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The Ontology of Language: What is a CONCEPT?

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A concept is a process i.e. the activity of signals between the neurons in your brain to maintain the state of your thought. Your thought establishes a relation between objects.

A concept is a process i.e. the activity of signals between the neurons in your brain to maintain the state of your thought. Your thought establishes a relation between objects.

Abstract Concept - a relation of other concepts and objects.

Abstract Concept - a relation of other concepts and objects.


Some people have a tough time understanding what a concept is and what constitutes its underlying ontology. Atheists and Mathematicians are particularly known to attribute mysticism, magic and supernatural powers to concepts. They believe that concepts such as ENERGY, MASS, TIME, FIELD and FORCE are some type of mystical incorporeal entities in the Universe; akin to invisible souls or spirits. They specifically ascribe motion to concepts and have them perform phenomena in the Universe, like coming in contact with stars, planets and people, or even swallowing astronauts and clocks. These folks CANNOT tell you what these alleged entities are; they can’t visualize them or even describe them for you. But they will fight tooth & nail to get you to BELIEVE that their alleged conceptual “entities” are real, exist out there in the Universe and they directly affect our daily lives.

Fortunately, most people do understand that concepts are nothing but thought processes which are mediated by the atoms of our brain. Concepts are the fundamental building blocks of not just words, but of our intelligence. Concepts necessarily imply MEANING. You cannot refer to or even use a concept in its proper context without an explicit understanding of what it associates. Without concepts it becomes impossible to invent words and tautological systems, to imagine and visualize objects or to understand anything at all. Everything we understand comes from concepts, and concepts only!

This article will explain in detail what a concept is, why concepts don’t exist, how concepts define words, build languages, facilitate understanding and why they are the basis of our intelligence and a measure of our IQ.


Thought is ultimately rooted in the atomic activity of our brain. Atoms interact with each other via surface-to surface contact and signal transmission. But from a higher level of abstraction that we can directly relate to our experience, thought results from a process of mental identification and association. This is exactly what we do even for the most basic of thoughts. Just try to think of anything and attempt to mentally account for the source of that thought. You will realize that you are inevitably identifying entities and associating them. This whole process you’ve just performed is what we call conceptualization. The resulting mental construct or association from this process is what we call thought, idea or concept.

The primary purpose of concepts is for cognition, not for communication, as is usually assumed. Communication is merely the application of utility, not the primary purpose of conception. Cognition precedes communication; obviously, because the necessary precondition of communication is that we understand something before we communicate it, not only with words, but with other methods. By associating entities into concepts, we are able to organize, classify and generalize complex thoughts into simpler and therefore more easily usable cognitive units that take less brain activity to process.

The primary utility of concepts is to allow intelligent beings to understand and communicate their cognitive units to each other. Concepts are therefore used to build languages and to provide beings with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables them to acquire intelligence on an unlimited scale.


Unlike images that we can visualize of real standalone entities, concepts cannot be visualized as discrete entities. Why? Because they are the result of atomic activity in the brain, not of standalone entities in our environment. Concepts are associative, they relate objects, and only result from thought. They can only be thought about or referenced by means of the name we assign them. The name is what we call a “word”. Words are labels for concepts; they label the explicit association between objects so the specific association can be referenced as a whole during communication.

Concepts lighten the load on memory and enhance our ability to communicate. For example, at the airport when asked what you have in your suitcase, you never answer with a detailed list of items: 2 jackets, 3 pairs of shoes, 4 T-shirts, pants, the Bible, The God Delusion, magazines, documents, and so forth. More likely your answer will be "clothes" and "reading material". This is an example of how we can use concepts to abstract individual related entities into categories.

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Without a doubt, concepts are the underlying basis of all our thought processes. They are rooted in our ability to form languages, communicate and comprehend not just words, but complex abstractions which are invented on a daily basis. All words are first and foremost concepts of language, known as: lexical concepts. Furthermore, all words have an intrinsic ontological basis that can be resolved and grouped into two distinct categories: OBJECTS or CONCEPTS. We rationally justify this ontological basis in detail later; but first, we must understand the foundation of the word “concept”. And to do so, we need to define for our readers some key terms, specifically: object and concept.

Since we are using the word “object” as a KEY TERM which underlies the basis of our whole discussion, we had better be able to unambiguously define this term which makes or breaks our argument, right? Otherwise, how will the reader understand in no uncertain terms what we mean by object?

Please visit the following article to understand what an object is:

Intelligent beings are a direct product of their environment. Even their thoughts are a direct product of their environment because anything they think about has a relative reference to something else in their environment. There is no thought that can be conceived by any being (human, alien or even God) that can be declared as absolute; i.e. not in relation to something within the context of their environment.

