'chair', If I recall concept of a concrete chair in my mind, if I a series of sounds reach me that evoke in me the pattern of a story about my concept of 'chair', and so on.

This not only leads to poorly readable texts, it's not necessary too. In the introduction I already noted for me the question of whether a reality exists outside of ourselves is irrelevant. In later chapters I will work out the idea that 'reality', like all other concepts, is a human concept, without referring to any reality outside of it. So when I speak about a chair in my kitchen, I am talking about my concept 'chair in my kitchen'. When I speak about seeing, I mean a visual pattern achieves me. So seeing the chair in my kitchen means a visual pattern does achieve to me which is part of a type that is part of both my concept of 'chair' and of my concept of 'my kitchen'.

As said, in this way the readability wouldn't be optimal, but the most important conclusion is I can use the words that everyone uses, as long as the reader does understand I am not dealing with objects in an objective existing reality but always with - shortened. - views of my experiences.

8.2 The dynamic character

As indicated in the previous chapter, the dynamic nature of the collection manifests itself in different ways. One cause of changes of concepts lies in the phenomenon that compounding types can weaken or reinforce in the course of time through new experiences. Another possibility is that completely new types are added to a concept.

A concept consists of a number of types, elementary components of congruent patterns I have experienced in the past. Every time I experience such a related pattern again, these components will be reinforced in the relevant types.
My concept 'chair' contains a number of types and every new confrontation with any aspect of the term 'chair' will be added to the relevant types.
Every day at breakfast I sit on a certain chair in my kitchen. The chair is a firmly anchored concept for me. One day a small part of the armrest has been broken off, since then I see that damage daily. Despite the damage the distinctive types of the chair remain largely the same, it is still my chair in the kitchen. Yet, due to the damage that has been caused, one or more new types have arisen, in my concept 'my chair in the kitchen' these new types and thus the damage are included.

The dynamic character also arises because new types are added to a concept. For example, when I walk past a house and someone just throws a chair from the window right on my head, I perceive an experience that I had not associated with the term 'chair' so far, an experience that will stay with me for a longer time and thus changes my concept of 'chair'. A less dramatic example: in my youth, police and fire trucks and ambulances used a siren when they had to hurry through the traffic. Later, these sirens were replaced by two or three tone horns, so that the type of vehicle is already recognizable by the sound. My concept 'police car' therefore initially contained the type of a siren sound, in the meantime that type has virtually disappeared from the concept and replaced by the sound of a horn. Hearing a siren hardly arouses any associations with a police car.

The conclusion is clear: through the continuous flow of impressions we receive every day, our concepts also change constantly. Although with regards to many concepts we have the impression they are extremely stable, we have to conclude that they are in fact highly dynamic. And not just in childhood or in stages of life in which we learn a lot, but throughout our lives.

8.3 Different sorts of types

A concept consists of types which do not have anything to do with each other and are connected to each other only by confrontations in the past with corresponding, congruent patterns. The concepts 'this church chair' and 'the lazy chair in my living room' contain both types as the image of a chair and characteristic of concepts is that we connect such types with completely different experiences, for example sitting, covering, resting, wooden legs and so on. But of course also with the word "chair", both in the form of a sound and in the form of a written or printed word.

When I think of a chair, it feels completely natural for me that all aspects of a chair can occur to me. But they are completely independent things which are connected in my mind, a bond that is powerful and manifests itself so quickly in my mind that I am not aware of the different elements of experience, by contrast I experience a chair as a whole. However, when I consider my experiences a bit more precise, I see that these different aspects are constantly manifesting themselves in daily life.

For example, if I bring to a restorer the Louis XV chair inherited from my grandmother, which reminds me so strongly of her and of my youth. The professional only sees the quality of the wood, the lacquer, the glue connections, the nails and the upholstery and he imagines which activities are needed to restore the chair to good condition. The restorer hasn't any association with my grandmother, for me and for him the chair has different meanings. As soon as he shows me the fabric is no longer usable, as a layman too I see a piece of worn out fabric, at the same time the warm association with my grandmother disappears completely. So his and my concept contain corresponding types, but also completely different ones. That too is a daily experience of an effect we are not very aware of, but which has a major influence on our ability to communicate.

