Concepts

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This post is the second in a four-part series. Please read The veil of perception first.

To deepen our understanding of reality, we need to examine the building blocks that constitute our idea of it. Concepts are the way in which we define the world to ourselves and others, and these little cognitive units of meaning are what makes knowledge and reason possible. To understand them is to understand our thinking, and that is essential to our inquiry into the truth.

Concepts are units of knowledge associated with a corresponding representation in language or some other symbolism such as mathematics or logic. They are words we attach to meaning, and the meaning to which they refer is derived from direct perception and experiences. Concepts are what enable us to reason, think, and communicate, and when combining them we can imagine things that do not exist at all. Unicorns is nowhere to be found in the world, yet we can envisage them by combining concepts already abstracted from experience such as colors, shape and form.

We cannot communicate experience directly. It cannot be transferred to another person for re-viewing. If we want to share it with others we need to give them a symbol, a word, to then interpret in relation to what they are already familiar with: their own perceptions and experiences. The concept is what reminds us of knowledge that we already have.

We create a concept by assigning a word for a particular perception or experience. As a child we are told the names of things by our parents. We learn by associating the name to the thing and hence an empirical concept is formed. Eventually our vocabulary and understanding is mature enough to learn higher-order abstractions: concepts that contain other concepts.

A concept generally has empirical content, pointing to a direct experience or perception, but a higher order concept is a further abstraction, instead referring to another concept. We can illustrate this using the word “number”. The number three can symbolize any group of objects with three members: three elephants, three cars or three apples. This can be shown directly in experience; you can point to the apples and say “three”. A variable however, is a higher order concept and can symbolize any number but only has empirical content  indirectly. Explaining the variable won’t do any good unless your friend first has a solid understanding of the concept “number”. Another example is the word “Society” which can symbolize any group of people, but has without the concepts “group” and “people” by itself no empirical content.

But no matter how complex a concept you create, how high the abstraction runs, its whole pyramidal structure rests on a base of direct experience. The higher-order concept cannot refer to anything empirically different then the total content of the perceptions from which the concepts it relies on were derived. In short, all concepts ultimately point to direct experience and nothing else. The entirety of human knowledge – all science, logic and mathematics, all language and common sense – can have no more content than is contained in the sum of the perceptions from which the concepts that constitute this knowledge were formed. And thus, the perceptions and experiences from which these concepts are drawn are the real content of our thinking.

All mental representation will always be limited in the sense that we cannot form an idea of something that was not previously experienced. Yes, you can imagine objects like unicorns and black rainbows even though you never seen those, but those representations are formed by combining other concrete concepts like colors, shape and form – all which are derived from experience. Imagining a four-dimensional hypercube is impossible, for we have not and cannot come in contact with such a creation. However, we could imagine a two- or three-dimensional representation of that cube. This will not be a real hypercube but a representation we can conceive. But like the unicorn, it is composed of concrete experiences like colors and lines.

The image to the right is in fact a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional hypercube.

We cannot represent something to ourselves that has never been perceived. The word red has no meaning to a person born blind. A deaf person cannot understand the word melody other than in concepts known to him, such as “something non-deaf people experience”, and no matter how well-explained by others, “Melody” will remain an empty word to him. Conception in terms of unperceived experience is impossible for the simple reason that we haven’t experienced such terms.

Our understanding of the world is in the medium of concepts. They are derived from phenomena on the veil of perception and therefore, the real content of our thinking is in terms of the experiences and perceptions appearing on it. Thus, there are no objective concepts at all. Concepts are entirely subjective – they are always referring to our direct experience.

 This is the second article of a four part series. Please continue to read here.
 
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25 Responses to Concepts

  1. jaya says:

    so concepts are built upon direct experience through our senses. Further enhanced by how we think through our thoughts upon any experience with the use of concepts. This then adds the dimension of abstracting and sophistication of out experience. We take our experience as Reality, but it is only a perception through our senses of a representation of what we call the outside world interpreted through concepts.

    This builds up and is what conditions us to view everything through more and more filters. This gives everyone a different way of experiencing what we call life. Hence leading to conflicts and separation. The big ? is how this merry go round came into appearance in the first place? We can know that we know without knowing what the knower actually is without using abstract concepts, so hence we the creator of this smoke and mirrors but the why is only thought about with concepts. The Hindus called this Maya, which again is only a word which is a abstract concept.