Consider for example, the concept ‘up’. The instant you think of it you automatically associate it with the concept ‘down’ in reference to a surface and an observer. Thinking of the concept ‘running’ automatically associates a being that performs this action on a surface. The point of this is to understand that we can’t even conceive of any concept or imagine anything without referencing associations between objects. Those who disagree or those who believe in “absolutes” are welcome to post their reasoned argument in the comments section. The instant you conceive of any thought/idea, you have automatically invoked a minimum of 2 objects with some type of association between them - whether you realized it or not. Absolutes are impossible to conceive (and that’s why there is NO absolute truth).


Concepts are the thought associations we establish with entities in our environment for the purposes of:

a) Ascribing meaning to these associations.

b) Facilitating understanding.

c) Applying utility to these associations (i.e. language, math, logic, technology, business, etc.)

Before we formulate a rational and unambiguous definition for ‘concept’ that can be used consistently, let’s get a basic impression at what some popular dictionaries have to say. Note that we will not use a dictionary or reference for the purposes of forcing it down people’s throats as an Argument from Authority. Only those who can’t understand and justify their definitions and arguments commit such fallacies, right?

Oxford Dictionary: An idea or mental image which corresponds to some distinct entity or class of entities.”

Webster Dictionary: “An abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances.”

The Free Dictionary: A general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences.”

They are pretty much on the right track but they need to clean up their painful ambiguities (i.e. Fallacy of Equivocation) and eliminate synonyms (i.e. rhetoric) to make their definitions crisp, clear and to the point. Like Einstein said: even a bar maid should be able to understand our definitions. Dictionaries are written by English graduate students and usually list definitions in quick & loose ordinary speech with ambiguity, rhetoric and inconsistency. Obviously we need to come up with a rational definition which can be understood by anyone, even a shoe shine boy.

Looking at the key terms in the definitions above, we can understand that a concept is a thought process (i.e. idea) that is dependent upon establishing an association between objects (i.e. entities, instances, occurrences). This is unavoidable. In fact, it is impossible to conceive of an idea which does not have any associations (i.e. corresponds, generalizes, infers) with some objects. And of course this makes sense because as humans, our thoughts and our words are a direct product of our natural environment (i.e. reality/existence) which only consists of objects.

As an example, when we invented the concept “surfing”, this notion tacitly associated the objects ‘water’, ‘surfboard’ and ‘human’ in a dynamic relation. These three objects are directly inter-related because each performs its own specific activity to collectively mediate this phenomenon we call “surfing”. Even though it may not be readily apparent to us, this is how people invent words in all languages. As concepts, words are nothing more than relations between specific objects which will convey our intended meaning.

Now that we have a clear understanding of what a concept is we have all the ammunition required to rationally define ‘concept’ in no ambiguous terms.

Concept: A relation between two or more objects. (Synonym: idea, thought, notion, cogitation, conception, conceit)

REMEMBER: All words are lexical concepts. What they reference may either be an object or a concept. The concept is our fundamental unit of understanding as this is the only way we can give meaning to the syntactic labels of language we call “words”. Furthermore, the concept is the fundamental unit of intelligence, as discussed later.


Without concepts there are no thoughts or words, much less language. Any form of cognition or communication becomes impossible. Even sign-language (arm/hand movements), smoke signals (smoke patterns), Morse Code (audible sequences), caveman grunts (audible sequences), etc. are all based on concepts (i.e. relations between objects).

Q: Other than concepts, what do all the various modes of communication have in common?

A: MEANING! All concepts necessarily have meaning that is derived from the explicit relationship between the invoked objects.

Without the conveyance of MEANING, what would be the purpose of words, sign-language, smoke signals, Morse Code, cavemen grunts, etc? Would we do this stuff to please the gods? If so, they must have meaning then; it is inescapable! Even the word “concept” has a meaning.

Believe it or not, there are proponents of the claim that words don’t have and should not have any meaning whatsoever. No, it’s not just the patients in the asylum....I am talking about actual folks who are out there advertizing their ignorance in society and on the Internet. They don’t realize it, but their position is self-refuting because they used “words” to convey their expressive desired meaning to us. They can’t have it both ways. Regardless, a concept without meaning is an oxymoron and those who perpetuate such nonsense are obviously morons. I see some people laughing, but please.... have some respect and political correctness for these simple-minded ignoramuses; nobody deserves to be ridiculed for no legitimate reason.