traveling_to_Rome

All roads lead to Rome.

As the saying goes, you have the freedom to choose any road to your destination.

You can take a train to Rome.
You can take a plane to Rome.
If you are, however, in Florence, traveling by car may be preferred because of the great views.
If you lodge in Venezia, on the other hand, a ship cruise to Civita Vecchia and reaching Rome by bus can be an appealing alternative.

Perhaps you want to be in Rome tomorrow, no matter what.
Perhaps you want to be in Rome sometime this summer.
Perhaps you want to stay in Rome for a year to learn Italian.
Or perhaps you want to enjoy a break in Amsterdam and Brussels, before reaching Rome. You simply want to see as many cities as possible on your travel to Europe.

All good, yet, how would you choose to travel?

Is the travel by boat better than by plane?
It depends.
For many years my friend has been traveling by boats and trains, even though it could have taken him many days to reach the place he wanted to. Why did he do this? For the richness of experience, views to be seen and admired, people to meet and chat to, inspiration to sparkle and so on.

Is hitchhiking better than traveling by car?
It depends.
If you are tight both with money and time it makes sense to prefer a cheap flight over hitchhiking and traveling by car.

So …

What is the best way to travel to Rome?
There is no answer to it, because the answer depends on
– how fast you want to get there
– how long you want to stay there
– what you want to do there
– what is your previous/next destination
– with whom you will go
– how much money you have at your disposal
and so on.

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The point of the above is this:

Deciding on the Way/Road (the How) before deciding on the Destination (Goal = Where/What and Circumstances) is pointless. It is a waste of time, at best, and a real pain and misery, at worst.

I know that, you will say.
Let’s see now how things are in life.

Sometimes you have just a single goal (destination) but there are usually multiple goals to attain. You may have two goals, A and B. However, reaching B is more important than reaching A. Consequently, in the worst case scenario you could sacrifice A for B.

For instance, you want to loose weight (goal A) and get fit (goal B). Although you would rather love to see yourself thin, the priority is on getting fit. In that scenario focusing on goal A, say by drinking slim-fast drinks, is a distraction if you don’t adequately address your goal B.

You may need to reach the goals A, B and C and D, but loosing on D would be acceptable. For instance, you want to loose weight (goal A), get fit (goal B), improve the condition of your liver (goal C) and start saving money (goal D).  The latter is not the main focus though.

In fact, any major decision with respect to your business, family (say, holiday, moving house, choice of schools, solving health issues), personal development or job challenges you to clarify your objectives first.

They are different roads you can choose to go to Rome. Or to any other city.

Decide what you want, your Goal/Destination, very clearly. It is not only important to decide whether you are going to Rome, but even more importantly When, How and for what purpose. Knowing that you can optimize your Way to get there.

When you ask:

  • “Is this a good house to buy?”
  • “Is this a good strategy for my business?”
  • “Is this person a good match?”
  • “Is this a good job?”

Remember to ask yourself
“Is traveling by car a good way to get to Rome?”
As you see, these are wrong questions. Why? Because they are too general. They are highly unspecific and will lead you to Distraction.

Better questions are somewhere along these lines:
“If my goals are A, B and C, but I want to avoid D, is this house/strategy/person/job a good (best) match to meet my objectives?”
It may still not be a question that is precise enough but it is a good starting point. Remember also that too many objectives are counterproductive.

If your goal is to have a family holiday in a warm climate (goal A) but save money with respect to your regular holiday spending (goal B), perhaps house swapping with another family in Spain provides the Way. Choosing an attractive holiday package from the travel agency, just because your friends do it and you want to look cool, is a Distraction.

If you run a business and want to get more clients, then focusing on the Like’s, Tweets and beautifying your Webpage may be a Distraction. (Say a break in Amsterdam instead of reaching Rome directly).

If you want to have a creative job (goal A) and with small kids (goal B) such that you possibly provide a therapeutic effect on them (goal C, minor), then following a job at a corporation, because it pays well and sets you on a good carrier path, is a Distraction.

