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Concepts matter!

This is part of the text I presented at the PPP-conference in June 2006 at Leiden.
Here I left out the too introductory remarks on the 3Wt, which I had to present there because the 3Wt is not well-known, even in a gathering of philosopher, psychiatrists and psychologists.

In former decennia we wanted to know THE relationship between THE brain and THE mind and I consider it a form of progress that we almost stopped asking this question and ask now about the relationships between specific brain parts and specific mental phenomena. We have probably seen that brain and mind are as such not two natural kinds. We ask for smaller combinations than those of the whole brain and all of the mind.

And in science we do of course not speak about every individual brain-thing and every individual mind-thing in the universe; we do generalize and we speak about the concepts of [brain-things] and the concepts of [mind-things] that are supposed to represent all these singular entities and phenomena.

And here is our third and unavoidable kind of things and events; alongside these brain things and these mental things: concepts.

This is where Karl Popper comes in; the well-known social philosopher and philosopher of science. He wrote about his 3Wt in about 10 articles or chapters in his books and he was certainly not the first triadist (in correction to dualist and monist ontologies).


In this presentation I will try to demonstrate the relevance of my 3Wt-R for the age-old and still present mind-body-problem. I will show why and how concepts matter and they matter much more than many scientists and practitioners usually seem to be aware of.


It is important to see that nothing can exist in two or three worlds because an entity is always world-specific. The only exceptions are living beings; they exist in 2 or even 3 worlds; we, as human beings, certainly do...

Nevertheless, our language is often very ambiguous and the words that we use may refer to entities in different worlds. But again: that does not mean that entities that have the same name are the same entity in different worlds; on the contrary: that is fundamentally impossible. They will be related of course, but as 2 or as 3 different entities.

Sometimes a word is said to have different meanings. That is confused: we have different concepts for different things, in different worlds, but we have just too little words so that we have to reuse them. Language is a major complication in these issues and that is one of the reasons why philosophy had to take its “linguistic turn” in the last century.

So concepts belong to world III like qualia belong to worldII. A bit more about these connections between the 3 worlds, or, better, between entities in these 3 worlds. There are many concepts about entities in the two other worlds; such as the concept [brain]. An entity like that I therefore call an entity in world 3.1 or a 3.1-entity. It is a concept supposed to represent a world I entity.

It is obvious that there are 3.2-entities and 3.3-entities: concepts about mental entities and about other conceptual entities. And of course there are 2.1-entities (for instance my remembrance of a door) and 2.2-entities (for instance my remembrance of a mood) and 2.3-entities (for instance my thinking about a theory) and many more. You can imagine an e3.2.1: the concept of [a remembrance of a thing]. This is what I have done in my book; I developed a triadist conceptual system ...

Back to the subject here. Why do concepts matter? Because concepts are our unavoidable tools to think things over and through, and to communicate about these things. Every theory and every science is built out of concepts. Concepts matter, because without concepts there would not be any science at all. On a conference like this concepts are extremely relevant. But the only way available to refer to a concept is by a word. So the words we use to mention concepts are extremely relevant too. But words are not concepts; words refer to concepts. A word, written or spoken, is as such just a world 1-entity, a linguistic entity, call it a l. Concepts are the constituents of propositions in the same way that words are the constituents of sentences and statements. But the grammatical rules that restrict our use of words in sentences are not that obvious in the world of concepts; on the contrary.

le3e1 or e2 or e3
1`Table`[table]a specific table
2?e3.2a feeling in which
longing and missing
are mixed

I have to say that for me one of the most essential insights from my work on the 3Wt is that the structure of world I is not copied in world II or world III. Our theories are not a `mirror of nature`. (Not the other way round; `things` do not mirror `ideas`; no form of idealism!) We are so very familiar with this very common myth of an all-encompassing order and structure behind or in all phenomena. Although many entities in the 3 worlds are in more than one way related to entities in other worlds; it is not obvious that that whole should be a harmonious and organized complex. On the contrary. The 3 worlds appear to have very different kinds and degrees of negentropy. Different structures and different degrees of being structured. And this is why I hesitate to embrace any form of aspect-dualism or aspect-triadism and why I tend to embrace a form of substance-triadism ...

