A concept is the idea of something. It can range from anything as simple as a mental picture of something, to a completely abstract idea, such as beauty, hatred, or loneliness. Complex ideas, and ideas of refection, are called concepts.
For example… In the 16th century, explorers from Europe were voyaging around the world, and seeing animals in places like Africa for the first time. They’d come back to their home lands, with stories, and concept drawings, in order to show people what beasts they’d seen on their voyages. The people who had never seen these beasts would be left with a conceptual idea of what these animals were like.
A child who had never seen a Giraffe’s, when described a Giraffe, would have an idea of what a Giraffe looks like, but until it’s made an impression.
An impression is an experience of anything in the physical world, which you gain from any of your senses.
For example, if you look at a daisy, you are given the impression of a daisy, it’s only until you think about the fact that it’s a daisy, that it becomes a concept.
Hume believed that every idea is always a copy of an original sensation of any one of the senses.
Meaning, our mind stores ideas and applies them together as it wants.
Because of this, we can think about our past, and imagine our future, we can create scenarios out of nothing and imagine aliens, and mythical beasts, and people with impossible talents etc.
Here’s a picture of the great philosopher John Locke: 1632-1704
Simple Ideas- Ideas that are devised from the senses, and based on your first impression of something. They are simple ideas fed to the brain, usually subconsciously. Colors, shapes, textures, sounds, and tastes. Locke is famous for arguing that you can’t break down a simple idea into any smaller of a category. Red is red, and round is round.
Complex Ideas- Combinations of simple ideas that create a more complex vision. The more complex the idea, the more simple ideas there will
- A river
- A rug
- A car
- A harp
- A mermaid
- A kitten
Simple ideas are based off of one’s immediate impression of something, in contrast, complex ideas are built from simple ideas, to create the whole picture.
Small activity: Choose three complex items in the room you’re in, and break them down into simple ideas. See how much you can break them down.
-David Hume (1748)
Let’s start by looking at this apple.
When we look at this apple, a variety of ideas come to our mind, even if we don’t notice them at all. Our subconscious links this computer image to numerous ideas in moments. Such as…
- The apple is red
- The apple is shiny
- The apple is smooth
- The apple is crunchy
- The apple is sweet
- The apple is round
- The apple has a leaf
- The leaf is green
With the ability of being able to simply visualize this apple, we have almost created an apple in our internal minds. The apple is everything, except physical.
If someone had never seen an apple, or the color red, it would be quite literally impossible for them to imagine such a thing. Because, how does one describe a color? a taste? an odor? I have never eaten meat, I know the smell of meat though, and from that I can try to understand what the texture might be like, and the blend of the spices covering it, but I still, don’t know what meat tastes like.
This can be related to anything in existence, if you haven’t seen it, or have sense impressions that you can draw from and create ideas from, you can’t imagine it. How can we imagine ANYTHING we’ve never seen then? We can all picture a unicorn, we can all picture aliens, and different kinds of fictitious creatures, we can create worlds, and machines. Although, these ideas aren’t alive in our reality, they are all directly linked to different things in our world... just rearranged. Locke and Hume argue that all ideas spawn from reality. Nothing we could ever conceive or imagine could ever actually be original.
How can we explain our emotions and our feelings away?
Loving cheese -----------------------> Knowing what cheese taste’s
The idea’s our mind creates, evolves into a world of opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, and passions. Hume states that, ‘We have ‘inner senses’, such as plain pleasure, feelings of love and hate. Our inner and outer senses create our reality, our ideas and impressions. If we’re insane, are we insane to ourselves?
Tabula Rasa: An old latin term which translates to ‘blank slate’. This is used in philosophy to refer to the idea that each soul comes into the world as a blank canvas. It’s the idea that people are wholly shaped by the experiences have in their lives from birth until death. We gather information from everything we see, or connect through thought, to become what we are in the present.
The Legend of the Cave
The Republic- 360 BC. by Plato
The Legend of the Cave is an idea formulae, which is said to have been devised by Plato. It takes the form of a story of a human being who is chained at the end of a cave their whole life. The person is unable to move, and is locked in complete darkness except for the light of a torch placed behind them. The light from the torch, and the flickering, distorts the darkness, and the cave distorts the sound of the torch. This is all the cave dweller has ever known. It makes sense that the cave dwellers reality would be one that only the cave dweller himself could ever make true sense of. Light could seem alive to you, or have great significance. The only colors you could imagine would be the dark flickering tones of the firelight and the earthen tones of the cave wall.
After years of living in the cave, another being comes to release the dweller. The dweller is given the first new stimulation of their life; they have never experienced something so intense before. The dweller is dragged from their prison, up the cave entrance, towards the light, and is first given a new perspective of his surroundings. He is dragged out into the light of the world, and is in what we would call ‘reality’ for the first time of their life. The myth of the Cave had been taken literally but also as a metaphor through which philosophers have been debating ‘what is the nature of reality’ for centuries.
Exercise: Write what Plato’s metaphorical message was in this conceptual legend. Ask yourself, is there more?
The Myth of the Cave suggests that our image of the world, is limited to the our sensory experience, and our ability to create things with our mind, by piecing together other things we’ve seen before.
Although we’ve never seen a flying pig, we can take our own mental image of a pig, and add the wings of a bird to it. At the same time, we cannot imagine a color we’ve never experienced ourselves. We know enough to understand that animals such as birds, tropical fish, and the mantis shrimp, are able to see different colors, but there’s no way for us to imagine them.
Now, let’s paint a picture with our minds. In this short exercise, I want you to imagine what the life would be of..
- a blind person
- a deaf person
i) A blind person wouldn’t be able to see or think in color, their sensory stimulation would come from the texture of things, temperature, humidity, sound, and especially music would have great appeal. A blind person might love to examine things with their hands.