Your family, parents, colleagues, neighbors, bosses and any other form of social pressure will encourage/push you to meet the objectives and goals you don’t have.

They will do their best to convince you that what they offer/suggest is the wisest / smartest / fastest Way to go.  However, to Rome, or to the Destination they point to.

Find out your own objectives because this is what ultimately matters.
You fall from your Way towards Distraction because you don’t clearly define your Destination.

Do all roads lead to Rome?
Well, they do. But perhaps you are not going to Rome this time.

Does your Way lead you where you want to go?
Remember, everything else is a Distraction.

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Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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This is a guest post by my friend Bob.

The quality of numbers

Some numbers are more special than others. They have a special quality and we may feel happy, guided or comforted when we see them around. This has been observed all through the history of mankind and so they can be found on historical pieces of art, in fairy tales or in esoteric documents. In the field of numerology many procedures are developed to connect numbers to names, words and dates.

Various questions arise if one is interested in the quality of numbers. How do we gain understanding of them? Do people experience the same qualities with respect to the same numbers? If so, why is this? We will focus here on the first question.

The word “understanding” should be taken broadly. It is not just the mind that grasps intellectually, but also the soul that experiences qualities. Understanding of the quality of a particular number is similar to the understanding of the quality of a particular color. Examples of bordeaux-red works better than any crisp definition.
So, as a first attempt we focus on examples or stories about numbers that can be appreciated by everybody.

The quality of 7

The number 7 is widely recognized as having different qualities than other numbers. There are seven days in the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven tones to construct musical harmonies or seven deadly sins. Why is 7 so popular?

In the previous posts Ela has carefully described how the numbers 1, 2 and 3 play a special role in the experience of ourselves in relation to the world. Just left to myself I feel one, united. There is nothing else than just me. As soon as I become creative I construct something out of myself that I can observe from the outside: a thought, a word, a story or a melody. Suddenly there are two: me and my creation, inside and outside. I can experience the relation: I like it or not, it is good or bad. Is it finished or is there still some polishing needed? In this last question there is already  the number 3 dawning: there is me, there is my creation and there is how it should be. Here three is being born.

Ela described how we develop from swinging between the opposites and trying to establish a balance gradually may construct something new. Something that is not just an intermediate, something that is just grey, but something that is entirely new, a new road, a new way of looking at the world, something that brings a new enthusiasm. A child is not just a mixture of the parents, but may also bring something that is surprisingly different and that astonishes the family.

From 3 to 7: the three friends

Now suppose we have three friends having a discussion. Sometimes two have a sharp argument while the third one is just observing. This may happen in three ways for all three pairs. Sometimes one is presenting a long monologue and the other two are just listening. This may also happen in three ways. And occasionally all 3 friends have a sharp debate in which they all actively participate. That is it. There are no more than these seven ways in which the debate can proceed. If all three friends are silent there is no debate.

From 3 to 7: the seven community types

In the middle ages new communities started to develop along the roads of Europe for three different reasons. Somebody might have founded a church (or a monastery) and various people felt attracted to it and started to build houses around as a result. It might also be that the road crossed a river and people started trading, thereby constructing a market place. And a third reason why a community was born is that somebody on a crowded place, e.g. on a crossing of two roads, started a pub. Others settled near it as they wanted to participate in the social life.

The characteristics of villages that arose out of a church, a market place or a pub are entirely different. At some moment the community around a market place founded a church as well, while others may have first created a pub next to their market. Also next to the churches, also pubs appeared to be attractive. Finally cities grew out of these villages that have all three of them: churches, markets and pubs.

It is not the intention to state that the above is in one way or the other historically correct. It is just arguing that once we accept that communities may be founded on religious, economic or social reasons, seven different types of communities may be found depending how they start.