    Would like here from others with what they think. I also like to play with looking into what is called Self.

  2. Pingback: The Veil Of Perception – Part 1 of 4 | Phoenix is Risen

  3. Who cares says:

    “But no matter how complex a concept you create, how high the abstraction runs, its whole pyramidal structure rests on a base of direct experience.”

    That’s not true. The concept ‘infinity’ does not refer to anything based on direct experience (when do you ever directly experience something infinite?). All experiences are of a finite nature and no matter how many finite experiences you add up you are still no closer to ‘infinity’.

    • Mark says:

      If what you say is true and all we experience (or think we experience) is finiteness, then that IS the basis for postulating both finiteness and non-finiteness.

      But quite aside from that, the fact is you ARE experiencing infinity all the time, whether you know it or not.

  4. Who cares says:

    No, you don’t experience infinity. That’s absurd.

    And you cannot acquire the idea of infinity from conceptual negation of the finite because the idea of finitude presupposes the idea of infinity. The very meaning of ‘finite’ necessarily implies ‘not infinite’. Finite and infinite are two sides of the same coin. If you have one side of the coin then you necessarily have the other side as well. The purpose of this thread is to inquire into where the coin came from.

    Furthermore, the suggestion that we acquire any concept by a process of negation is nonsensical. Do you arrive at your idea of a circle from the conceptual negation of a non-circle? Or your idea of dog from the conceptual negation of non-dog? And what about the negation operator itself? How did you acquire that concept? By negation? lol!

    Now that I read this article over, it’s chalk full of mistakes. Concept acquisition via “abstraction” (whatever that means) is largely an illusion. Take the concept three as an example. The very recognition that a collection of elephants, apples, and oranges have “threeness” in common *presupposes possession of the concept three*. Unless you already possess number concepts then no such recognition can ever take place. So much for abstraction.

    Empiricism is nonsensical in the domain of concept acquisition. I’d suggest taking a look at innatism.

  5. Who cares says:

    “We create a concept by assigning a word for a particular perception or experience. ”

    False. You don’t “create” anything at all, and that includes concepts. Concepts are fundamentally no different from any other object of perception.

    You are falling for the following illusion of empiricism: Concept A is correlated with sense experience B, therefore, B must cause/be the source of A. But this is false since it confuses correlation and causation.

    If you want a better article on concept acquisition, look here: http://www.granta.demon.co.uk/arsm/jg/aug-ill.html

    • Mark says:

      Yes, in-finity (not-finiteness) and finiteness are two sides of the same coin, conceptually speaking. That’s exactly what I’m saying. So the moment you posit one, you automatically posit the other.

      As for which is more absurd, I’ll leave you to your own homework on that. But you might consider the possibility that things are not as they appear, and in fact can’t be.

      And yes, conceptuality itself doesn’t arise from empiricism directly, it requires a conceptualizing mind first. But the point is that a concept is meant to refer to something, it can’t refer to nothing. So it requires a referent. A basis of imputation, as the buddhists say. So no matter how many layers of abstraction you’re piling on top of eachother, there’s always something at the bottom of the pile.

      And since the only things that can serve as referents are things that we know of, and the only things we know of are other concepts and our own direct experience, we’re stuck with those. And since concepts require referents while direct experience does not, only direct experience can be at the bottom of the pile.

      It’s a closed system in that sense, there’s no getting away from it no matter how hard we try. Even your imagination of the most “out there” concepts that you think can’t possibly be related to your direct experience in any way, if you look closely, you’ll see that you’re just imagining them in terms of simple shapes and colors and then telling yourself that’s not what they really are.

      Now THAT’s absurd.

      As for the negation thing, or the causation thing, I don’t know where you’re getting that from. Seems you’re just attacking strawman arguments.

  6. Who cares says:

    “So the moment you posit one, you automatically posit the other.”

    …and that’s precisely why your explanation begs the question. If finite and infinite necessarily imply one another then you cannot invoke the former to explain the origin of the latter.

    “As for the negation thing, or the causation thing, I don’t know where you’re getting that from. Seems you’re just attacking strawman arguments.”

