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On Conceptual Domains and Subjectual Systems and their Implications

Western Philosophy is a mess. This essay is an attempt to reorient the thinker and salvage what we can of the English language.

Plato was exactly wrong with his Law of Forms. Descartes didn't understand mind/body dualism. Let's fix things up, shall we?

To facilitate a break with the past we will begin with some new terms for some very particular and foundational concepts.

At first there is the "Conceptual Domain": a transcendent domain comprised of concepts and their relations.

A Conceptual Domain is pure abstraction and can be large or small, more or less complete, more or less consistent or more or less specific. Each concept in a Conceptual Domain is discrete and can often be represented by a "symbol".

A "symbol" has its usual meaning of "an object or shape, taken to represent something else" (Penguin Dictionary of Philosphy). An object in this sense is "something solid that can be seen or touched" (OED).

Although elements of a conceptual domain might be represented by symbols, there are potentially "unsymbolised" concepts in a Conceptual Domain. For example a child might be able to determine the function and difference between a chair and a table without knowing the English word for "chair" or "table".

The content of a Conceptual Domain might be called, variously: concepts, things, items, elements, ideas, forms, notions, spirits, numbers, relations, essences, types, ideals, models, patterns, impressions, thoughts or beliefs. Also it might bear mentioning that in computer programming jargon the word "object" is used metaphorically to represent an element of a Conceptual Domain and not a physical thing.

In a Conceptual Domain a "concept" is the pure abstract and discrete classification of something substantial or imaginary that is judged by sense or cognition. "Concepts" in this sense are not substantive but rather crisp and discrete abstractions or approxmiations.

So, where are these transcendent "Conceptual Domains" do be found? The answer is that Conceptual Domains are transcendent epiphenomenal emergences from Subjectual Systems.

Subjectual Systems are substantial systems (i.e. material or physical systems) which give rise to the particular Conceptual Domains that transcend them. Examples of Subjectual Systems are: brains, computers and hand calculators.

So, brains are Subjectual Systems and minds are Conceptual Domains. Consciousness is experienced in terms of abstract concepts which can be intuited, sensed or judged, that is, as a Conceptual Domain.

Conceptual Domains only exist where there is a Subjectual System to give rise to them. By collaborating via communication Conceptual Domains can be modified (e.g. "learning") or created (e.g. computer programming languages).

Consider the old question: "if a tree fell in the wood and there was no-one there to hear it does it make a sound?" -- Similarly: "can a Conceptual Domain exist without a Subjectual System to give rise to it?" The answer is "no".

So what does it mean for a Conceptual Domain to be "transcendent"? "Transcendent" means "going beyond". A concept, for example the concept indicated by the word "Apple", exists in a Conceptual Domain, but if we try to find "apple" in our Subjectual System we are bound to be sorely disappointed. If the Subjectual System is a brain it will be very hard to find the specific neural matter and dynamics that are giving rise to "apple".

So searching for the content of a Conceptual Domain in Subjectual Systems is usually futile. The specific mechanisms of Subjectual Systems don't need to be understood in order to appreciate that Conceptual Domains emerge from them.

We also used the term "epiphenomenal" to describe a Conceptual Domain. The term "epiphenominal" suggests that the content of Conceptual Domains is a side-effect or bi-product of the particular physical Subjectal System.

All conciousnesses are Conceptual Domains, but not all Conceptual Domains are consious. A computer surfaces a Conceptual Domain although we don't expect it to be "conscious".

Decartes had "cogito ergo sum", i.e, "I think therefore I am". I would like to propose a different foundational concept: "I know that I am having a sense experience". This statement introduces several foundational and intuative conceptions: "I" as "ego" and self-identity, "know" as "knowledge" and Conceptual Domain, "that" as fact, "am" as in time, "having" as a relation, "sense" as in sensory perception, "experience" as in reality. I am a substantive Subjectual System and I experience life and thought via my Conceptual Domain.

Plato, in the Meno, spoke about his Theory of Forms. According to Plato, the "formal" or "conceptual" was the primal reality and that "sensory experience and judgement" was secondary. This is nonsense, what makes sense is that the "sensory" (i.e. physical Subjectual System) is approximated into the "conceptual" (i.e. a transendent Conceptual Domain).

Descartes belived in a form of mind/body dualism where both mind and body were comprised of separate substantive substances. This is true to some degree, but not in the sense that Descartes intended. There is a substantial system (i.e. 'body' or 'brain') which gives rise to a transcendent world of forms (i.e. 'mind' or Conceptual Domain). Without the substance there is no mind.

  • "I know I am having a sense experience"
  • Plato
  • Descarte
  • Communication: Intention, Expression, Interpretation, Meaning
  • C++ -> ASM -> machine
  • Poem -> Reading -> Thought
  • Dissension