From 3 to 7: the seven cells in a triangle

The two examples of the three friends and the seven types of communities are very similar and may be understood as being based on the same geometrical abstraction. Take a triangle and extend all three sides as far as possible, e.g. to the end of the piece of paper used for drawing the triangle. Now this piece of paper is subdivided into 7 different cells. The number 7 can be understood as born out of the number 3 as soon as the three are essentially different. If one is just a mixture of the two others, we will not find 7.

From 3 to 7: the Door story

Now a different example which can only be fully understood if the above is appreciated. It is based on an extension of the Door story: in passing a door we have three essentially different states of consciousness, before the door, at the threshold and after entering the room behind it. Different states of consciousness are distinguished here by their content. There is the world in which we are facing the closed door, there is the surprise moment of opening and experiencing the threshold and there is the different world behind it. It is already different as we have the two previous experiences, but also because the new room may be entirely different.

Why can we distinguish the above three states of consciousness so clearly? It is not just because of different observations, different impressions of the senses. It is also because of different emotions.

Opening a door, passing a threshold can be a big event or a great experience. It is our act of courage, the step itself and the new world that opens in front of us. This can be understood on different levels. On just the physical level of opening a door, but also on the level of the soul: we pass the threshold of making a decision. Before that we just play with the idea, we consider a possibility. After that we have internalized the decision. The decision belongs to us and we are committed to action. Then, distinguished from this, we act and open the door. Commitment and taking action are not the same yet. We may make decisions that are never executed, e.g. because the physical circumstances do not allow for it. The door might be locked, or even when we push it, it feels so alien that we change our decision.

Next to the threshold of decision making and opening the door there is a third threshold, a third door to pass. That is that we accept the world behind the door. We really enter the room and start to work and live there. This is also not just a natural consequence of the physical act of opening the door. The room behind the door may look so unfriendly that we decide to return on the threshold.

9 states of consciousness  …

So in the Door story there are three thresholds to experience: the decision, the act and the acceptance. But each of them can be understood as a door on its own. There is the Old World, the Threshold and the New World. Consequently, the total experience can be described in three triplets, 3 times 3, that is nine different states of consciousness:

1. We are in a room, there is a door, but we don’t pay attention to it. We just do our work.
2. We decide to open the door at some moment.
3. We live with this decision. As a consequence our work has a different color now, as we know that we have to finish it and will open the door.

4. We have finished the work and walk to the door.
5. We open the door and find ourselves at the threshold between two worlds
6. We enter the new room.

7. We start to work in the new room and wonder whether we like it.
8. We accept the room and decide to stay there.
9. We work now in the new room with the knowledge that we will stay here.

In studying the above nine states  we may observe that there is a sharp distinction between many of them, but not all. The states 3 and 4 as well as 6 and 7 are in fact just a continuation of each other. In the way it is described here, from the outside, a different perspective has been sketched, but in walking through the rooms and experiencing the thresholds, 3 and 4 as well as 6 and 7 cannot be distinguished internally.

that are in fact 7 different states

As  a result, we can distinguished seven different states of consciousness in the Door story:
1. Being in the World. We work in a room. It has a door, but this fact is not significant yet.
2. Awareness and decision to act. We decide to open the door.
3. Action in the Old World. We finish work and walk to the door.
4. Threshold. We open the door and experience the threshold.the
5. Action in the New World: We walk into the new room.
6. Acceptance (decision to stay). We accept to stay there.
7. Being in the New World. We work in the new room.

Finally

Like in the previous examples of the friends and communities we find a relation between 3 and 7. Three elements constitute seven states.

But what are the three friends in us, what are the three building blocks that constitute the seven states of consciousness that are distinguished in the Door example? There is no unique answer to that.

We may say that there is a past, present and future is this story, or there is us, the world around us and our interest to relate the two. A straightforward road through the triangle that has been sketched above and that passes the seven cells might be constructed but this will feel as an artificial construct. We have found thereby at least two essentially different ways to relate 3 to 7. There might be others.

What can now be stated on the quality of 7? If the world is constructed by three essentially different powers, then we may find groups of seven everywhere. These seven’s will not be just one more than six or one less than eight. Such a group of seven will feel complete, every aspect is covered. It is may be experienced as a harmonic wholeness.