8.4 Congruent concepts

Can concepts, just as patterns, be congruent? Previously I described congruent patterns as patterns I experience as equal or similar.
With the introduction of the term 'types', the notion of congruence can now be specified more accurately. Every time I experience a pattern, elementary components are stored in types that are connected in my mind to a concept.
Because I live in front of a riding school, I see people coming by or on horses from behind my desk every day. Those images form and reinforce my concept of 'horse'. However, there are also ponies on the riding school, which I also see passing by. Now the difference between a horse and ponies is not always clear, but in general it is big enough that in my mind, in addition to the concept of 'horse', the concept of 'pony' exists. Apparently my concepts 'horse' and 'pony' contain both similar types and also different ones. Two concepts that have a number of types in common I call congruent, or in the wording of the previous chapter:

8.4.1. If the concept C1 contains one or more types T that are equal to one or more types T that are part of C2, then C1 and C2 are congruent

As the example of horses and ponies shows, concepts can be congruent to a greater or lesser extent in the conceptual system. They will be more similar, more congruent, as they have more types in common.

Another aspect is the degree of binding of a type to a particular concept.

8.4.2. A type which is part of a concept may be linked to the concept stronger or weaker

Suppose one day you see a potato that looks like a face through pips and foothills, then maybe that aspect of your 'potato' concept will play a role and come up as an association from time to time. However, your term 'potato' will mainly contain many other types and the bond with 'face' after that one-off experience will not be very strong. If the phenomenon only ever occurred once, the association will probably soon disappear completely. So the type is therefore weakly bound to the concept, certainly in comparison with many other types that form my 'potato' concept. 

8.4.3. If a certain type, arisen in the past, is never realized again, it will become less bound to a concept in the course of time. Over time it can weaken so much that it has disappeared or seems to have disappeared from the mind

Suppose my concept 'flower' contains a type of a special flower that I have ever seen in an alpine meadow. Maybe at the time I intensively occupy myself with that flower. I Look it up in the Flora and the encyclopaedia, search in every mountain meadow and every time I find this special flower I make a leap of joy. Doing so that special flower remains an important aspect of my concept 'flower'. In practice it will probably go differently. One day during a walk over a wonderful alpine meadow I, as non-flower connoisseur, am pointed out by my walking partner to a very special flower. Later I can still remember that event, but what flower was it about? I've no idea. The very special flower is no longer part of my concept 'flower', surely in contrast to the corresponding concept of my walking partner.

8.4.4. The collection of types together forming a concept is constantly changing, yet I stay experiencing it as the same concept

GriendA concept behaves like a Wadden Island. Because of sea currents and the westerly wind, on one side parts are washed away, while the island on the other side continually grows through sand deposition. The island is moving, while in the perception it remains itself, even when, as sometimes happened in the past, a whole village disappeared into the sea. Even in the case that the position of small islands such as Rottumerplaat or Griend after a while entirely changed, while perhaps no grain of sand is still the same, the isles keep the same name and be conceptualized as one and the same object.

Similarly, each concept is constantly subject to change. Old, no longer activated types slowly disappear into the background while new experienced types are added to the concept. Take the concept of 'train'. During my life that concept changed from a steam train to a modern TGV. At that time, a couple of types have disappeared and new ones have been added to the concept of 'train', while I'm still experiencing it as the same concept. That is obvious, after all the concept of 'train' contains many different types. Station, wagons behind each other, rails, conductor, 1st and 2nd class, fun and less pleasant fellow passengers, restoration car, disturbing telephone calls and so on. The technical implementation of a train is only a limited part of everyone's total concept of 'train'. Also a concept 'steam train' exists, which of course depends on the technology , which exists alongside the concepts 'electric train' and 'diesel-electric train' or the concept 'TGV', which is in principle an ordinary electric train, however so fast that we approach it easily as a new and separate concept. People say: "I go to Paris with the TGV" but usually not: "I'm going to Haarlem with the Sprinter". Whether one is riding in a Sprinter or a Double Decker, a Buffalo or a Dog Head, as several train-types are called in the Netherlands, many people will not be interested if they take the train to Haarlem.