Back to our start: the mind and the brain. Stated like this there are 2 words or 2 l-entities for 2 concepts or WIII-entities for 2 sets of WI- and WII-entities. With [mind] as the all-embracing concept for all mental things and with [brain] as the all embracing concept for all brainstuff.

We want to explain phenomena. In our daily life, in psychology, in psychiatry. We want theories and so we need concepts for these phenomena. We want the best possible WIII-entities to explain supposed or obvious relations between WI- and WII-entities. Some of the presentations and discussions in this conference are about relations and connections between brain-entities (in WI) or even between mental entities (in WII). But most of the discussions here in this conference are about the relations between brain and mind, about neural entities in WI and mental entities in WII. We try to understand their obvious connectedness and relatedness and therefore we have to look for the best possible concepts for these relations in WIII. We can find them all over this conference: causality, emergence, interactions etc. But these relational concepts are the most complicated ones. And as far as I can see there are only a few concepts available now to describe these relations. In my opinion there are too few. Far too few.

I think that most scientists and practitioners in this field are in fact naïve about concepts. I think that they start with the words and concepts that are available and try to impose them on the entities. As if these available concepts are the only possible ones. As if the concepts depend on the words we have. A linguistic Procrustus-bed for concepts ... And then another: a conceptual Procrustus-bed for their theories and explanations ...

I think that this explains part of the lack of agreement on so many issues in the subjects of this conference. This has to do with this use of too few and too global concepts.

I believe that philosophers should try to contribute by their knowledge of and insights in concepts. Most of the concepts are man-made and it is our responsibility to construct the most useful concepts to tackle these puzzles. Maybe the concepts [mind] and [brain] are not the best possible... Certainly the usual concepts for relations are insufficient.

So much for the critical stand. For the problems. So now we may know what's wrong, but now what? Is there an alternative? Maybe even a kind of solution?

I propose to tackle this by a small trick, as a tool for thought:
Imagine, in the spirit of Leibniz, a virtual encyclopedia with a code for every possible concept for everything: the Omnicon: omni for everything and con for concept. Imagine this as a kind of (virtual) all-embracing dictionary. For every entity in all 3 worlds there is a virtual conceptual counterpart in the Omnicon which is of course a part of World III; including all concepts as such. But the concept for every entity in the Omnicon does not have a name or word, but has a number. Every concept has a numeral identity in this Omnicon-dictionary. Just as cosmologists talk about star 547.738, we could talk about concept 547883 and we mean for instance a [chair]. We only have to agree upon the semantics ...
Of course; this is far from elaborated and as a matter of fact this is my first public presentation of this idea. And I don't know whether it will contribute substantially, but it is an attempt; at least a thought-experiment ...

To be more precise: there are many relevant brain-things: neurons, amygdale etc. The whole grey mass. All kinds of W1-entities. Many of them but certainly not all of them conceptualized, named. We can imagine a list of all concepts for all brain-entities and events and processes. Let us call them, just for the moment, e3.1/b1...1); this b is for brain.

e3.1b10...01 for a specific neuron

e3.1b10...02 for another neuron

e3.1b10...03 for another neuron

et cetera

And there are many mental entities to be considered: feelings, emotions, thoughts, experiences etc. In fact every possible kind of mental entity. Many of them, but certainly not all of them, conceptualized and named. We can imagine a list of all concepts for all mental entities and events and processes. Let us call them e3.2/2....1. I can refine it and insert in the subscript the 2.1, 2.2 etc.

e3.2210...01 for a specific perception of a thing

e3.2220...01 for a remembrance of a feeling

e3.2230...01 for an idea about `truth`

et cetera

This is a possible way to overcome the limitations of our customary semantics. So now we can conceptualize every relevant brain-part by giving it a number and for many of these parts we have names and that is no problem as long as we know pretty exactly which brain-part we conceptualized with that number. So the concept should go with a description by which we can identify it. Of course in neurology and psychology this may not be very useful, as there are lots of words for concepts that refer rather unambiguously. But that is certainly not true in all cases and so it may be a step forward to conceptualize every relevant neural and mental entity with a number. Again: for many of these entities we have names. As soon as we have agreed upon a semantics, we can translate and rephrase a lot of issues.

Imagine all neural and mental entities conceptualized along these lines. Our puzzles are about their relationships, their connections. These make up our third set of concepts in our search for understanding and knowledge. And this is where the idea of an Omnicon can become really useful.