Is this all there is, or can we continue and reason from 7 to other numbers? For sure this can be done and numbers like 12, 19 and 24 can be found, but then we should be able to distinguish more and more subtle differences between the states of consciousness. This is essential in grasping the quality of numbers.

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The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

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Other posts on consciousness:

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Every year I take the time to remember the Ones who passed away. I do it especially on the All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day, i.e. the 1st and 2nd November.

The Ones are family members, friends and interesting people whom I have met on my path.

I light the candles and recall who they were and what they strived for.

I recall their experiences, learning points and funny stories.

I remember our common joy, fun and laughter as well as seriousness and responsibility.

And I remember the understanding I achieved as a result of our meetings.

I remember love.

In all this I uncover patterns in their lives and I look for the lessons I can apply to mine.

I honor the People for the blessings they brought into my life.  I pray for their families to be blessed anew.

This little ritual is for me an appreciation of Gratitude, which is memory of the Heart. I do this to acknowledge that whom I have become is influenced, inspired or challenged by the People I have met in my life.

Give honor and become grateful for the People who crossed your life path.

It is special.

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generalization

In the previous post I discussed some aspects of learning a concept from examples. We will now connect it to….

 

Generalization

Generalization is the ability to learn a concept or a class from a set of examples. In short, generalization is our way of capturing sameness or similarity between objects.

By “objects” we understand all kinds of entities, including physical objects, abstractions, experiences and so on that are elements of the class or belong to the concept of interest.

For instance, we can learn a concept of a bicycle with the objects being bicycles, as well as we can learn a concept of driving with the ‘objects’ being driving experiences.

Generalization is a truly remarkable skill of an intelligent mind. It is one of the basic principles of learning.

We are able to learn a general rule and apply it when needed. We are able to classify or categorize not only physical objects, but also ideas, abstractions, events, behaviors, approaches and people. We are able to recognize patterns from examples, determine the essence and categorize experiences.

Generalization is being used daily on all levels in your life. You can apply skills and abilities in the new context exactly because generalization is at work.  It is really powerful.

  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to walk, you are soon able to run?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you can drive an individual car, you can drive (nearly) all other cars?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to cook a few meals, you can cook a totally new meal, never tried before?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know how to orient yourself with a map, you can follow maps in arbitrary situations?
  • Isn’t that remarkable that once you know a programming or human language, you can learn a different language much faster?

The stages of concept learning

A quilt by Inge Duin

Imagine that you are to learn how to recognize a particular object or to learn a concept. The stages of learning a concept are in fact the stages of generalization. These are:

  1. Typical examples. Study, observation or experimentation with a number of typical examples of the given class.
  2. Finding the patterns: seeing the differences and perceiving similarities. This is made possible because of our ability to compare.
  3. Concept creation. A first mental formulation of a concept of an object/class/notion. Grasping the basic essence. This is made possible because of our ability to reflect.
  4. Atypical examples. Study of atypical, uncommon and otherwise strange examples from the class. Refining of the concept.
  5. Borderline cases. Exploration of the negative examples (i.e. examples from outside of the class), especially of the borderline cases.
  6. Re-definition of the concept.
  7. Abstraction. A new level of understanding. The essence is found.

Abstraction may develop without your conscious intent. It happens naturally when you reach a good understanding of  the class or concept of interest. Such an understanding is built when you engage in active learning, i.e. thinking, experimentation, reflection and evaluation. Abstraction occurs when you develop a mental image/sound or internal feeling of the class.

Some researchers think that such a class representation relies on a single prototype or a set of prototypes that somehow capture the idea of the class. Sometimes a prototype can be defined by a set of features, but it is usually much more than that. Features offer a limited scope and may vary from example to example.

A prototype  is meant to be an internal representation of the class. It likely combines visual, auditory, olfactory and kinesthetic modalities. Moreover, such a representation includes an emotional component, i.e. feelings that the concept evokes in you or emotionally strong events that took place when you had a related experience. In addition, such a representation may be equipped with a graph of structural dependencies and be hierarchical in order to reflect levels of importance or degree of detail.