TreinenThose names are well known among Dutch train lovers, but for most people the names have little meaning. This will be different for a train conductor or driver: "I have to drive around on a Sprinter today, I hate those Sprinters".

Another example: the concept of 'grief', a concept people know all their lives. The actualizations experienced in their youth largely have been forgotten and the present concept mainly consists of more recent experiences of sadness, both own experiences and those of people around them. The experiences, the types change, the old fade, new ones show up, but the concept of 'grief' remains.

8.5 A concept is not an image of reality

KantAs stated, most philosophers, like almost all ordinary people, assume that many concepts are images of things in reality. Immanuel Kant even constructed two kinds of concepts; in addition to the ideas that are images of reality, there are ideas created by the mind itself. He made it his life's work to prove that these two species coincide, unfortunately without success. In his early period Wittgenstein also considered concepts as images of reality, an idea he later recalled. I already indicated that in my opinion both the depict viewpoint and the idealistic view are wrong approaches.

In the normal use of language it is said that a concept, for example the concept of 'mould', relates to an object existing in reality or a structure existing outside ourselves, in this case a white horse or an elementary cell structure such as a mushroom. The definition of the notion of concept I use originates from the experiences which have occurred to me in the past and the structure my spirit has applied in one way or another. There is no question of any existing external world in this definition, in particular of an external world that imposes its structure on me.

At the same time I would like to emphasize once again in this way the idealistic viewpoint is not followed. I do not deny in any way that there is a reality, nor do I postulate that reality originates from my own ideas. The way in which the notion of concept has been built only implies that concepts have arisen in the mind in any way and how these concepts are composed of previous experiences. The question whether external or internal causes have worked must, in order to obtain a consistent theory, be left out of consideration. A concept is a structure that the mind applies, or has applied, in the entirety of all experiences. In this approach there is no essential distinction between on one hand terms such as 'train' or 'mould', which correspond with what is called material entities and on the other hand a concept as 'grief', which obviously has no material origin.

8.6 8.6 Non-sensory concepts

In 7.4.5. I suggested that non-sensory patterns occur to me, patterns that do not reach me through my senses, thus only originate from my mind. The question is whether the same applies to concepts. In other words: are there concepts which are exclusively composed of types just containing non-sensory patterns? Suppose that a non-sensory pattern, such as a certain dream, regularly occurs to me. These dreams together form a number of types and a concept will be created in my mind. I could give it a name , for example 'my special dream' or 'dream X'. As long as I only think about it one could speak about a non-sensory concept. However, in practice people feel a strong urge to communicate with others about their concepts. At that time at least one sensory experience, namely the pronounced sounds, is connected to the concept, so it is no longer entirely non-sensory. Theoretically, on the basis of the definition, a non-sensory concept which is never communicated could exist exclusively in the mind of a single person. One can think of recurring anxiety dreams that one keeps entirely for himself. However, for the further development of the conceptual approach, the distinction between sensory and non-sensory concepts seems to be of little use.

A philosophically more interesting variant is the existence of a sensory concept with a name or reference that is not sensory. That name then only exists individually and is never pronounced or written down. This seems to be the case with some strongly traumatic experiences and with memories one wants to keep for himself, about which one doesn't want to communicate with anybody.