    I’m attacking your suggestion that it’s possible to acquire concepts by a process of negation (i.e. it’s possible to acquire infinity from negation of the finite). It only takes a few counterexamples to show the absurdity of this thesis. Consider the following:

    You do not acquire the concept of circle from negation of non-circle.
    You do not acquire the concept God from negation of non-God.
    You do not acquire the concept red from negation of non-red.

    … and so on. And similarly, you do not acquire the concept infinity from negation of finite.

    If the concept of infinity cannot be acquired directly from sense-experience, abstracted from other concepts acquired directly from sense-experience, or acquired by a process of negation, then your claims are false.

    • Mark says:

      How can you negate a circle without first conceiving of a circle, there would be nothing to negate. Likewise you first have to conceive of a limit (finis in Latin) before you can conceive of its negation.

      So you’re seriously suggesting that the negation of limits can’t possibly be derived from the prior assertion of limits?

      By the way none of this is about flimsy theoretical arguments, it’s about what is actually the case with your own experience. Which also involves undermining your own arguments if they are strictly theoretical. All of these kinds of things, including this entire website, you can find out exactly how they work by looking directly at how they work for you.

      But you’re gonna have to put up a little effort to actually do it and connect your own dots and think things through a little more. If you’re not willing to do that then you’ve already missed the whole point.

      And I for one am no longer willing to make that case or twist any arms, or we could be here forever throwing arguments at eachother and never make an inch of progress. I must have fallen for that a thousand times before and maybe I’ll need to fall for it another thousand times before I finally learn my lesson.

      Nobody can battle your hang-ups but you. All anyone else can do is try to point shit out. It’s up to you what you do with it.

  7. WC says:

    “So you’re seriously suggesting that the negation of limits can’t possibly be derived from the prior assertion of limits?”

    Yes, that’s what I’m seriously suggesting. The concept of infinity cannot possibly be acquired in the manner you’re suggesting because conceiving of absolute limits implicitly presupposes the idea of infinity. And if you presuppose infinity from the very outset then it shouldn’t be surprising that you have it in the end as well. Is this too difficult for you to grasp? Are you actually capable of putting forth a substantial counterargument or are you just going to continue arguing from assertion and personal incredulity?

    “How can you negate a circle without first conceiving of a circle, there would be nothing to negate.”

    You’re making my very point for me. You cannot negate finite without first conceiving of infinity, just like you cannot negate a circle without first conceiving of a circle. Again, too difficult for you?

    If finite and infinite necessarily imply one another then possession of one concept necessarily implies possession of the other. Hence why any attempt to account for infinity as a negation of the finite is question-begging.

    Perhaps I’m not clarifying the problem well enough. The problem at hand is the following: How is it possible to conceive of infinity in the first place? And your response is essentially “because you can conceive of infinity”, which is viciously circular.

    The main point to take home from this counterexample is this: Conceptual thought is completely independent of the experienced world. The former is not at all dependent on the latter, as this poorly argued article suggests.

    … and I have no idea what paragraphs 3 through 6 have to do with the topic of concept acquisition. I’m only interested in discussing philosophy here. I have no interest in your personal psycho-babble/ad hominens/personal rants, etc.

  8. Mark says:

    Just check out your own conceptions, find out what they actually look like in your own mind. That’s the point of those paragraphs you dismissed: You have to do the work, I literally can’t do it for you even if I wanted to. That’s not a personal attack, it’s just advice on how to resolve your dilemma. You’re welcome, good luck.

    But I get your point about circularity, and that logical absurdity is inherent in consensus reality as a whole. Like I said it’s a closed system, on the face of it anyway, and that’s exactly the problem. It doesn’t seem to originate anywhere. Which is indeed an impossible situation.

    So basically the dilemma you are trying to resolve, can’t be resolved within our usual framework of what people think reality is, or what it seems to be, because that’s not what it actually is. It obviously can’t be. And all efforts to resolve it with thought will only keep you going in circles. That’s good to know, I’d say.

    And that’s the whole point. In the end, nothing has any real basis whatsoever, so if you’re looking for origins, you will certainly come up empty.

    The problem is that people seem to think that their concepts can somehow reach outside of the box of subjective experience and thereby somehow escape this problem of circularity, but it simply can’t be done. Hence this article. It could save you a lot of trouble.

