Forum on Conceptual Structure From: Patrick Kinsella
Date: Sunday, March 2, 2008
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for your comprehensive reply.

I was startled when I came upon your work and I felt that I had to know more.

I have always been interested in the cartography of cognition. Your ideas seemed to take it to a new level in my opinion.

Let me explain.

Ausubel postulated that cognitive structure was organized hierarchically (subsumption theory). Novaks research was driven by this theory and eventuated in instruction that took the form of hierarchically organised knowledge. As knowledge was being expertly mapped superordinate concepts would come first and act as advance organisers for future subordinate concepts. The superordinate concept would be progressively differentiated and related concepts would be integrative reconciled (feels more like a network structure).

This hierarchy would be mapped in two dimensional space with the higher abstract ideas/concepts first followed by less general concepts (note the interchange of general and abstract) until at the bottom of the hierarchy would be concrete examples of the events/objects that the higher level constructs point to.

This immediately made me think about multiordinality. If the concept map was truly a map then every concept within this schematic could have a ranking/value in Cartesian space. The fixedness of this presented me with problems, namely contextual meaning. My thinking on concepts and meaning in brief conflicted with this dimensionality idea. As I understood it the configuration of concepts (conceptual structure) is reliant on the focus question being asked which allows me to visualise the schematic as being rubbery (like a rubber mat) whereby a concept further down the abstraction ladder can be pulled to a higher point depending on the focus/root concept.

So if molecule is the focus then it is the superordinate concept or we can change the focus to some other concept (if you see what I mean). We can look at the black Cadillac from an aesthetic perspective, a social perspective, a cultural perspective and so on – do the rankings change? This makes me think that a concept can never finally be grasped as the concept is involved in an immense network of relations. A concept can be thought of as a theoretical point where meaningful relations converge and each concept is a crossing point for a multitude of relations. These relations can be seen as fibers from which meaning is constructed. There being an infinite number of such relations – a concept being a summary of all these relations – a concept then is a locus of meaning. Is this locus always the same fixed point?

The hierarchy then is really an infinite web or network. Does this eliminate the idea of the concept having an ordinal value or dimensionality?

As I implied, my thinking in this area is primitive compared to yours. I am still trying to differentiate the concept of abstraction. The power in your ideas for me is the integration of so many disciplines, I feel this provides explanatory scope and power.

Your article has helped me to think about abstraction. Your paper seems to conceptualise abstraction as an analytical location – a point in space – a place holder on the abstraction ladder that allows us to look at the same phenomena physically, chemically, biologically, psychologically, sociologically. Abstraction has been defined as a process of complexity reduction.

When we reduce complexity do we generalise? What are the similarities? What are the differences? If we are using the logic of psychology when we are considering a man and looking at the same man with the logic of biology is it less or more complex (up or down the hierarchy)?

Does the focus question (magnifying/narrowing the view) determine the level of precision (the level of abstraction) we are at?

I hope all this make sense and that there is some overlap of ideas.