In theory, someone can deliberately choose to construct exclusively in his own mind an individual language with the help of a number of such concepts. In his later works Wittgenstein identified the meaning of a word with its use in language communities, on the basis of which he denied the possibility of the existence of a strictly individual language. A number of critics dispute this point of view with the argument that such a language can definitely be constructed. On the basis of the definitions used here, it seems I should have to agree with those critics. However, in order to clarify the problem it is first necessary to consider what exactly means the term 'language' and which role language plays in the creation and maintenance of concepts, a question that I will return to.

Another category is formed by concepts that have a name and consist of sensory types, but which are as a whole not based on one or more concrete sensory experiences of the person who possesses the concept. For example, my concept of the 'Pyramid of Cheops', which pyramid I never experienced, does consist completely of sensory-based types I know very well. In Chapter 17 I will go into it and indicate them as mental concepts.

8.7 Motor concepts

I can see people and animals walking. Furthermore I can experience walking also as a movement I make myself which I experience from my inner world. This motor activity consists of all kinds of movements of my legs and of the rest of my body, activities of my equilibrium organ and the like. Is that whole a concept? To answer that question, I apply the definition. Each of the movements and activities during walking can yield (sensory) experiences that, usually unconsciously, appear to me as patterns. So also the corresponding types are formed, what may become clear when one day I cannot make certain walking movements due to pain in my knee: only in such cases I become aware of many internal experiences that walking entails. These types are apparently connected, walking is a very natural activity that I can experience as such, so I possess the accompanying motor concept. But the word "walking" usually stands for something else, for example when I see someone walking or when I decide whether I go somewhere by car or on foot. So there are two different concepts of 'walking', on the one hand as a distinction between other modes of movement and, on the other, as a personal experience state of your own body. If I were to give the concept of the internal experience of my walking a name, it would not be "walking" but something like "I am walking", there is no special word for it.

As is shown here, unlike what is customary in philosophy, I do not limit myself to lexical concepts. It is difficult to give examples, for as soon as I can say something with words it is apparently a lexical concept. However it is clear that a toddler who does not yet speak a language clearly knows concepts, which for him cannot be lexical concepts. And there are many concepts that I can only describe, for example my reluctance to read thick books, for which there is no special word in the language.

8.8 Do I exist?

Some time ago, the Dutch radio broadcasted a programme about philosophy lessons at a primary school. A Dutch philosopher gave these lessons with, as he said, the motive that thinking about philosophy at a young age is important because children can still think freely, a competence that, according to him, adults should lack.
In the broadcast he talks about a girl who is wondering whether she exists. The girl reasoned that she could no longer remember what it was like when she was zero, so when she was born. She wondered if, when she was 30, she would remember what it was like when she was 7 years old, she did not think so. That led her to ask who or what she really was, whether she actually exists. Because her body and mind constantly change, as was clear to her, while memories remain the same. So what or who you are is actually the same as the memories that remain the same throughout your life. But now, while I'm seven, I do not remember what it was like when I was zero and at age thirty I'll not remember my experiences at age seven. So not only the body and the mind are continuous changing, there are no memories too that stay alive my whole life. Does that mean that I do not exist?

The fragment ends with the conclusion that this question is not answered, which according to the philosopher is interesting because the children experience through their own reasoning that not all questions can be answered. He could of course also conclude that his own philosophical skills are at such a stage that this problem cannot yet be solved by him. However maybe he, as an adult and skilled philosopher, no longer possess the competence to think so freely.

From the conceptual worldview the question of the girl can be further specified. The notion 'I' is a concept, so a connection in the mind of a person, in this case the girl, that connects all kinds of types. Among other memories, as the girl rightly states. But of course much more: her name, her appearance, her feelings, how she presents herself, how others react to her and so on. Her concept 'I' is a dynamic collection of such types that are connected to each other in her mind. However, because she is faced with this concept many times a day in many changing situations, it is highly dynamic. New types are constantly being added and disappearing or fading again. Today's experience can tomorrow still be very topical for her but may totally have been forgotten in a couple of weeks. She observes this phenomenon rightly with regard to the concept 'I', but if she would think further she would come to the conclusion that it applies equally to every other concept. For example a book that impressed you at your seventh, can still be in your bookcase when you're thirty, but the emotions you experienced when reading it are at most a vague memory. If you read it again your experiences will largely be different. Also, the cover is no longer so beautiful and the pages are yellowed. Despite all these changes, however, the concept simply remains, as long as we do not consciously think about it, we hardly even notice that the content of our concepts is subject to change. The house where I was born and raised for example is for me a clear understanding, a long-standing concept. The fact that in the fifties of the last century for me it was large and spacious, while the same house now seems small and cramped, does not change that. Nor is it important that the building has now been renovated several times.