    Any kind of reality that you can imagine will have the same inherent problem, because that problem is inherent in finiteness. And conceptual thinking is inherently finite (we can’t actually conceive of infinity, isn’t that hilarious… you can start throwing chairs now).

    In short, concepts derive their content from direct experience, as you will find out if you just take a look. But all of it, concepts as well as direct experience, originates in consciousness. That’s where the buck stops, and nowhere else.

    • Mark says:

      P.S. – It occurs to me that maybe you’re new to this notion that you can actually ‘see’ and examine your own thoughts directly. If so, sorry I took it for granted, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually quite a big and fundamental step to take, and difficult at first.

      It’s kinda like a muscle that most people generally don’t seem to exercise much, if at all, maybe because it simply doesn’t naturally occur to them that it’s even possible. But it’s a critical component of what we’re talking about here.

      It may take a little getting used to, but if taken further it may open up an entirely different way of being. Think of it as a kind of lucidity about your own mind. Highly recommended. No point in thinking about thinking if you’re not even aware of what’s going on in your own mind.

  9. Who cares says:

    I cannot make sense of your word salads.

    Do you actually have thoughtful arguments/reasons/examples to support your claims or are you just going to continue playing internet psychologist/spiritual guru and baldly assert the same unjustified conclusions even after being presented valid evidence against such conclusions? If so, then I’m going to have to exit this discussion because I have better things to do with my time.

    “In short, concepts derive their content from direct experience, as you will find out if you just take a look. But all of it, concepts as well as direct experience, originates in consciousness. That’s where the buck stops, and nowhere else.”

    You’re being quite stubborn. I just gave you one valid counterexample to this claim that “all concepts derive from sense-experience” but you continue clinging this completely unsupported belief.

    Do you have anything in your intellectual arsenal except dogmatic assertions?

    • Mark says:

      So did you take a look or what.

    • Mark says:

      How about this: You choose a concept that you’re sure is not derived from your own subjective experience, and you tell me what that concept looks like to you when you’re thinking about it.

  10. Who cares says:

    I suggest giving the following article a careful read if you want a better understanding of my position: http://www.granta.demon.co.uk/arsm/jg/aug-ill.html

    In summary the article,
    1. Provides examples of concepts and propositional judgments that cannot be derived from the senses.
    2. Explains why the cannot be derived from the senses.
    3. Points out inadequacies of sensory-based theories for concept acquisition

    Good luck.

    • Mark says:

      Not interested. You’re completely missing the point of this article, and your position is moot. There is no truth to be found in concepts, that’s the whole point.

      If you have actual counter examples, let’s hear it. If not, case closed. I’m rejecting the rest because you still haven’t “run the experiment”, and I have. This is not about theory, it’s about practice, and until you’ve got actual findings that contradict mine, you’ve got nothing.

      There’s no point debating what’s inside pandora’s box, when you can simply open the box and look inside. I’m saying I’ve looked and you can too if you want, so why do you keep refusing. Nothing could be simpler. This whole thing could be resolved in a second.

      This article is about easily verifiable data, so if you’re going to argue against it then the least you can do is make an effort to provide your own. Nothing is preventing you. Until you look for yourself, everything you say is just noise.

      Put up or… you know the rest.

    • Mark says:

      Huh, wait a minute… You thought you were doing me a favor? You thought I was asking for your help? I honestly don’t know what gave you that idea.

      But then again, I thought you were asking for help understanding this article, and now that I look back, I also don’t know what gave me that idea…

      So I guess we both fell for it, didn’t we. Both of us just wasting our time on eachother while neither of us is actually interested.

      Alrighty then, I guess that settles it.

      Cheers

  11. WC says:

    Lol, Jesus christ.

    You ask for counterxamples and then when given an article chalk full of them you dismissively say you’re “Not interested.”

    Are you fucking retarded?

    • Mark says:

      I must be.

    • Mark says:

      FYI, I did look at your link, I’m just not interested in arguing all the ways in which it’s irrelevant. Like I said, you’re completely missing the point of this blog, and that link of yours only shows how far you’re off into the wilderness.

      If I were to indulge you on that, it would only take us further away in the wrong direction. There is a way out of the woods, if you want it, but first you need to get your head out of the sand.

      You’re borrowing your position from a theory. It’s elaborate and nicely argued, has eloquent language, big names, and small print. All the goodies. It must be very alluring. You’ve linked to it twice so far, and you’ve been regurgitating it ad nauseum (while calling me dogmatic).