Recognition

Testing is the next step after you have derived a concept of a class. It is called recognition. A good recognition does not necessarily prove that you have created an accurate and factual concept. The quality of your recognition depends on the quality of examples you consider for testing, i.e. whether they are a mixture of easy (typical) and challenging ones (border cases).

There are two types of errors you can make, called false positive and false negative errors. False positive are examples that you recognize as belonging to the class of interest while in fact they are not the member of that class. An example is an orange recognized as a ball by a child. After noticing such boundary examples you need to update your concept so that you will exclude such cases in the future (e.g fruits are not balls).

The second type of error is the false negative error which occurs when you miss to name a particular object as a member of the class, while in fact it belongs there . This suggests that you have not included a sufficient variety of examples when you were building your concept.

Concept learning is an ongoing process

If you think you learned a concept, you are wrong. We are living in a developing world and this asks us to continuously update, reformulate or even abandon our concepts by taking new developments and personal experiences into account. For instance, the concept of a telephone or TV you learned, say 20-40 years ago, is really outdated by now. Or the concept of friendship (which refers here to the class of friendship experiences) you developed in your childhood is not going to serve you in your thirties or later. You need to update your concepts by more recent examples.

Concept learning and recognition run in cycles

The concepts you develop are never fixed. They are solid, however, in the sense that they are built from concrete examples leading to specific representations of the classes. But, they are subjected to change.

In fact, you are always in the process of concept learning, recognition and concept re-learning, even though you don’t follow it consciously. These two stages are intertwined and you run them in cycles. You learn a concept and you test it. As long as your examples do not contradict your concept or challenge you with novel perceptions, your concept remains unchanged. If, however, you find a surprising example, you will decide whether the concept should to be re-learned or not.

You need to pay attention to noticing these interesting examples and be ready and prepared to modify your learned concept. At some point you will see that novel examples occur for which your concept definition does not work well. These are the moments in which you observe how your false positive or false negative errors increase. So, you are encouraged to include such examples in the concept formation process.

In addition, you may mentally weight your examples depending on some importance factor (that you define for yourself) or the time you collected them. Perhaps, you may even neglect early examples as they are not relevant any longer. For instance, concerning the concept of friendship, you may like to include examples of your friends from your primary school but they may have a much less weight than the examples from your last years of life.

Summary

Generalization supports us in learning on all levels. The use of generalization requires an open mind, however, able and prepared to question and redefine the derived concepts, if needed. Any concept we learn in our life is temporary. We change and the world changes as well. This means that our general rules, concepts and learned ideas are in operation until e.g. we find a surprise or a contradiction. This is a sign that points us to reformulation of the concept or perhaps even abandoning it.

What is essential is the meta ability of a conscious mind to pay attention and to notice outliers. As long as we remain flexible in our learning, open to questioning and re-learning, we will use generalization well.

Practise generalization with a conscious effort.

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Top photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.
The middle image shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.

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Learning and generalization posts:

 

increase intelligence by concept learning

Let’s  look at some basic questions, which are nevertheless insightful:

  • How enthusiastic are you about learning?
  • How flexible are you?
  • How do you keep up with the fast pace of our changing world?

Whatever your answers to the questions above I hope you recognize the importance of intelligence. It helps you to tackle problems more effectively. It facilities a life of growth. It makes difficult choices easier.

Would you like to increase intelligence?

I bet your answer is “yes”.

There is a simple practice you can install in your mind: creating accurate and up-to-date concepts about the surrounding world. By concepts we understand mental representations of an object, idea, activity, living creature or phenomenon. Whatever we see, hear, feel or encounter in our lives, goes through mental processes of our brains.

For instance, when we learn what an apple is, we learn a concept of a class of apples in the from of a mental representation of the encountered apples  or an abstract idea of an apple.

