The Echoes of the Mind (38) Conceptualization


The image of the world around us, which we carry in our head, is just a model. ~ American systems analyst Jay Wright Forrester

Concept creation is an extension of classification: fashioning an abstract kernel around which objects or other ideas are associated. An idea is one or more associated concepts, with a focal concept. A schema is a structure for congealing conceptual information. A sortal is a concept employed in categorization.

Conceptual schemes form the bases of mental models: internal representations of information, only partly experienced, with the rest constructed of fabricated abstractions. The world is made sense of, and thereby becomes predictable, via mental models, which provide the pseudo-empirical bases for beliefs.

Concepts are construals that necessarily include assumptions – a creation of context. Much of the information we comprehend is conveyed through language, either internally generated or from outside. Behind the words lies a subtext of inferences: a constructed paracosm taken as actuality.

Languages do not just convey information by way of entailments. Rather, they have a rich array of inference types. Much of what is normally classified as having linguistic and lexical meaning is neither linguistic nor lexical, but has a much deeper source: productive, domain-general cognitive algorithms. ~ Canadian Chinese linguist Lyn Tieu et al

That the mind’s inferences in conceptualization commonly provide useful information means that this cognitive system goes unchallenged as yielding accurate portrayals. Hence, we readily take for granted our inner world of ideas as objective reality.

Predictability is the utilitarian aim of conceptualization: to know how objects react and behave. The belief that objects are predictable engenders expectation, which, when alloyed with desire, fosters anticipation: a rocky shoal of the mind.

That expectation sometimes confounds highlights that predictability is a double-edged sword. While we count upon predictability to make sense of the world and thereby reduce uncertainty, reliance upon predictability is itself incaution. Nevertheless, predictability is the vessel by which we assault the world to fulfill our desires.

Concept Formation

The mind works heuristically to conceptualize, applying rules of thumbs to turn salient information into a new concept. Input is examined in light of what is already known, extant concepts (including sortals), and held beliefs.

Heuristics may be applied in a combinatorial fashion. The mind prioritizes the rules it uses based upon innate faculty (precocious knowledge) and learned practice. Conflicts may arise. If the discordance between heuristics is sufficient the discrepancy may be brought to conscious attention for resolution. Such a decision may reorder heuristic priority.

Body of Thought

In using physicality to make sense of abstractions the mind binds consciousness to the body through conceptualization. This is reflected in the metaphors we use. We hide dirty secrets. We wash our hands of worries.

Our minds link morality with cleanliness: a connection that highlights how tightly conceptualization is wrapped up in physicality. When people swear, they have a filthy mouth. Purification rituals – washing away sins – are part of many religions.

We ponder weighty subjects. We feel a load lift after making a difficult decision.

We look up to those we respect. We think warmly about those we love. We stoop to the level of those we disdain.

We look back to the past, and forward to the future.

Temporal concepts are represented as a spatial direction. People think of time as being in physical space, with the past on the left and the future on the right. This is consistent with Western writing from left to right.

The only measuring stick that we really have is the body, so what we do, measuring the environment, is to use our bodies. ~ American psychologist Dennis Proffitt

Our concept of space itself depends on mental simulation of the movements necessary to span imagined distances. A mile originated in Germanic prehistory as a thousand paces.


The rather imprecise categories that develop from everyday experience are called natural concepts. In contrast, artificial concepts are abstractions distinct from direct experience. Most learned concepts are artificial.

Our world is very visual. A common mental model is a cognitive map which represents physical space (topographical). While our minds’ modeling mechanism is consistent, its results are not. This occurs because individuals have biases toward certain types of cues.

People’s cognitive maps can be vastly different. ~ American psychologist Philip Zimbardo et al

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Our behavior does not depend on the objective existence of something, but, rather, on our subjective interpretation – our definition of reality. ~ American sociologist James Henslin

Existing mental models often act as a filtering device to new information. They are therefore the basis for bias, the barrier to new paradigms, and the bulwark that preserves belief systems.

Temporal schemata include scenarios and scripts, which are attributions to sequences of events. Whereas a script is a behavior pattern based upon ecological cues, a scenario is an imagined set of events or dialogue. A scenario is a script in the making. Procedural knowledge is stored as scripts.

Though the same term may be used, concepts are invariably individual. Further, concepts can carry disparate meanings in different cultures. The “freedom” so esteemed by Americans connotes chaos to the Chinese.