The girl in elementary school was amazed at the fact that her 'I' always changed, which led to her question whether "I" actually exists. From the conceptual approach however, her problem, the constant change, is trivial, an essential characteristic of any concept. But another question is unanswered: what does 'existence' mean? I will come back to it.

8.9 The views of Parmenides and Russell

From the conceptual approach I return to the example of Russell in his discussion of Parmenides I described in Chapter 3. Parmenides' view, which leads to George Washington in some way still to exist because one can still think of him and can talk about him, one can with Russell reject. My concept 'George Washington' consists of types, experiences that I have gained and that in my mind have connected with each other. One of those types is the name "George Washington". He himself and his contemporaries who knew him from close by also possessed a concept of 'George Washington', but that largely consisted of different types. There are, however, always similarities, such as the name and the knowledge that this name is linked to the first president of the United States. I therefore agree with Russell's statement: 'Whatever the name suggests to us, it must be not the man himself, since we never knew him, but something now present to sense or memory or thought. This shows the fallacy of the argument of Parmenides'.

Surprisingly, however, Russell does not realize that he is formulating a paradox with this. After all, if the term 'George Washington' can only consist of sensory experiences, memories or thoughts, while the concept for us does exist, then that means that concepts are nothing other than experiences, memories or thoughts. That should also apply to the contemporaries who George Washington himself knew. One might still think that the concept of "George Washington" for George himself could contain his own person, although it is not clear what one might mean by that. But also for contemporaries who knew him up close, their understanding could only exist for their senses, or memory or thoughts, which is apparent from the fact that for them the concept of "George Washington" continued to hold meaning and did not change significantly when the person George Washington died.

The problem of both Parmenides and Russell is that they assume that concepts refer to physical persons or objects. The incongruities to which that vision leads disappear when one sees all notions as concepts as here defined, or, in the words of Russell, as something that now exists for our senses, or memory, or thoughts.
The conceptual approach solves this paradox, but immediately introduces other questions. How, for example, can two individuals communicate with each other if their concepts are not unambiguously corresponding? How can I think about an understanding if it can have a different meaning today than yesterday?

Don't we get caught up in this way in a boundless and normless world of wandering subjects? As Pouwel Slurink [1] recently stated: "Ultimately, however, the world that surrounds us remains the last touchstone for the correctness of all our interpretations: if there is no common reality that connects and encompasses all perspectives, there is no point in discussing it. Then everyone is autist, caught in his first-person loony bin."
The world surrounding us would be the last touchstone without which there is no point in discussing. This may perhaps be maintained for the material world, but for questions about good and bad, about beautiful and ugly, about our concepts that do or do not only relate to material things, there is no common reality that connects and encompasses all perspectives. And it is precisely about these matters that the most is discussed! The existence of gravity, on the other hand is clearly a objective, common shared reality, but does one ever hear someone discuss it?

It is the other way round, precisely by constantly communicating and discussing, man forms a common framework. Communication and discussion are not the result of an existing common framework but, conversely, the genesis of it. Man, if at least he is not an autist, liberates himself from imprisonment in his first-person loony bin precisely due communicating.
In the following chapters, I will discuss the characteristics of our concepts and the way we deal with them.


[1] Aap zoekt zin, pg. 13, Pouwel Slurink
ISVW Uitgevers, Leusden 2014