We are people of the patterns

We are people of the patterns. We create patterns in our lives, art, work and products. Whatever we do it bears the very characteristic of our whole being. It’s hardly possible, even if at all, for you to create something that is completely not like you. Try it. And report to me if you are successful, because I will find it extremely interesting ;).

I challenge you to write a genuine piece of text that is perceived not like yours. Try to cook a meal which is not like yours. Try to make a design that is completely dissimilar with your previous designs. Try to continuously speak or walk in ways that are 100% alien to you. Try to make something creative that is completely different from who you are. Even attempting this feels weird.

The reason is that at any moment we are attracted to specific ideas or concepts that we live by. These are specific patterns. They permeate our whole being including consciousness, feelings and thoughts.

These drive our actions. When we act, take decisions, make judgements or create something, we derive them from our internal resources. Whatever the output, it is going to bear the watermark patterns of who we are.

Because patterns are so prevalent in our lives, we are very efficient at finding patterns and recognizing traits. Finding patterns relies on noticing the differences and perceiving similarities. We learn concepts, classes or categories after having observed the patterns.

Classification / categorization is essential

A class or category is a group or collection of objects, things, events or experiences that have something in common; there is an underlying similarity.

In this light, any given object or experience is a representative of its class. At the same time any given object may belong to multiple classes, nested or not. For instance, there is a class of oaks which is a subclass of leafy trees, which is a subclass of trees.  Or, there is a class of bananas and there is a class of fruits that you like which includes ripe bananas (but not unripe ones).

Without classes or categories, every object and every experience would be novel, interesting and puzzling. No doubt, this would lead you to a thrilling life of ever fresh experiences, yet without understanding and learning. You would not be able to organize your experiences into meaningful ways.

As a result, you would not be able to tell whether something is a carrot, chair or car, or whether it is useful or friendly. You would not be able to survive.

Have you ever observed how a small child learns to recognize an object?

There are two levels to it: unconscious and conscious classes of experience. Before using a language, a very small child forms unconscious classes of objects or experience. He basically goes through a certain experience and recognizes when something similar happens again. This informal grouping relies on some observable similarity.

An example is a child experiencing an enormous joy in a repetition of a certain play; I bet you’ve seen these situations many times. A child may be laughing when you play with him his version of hide and seek (covering his face with a cloth and asking “Where is  Joe?” and then uncovering and saying with surprise “Oh, there he is!”), over and over again. Even after 20 times the child may still be in the same hilarious laugh as after the 1st time. He recognizes from the first movement what it is going to happen and anticipation makes it great.

In the conscious forming of classes, language plays a role, or more specifically, naming. The whole process begins with a child being interested in the chosen object. He finds this object appealing to his senses, so he interacts with it. And he usually plays with the object in all possible ways. He asks for its name. Naming is essential for learning a concept, because a name labels the class, hence it is identified with the class.

Without the name we miss our reference. The name serves therefore as a handle of a bag. It points to or indicates a group of objects or experiences which are in the bag. At the same time, naming assigns an object or experience to a given class.

The child usually collects sensory experiences and explores the object by touch, taste, sound and smell. He interacts with it in multiple ways. It allows him to create an idea of the object, before a concept is learnt. Later he sees another object of the same kind and explores it even more. Then the next example comes. And some more.

What is interesting is that a few examples are often sufficient for a child to build a good-enough, or sometimes even detailed, concept of the object. If a child is really attracted to this object, he begins to recognize objects from the same category. He is actively noticing them in the world around and happily pointing to them at any occasion. For instance, given a few examples of (playing) balls, a child is able to recognize a previously unseen ball. And you know that it is possible even if the features of a ball such as a size, color or material are totally new.

In the days or weeks to come, a child will further refine the concept of a ball. This is the time he will study (i.e. explore) more examples of balls. Hopefully, such a set includes less typical balls as well. These are important for inspecting the boundary cases. What is even more important are the negative examples, i.e. examples which do not belong to the class. Again, a special focus is put on these negative examples which resemble the object of interest in some way, but are not the object.