      But in all this, you fail to appreciate how this blog post completely undermines the whole thing, and furthermore, you still haven’t come up with anything of your own. You want retarded, there it is.

      The thing I’ve been repeating ad nauseum is that this blog post isn’t about theory but practice, so snap the fuck out of it. Step back and take a breath. This is not about sophistry and word play, it’s about what is actually and verifiably the case, for real! Give me some o’ dat, and you’ll have my attention, if you still want it. I’ve already told you why I’m rejecting everything else.

      You’re not even considering the possibility that maybe you’ve missed something here. Maybe you’re so tied up in that shiny article of yours that you can’t even see the forest for the trees. This blogpost is napalm to your trees, and all you can talk about is how you think that someone else thinks that the scorched ashes don’t fit together.

      Wake up, buttercup!

    • Mark says:

      P.S. For the record, I don’t give a shit about this blog post either. I don’t speak for Goran, I’m just another visitor. But I do recognize Goran as someone who has run the experiment. He knows what he’s talking about, because he’s simply talking about what he actually sees himself, and what anyone could see if they would just look.

      That mind of yours is flashing ephemeral images in your face all day long. Think of your fridge. Without looking, do you know what’s in it? I’m betting you’ve got a pretty good idea. Now what does that idea look like in your mind? I’m betting it looks something like the stuff that’s in your fridge. You can probably picture that carton of milk or that wedge of cheese or whatever is in there.

      You’re picturing all kinds of shit all day long without even noticing it. All I’m saying is, start noticing it. Run the experiment. Stop thinking about thoughts and start looking at them. Look at what that mind of yours is weaving all day long and tell me what it’s made of. That’s all there is to it.

      All those idiots talking about “theories of illumination” and “divine ideas” aren’t looking at their subject matter, they’re wallowing in it, and that’s why they never get past it. They never stopped and wondered “What the hell am I actually yapping on about here?” They just yapped. And yapped. Aaaaaand yapped… And they’re still yapping, aren’t they.

      If you want to be like them, then keep on yapping your flap. Be happy. But if you want resolution then you’d better start scratching your head.

    • Mark says:

      Oh dear, worst case scenario just entered my brain: You ARE “them”, aren’t you… You’re the author of that article, or the owner of that website, or something along those lines.

    • Mark says:

      Approaching 2500 years of yapping since Plato, and they’re still at it with no end in sight. Must be absolutely maddening.

      All that philosophizing about illumination isn’t actually about illumination, it’s just about philosophizing. You’d think they should have found an answer by now and be done with it. But I guess their aim is simply to keep it going. And from the looks of it, they’re doing great.

      Whatever floats your boat. At least you’ll never have to worry about having nothing to worry about.

    • Mark says:

      “[...] all efforts to resolve it with thought will only keep you going in circles. That’s good to know, I’d say.”

      “And that’s the whole point. In the end, nothing has any real basis whatsoever, so if you’re looking for origins, you will certainly come up empty.”

      “The problem is that people seem to think that their concepts can somehow reach outside of the box of subjective experience and thereby somehow escape this problem of circularity, but it simply can’t be done. Hence this article. It could save you a lot of trouble.”

      Don’t you see, that’s what you’re trying to do, and what that article of yours is trying to do: You’re looking for origins, you’re trying to resolve it with thought, and you’re trying to reach outside of subjective experience.

      You said so in your first response to me: “The purpose of this thread is to inquire into where the coin came from.” And: “I’m only interested in discussing philosophy here.”

      I’m not interested in discussing philosophy at all. That’s another 2500 years of circular yapping which you’re signing up for, if you’re not careful. Understanding the essential point of this blog post, and this whole website, just might save you that trouble: The only possible origin, of anything and everything, is consciousness.

      Stop building, start digging. Back to basics, find solid ground first instead of erecting more air castles. Unless you prefer to keep on wallowing, philosophizing for the sake of philosophizing.

      I could take your silence now as a good sign, but more likely you simply pegged me for a retard and went on your way. Just because I don’t want to discuss philosophy doesn’t mean I don’t get what that article is saying. But I’m telling you, if you continue in that direction, you’re off to disney land.

      Your call.

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