Concepts of concepts

Stimulated by D. Grey’s detailed posting “On the concept of a concept”, I tried to depict my view of concepts.


In German, we have two different words whose usual translation to English is “concept”: (1) “Vorstellung” (closer to “idea” and to the mental layer), and (2) “Begriff” (closer to “term” and to the lexical layer). When a word (light red ovals) has different meanings, these can often be distinguished according to the synonym relations or associations they are involved in. So I symbolized them as small blue balls on the border of the words’ ovals, where the associations begin an end.

Comparing to internet networks, they can be seen as sub-addresses of the network nodes, i. e., ports that appear after the ip address. For instance, nodes A and B both communicate with node C =, but one via port = www, and one via port = mail).

The ambiguity of the meanings of “concept” can IMO be better seen with the two German terms:

  • on the lower (red) level closer to language and communication, it still means a word even if you try to abstract to one of its different meanings: (“Begriff”);
  • the upper (blue) layer is not accessible by terms and is different from one individual to another even if you try to talk about the same (“Vorstellung”).

When we talk about concepts in the KM context, we probably mean it in the upper (blueish) sense. But as soon as we want to make the fuzzy idea more tangible, we end up with words on the lower (reddish) layer which inevitably lost some flavor and often add ambiguity. Visualizations (like concept maps) can, to some extent, try to bypass the words’ noisy layer.

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