Of course, we could relate any of these entities one by one and conceptualize that very specific relationship. But that is not necessary; we can limit ourselves to a number of neural and a number of mental entities and conceptualize a limited number of relationships and connections. At least much more than `cause` of `emerge` and the like. We may omit all these names as long as we have our conceptual Omnicon-set to use. We will ask whether the connection between some specific neural and some specific mental entity is the same as between some other and then find the best kinds of sets of relations.

- Some brain-entity seems related to some mental entity (neurological evidence)

- This relationship is to be conceptualized

- This conceptualization can be done without naming and without using our common concepts

- Many brain-entities are related to many qualia; so we need many concepts

Let us distinguish between a relation and a connection. Let us use the word `relation` for everything between two or more entities. Let us use the word `connection` for the degree of being related. So there is a degree of connectedness, C, and we can say that 0 < C < 1 in every relation. C = 1 means that they are maximally related so that every change in one entity is a change in the related entity. Reductionism is C = 1. My guess is that most of the relations have a C < 1. When C = 0, there is no relation at all.

Are all entities related in the same way? No, of course not. Are they only related in two or three ways (causation, emergence)? No, of course not. Are all specific entities related in only one specific way? Probably not. That means that there is room for multicausality and multirelationalism?

The early myth or hope of a solution of the Mind Body Problem can be represented in this:

Forall (e1b ,e2) : R(e1b ,e2) = x; C = 1

But we have moved beyond this myth. Let us conceptualize the relationship between any brain-entity and any mental entity as a Rn(e1,e2), with a C-value of course.

R(e1b10..25,e2210...36): e3R10...01, C = x

R(e1b10...26,e2230...78): e3R10..02, C = y

R(e1b10..74,e2220...22): e3R10...03, C = z

R(e1b10...45,e2210...57): e3R10..04, C = x

Concepts for relationships may have no name but they can be referred to by an Omnicon-code; for the time being. This is an e3/R1...n. This may be much better than making all sorts of neologisms. We can create these codes to get the best possible idea of these relationships and afterwards ascertain which are alike. I will not go deeper into this now, but I am trying to develop a sophisticated conceptual system of relationship-concepts and write about this in a future book ....

By the way: I believe that we should be very careful in using concepts for relations between entities in one world for relations between entities in different worlds... So the concept of causation may be to be limited to WI and not used for W1-W2-relations ...

What I have tried to show so far is that the naïve use of concepts and the naïve use of words, are as such the ground for some of the foggy and endemic problems in science and practice. And this is of course why I chose this title: Concepts matter! They matter very much. Our conceptual space is limited, but it can be enlarged and that may be a condition for the progress of our scientific understanding.

Scientist and practitioners live, so to say, in a limited conceptual space. That is unavoidable. But this space is too small. In my conceptual scheme, and this is another extension of mine of Poppers 3Wt: it is too small a conceptual life-world III. A limited Habitat-III.

Individual and collective life-worlds or Habitats (Hi, Hc)

Hi-I and Hc-I; with qualified entities Hi-II and Hc-II; with qualified entities Hi-III and Hc-III; with qualified entities entities inside or outside a Hi/c

relations: W or H-specific?

Now I come to the second subject of this presentation, but only shortly: we know of another field where the limitations of a conceptual life-world are seen as a source of problems: cognitive therapy. The relevance of what I told you about science can be illustrated by an analogy from the field of psychotherapy. Patients have problems, because they think about their life in a problem-generating way. Patients suffer because they use specific concepts to describe and evaluate their life and these concepts affect their emotions. So e3's are relevant for e2's. This is the field of propositional attitudes: specific e2.3-entities. The patient is naïve about his or her concepts and that is part of his or her problem. The therapist tries to show the patients conceptual alternatives: other regions in her or his potential life-world. Other ways to think about his or her life-events. Of course: the therapist can only make use of the concepts that the patient can understand and stand. But a scientist should be able to do better than that ...

I don't think I have to give you examples here. My point is that in the same way that a patient's life depends on the way s/he thinks about things and the concepts s/he uses; a scientists and a practitioners work depends on the way s/he thinks about things and the concepts s/he uses.

Concepts matter. They demand a very systematic approach. A philosophers job…