For instance, a child may see an orange and recognize it as a ball. If you reply that the object is not a ball but an orange (a different name, hence a different class), a child will be prompted to reformulate his concept of a ball, respectively. When he is pointed out to differences, he will learn the essential discrimination about ball-like objects which are not balls.

The effective concept learning takes place in the presence of both uncommon and negative examples. Borderline cases from both sides of the class are crucial for a good formulation of the concept.

Abstraction

Although the example of a ball sounds simple, the same steps take place for learning the concepts behind more complicated things such as dogs, cars, flowers, airplanes, or particular meals, as well as activities such as cooking, running or playing. What is remarkable, is the step in which a child takes the concept to an abstract level by becoming to know what is the essence of the object or concept. I believe such an abstraction is the basis for our fast intelligent recognition skill that we so much rely on in daily life.

For instance, when my toddler was exploring the world around, attracted to airplanes flying above, he only started to recognize them when he was able to name them. He learned the concept well.

Recently, he has surprised me by the following. In the garden he found two wood planks of different lengths. He put them across, kept them in this alignment in his hand above his head and started to run around the garden. While doing so, he was making humming noises and joyfully shouting that there was an airplane flying.

I understood he made an important step. He was able to bring the understanding of what an airplane was to the next level in which he saw its basic essence. He was able to emphasize a few features essential for an object to be considered as a plane: a particular shape, noise and movement in the air. This is the skill of abstraction applied to in a creative way.

You learn concepts from examples

If you observe others and yourself, and explore of how we learn, you will discover that we learn concepts or classes from examples. Moreover, in an ideal scenario, we actually follow the process described above. And what is more, we are able to learn them from a few examples only, usually three to five. Just ask yourself:

  • How many times do you need to hear your friend speaking in order to recognize her voice?
  • How many examples do you need to be to tell whether a cathedral is gothic or not?
  • How many examples do you need to recognize an impressionist painting?
  • How many coffees do you need to smell or drink in order to learn what a cappuccino is?
  • How many passionate people do you need to interact with in order to recognize a passionate one?

A few examples are often enough. Of course, it does not necessarily mean that you will make no errors when a recognition should occur. There may be difficult borderline cases, changed circumstances, previously unseen mixtures of objects or other situations which may lead us to a wrong assignment. But a few examples are sufficient to get an idea behind the concept. However, you will need many more examples especially near the border cases in order to refine the concept well for arbitrarily difficult examples.

For instance, you may need to hear your friend speaking when he is ill in order to better recognize his voice over the phone in arbitrary circumstances. You may also need many more examples in order to recognize particular sub-cases of the given classes.

Whatever the case, remember to collect a wide spectrum of examples from the class as well as from outside of the class. Otherwise, your concept would either be too narrow or too wide. What you want is a well-formulated, tight (but not too tight) concept, because it will facilitate your learning.

Well-learned concepts increase intelligence

There is no doubt about it. Remember, any concept you hold, whether it is about concrete objects in the world, scientific discoveries, your skill or experiences, it is your building block for the synergistic working of other concepts.  It has a direct influence on the quality (read: happiness, joy, fulfillment) of your life.

For example, the concept you have learned about computers links to your ability of using them effectively or not, or the concept you created about love has a huge impact on the way you create your relationships.

The more factual representation of your concept, the better it serves you to build other concepts and make intelligent choices. The better your concepts, the better your ability to plan and act accordingly. Both recognition and prediction directly rely on the goodness and accuracy of concepts you have created.

Well-learned concepts and well-learned classes are formulated based on all examples (or experiences) with the emphasis on uncommon situations or outliers.

Take your time to inspect your most important concepts about yourself and life.

Learn them anew.

Practical strategy

How do you practically implement the learning of accurate concepts? It’s simple. I will summarize it below:

  1. You learn concepts from examples.
  2. The quality and representativeness of the examples/experiences you use for concept learning is essential.
  3. If you learn a new concept, choose your examples wisely. You need examples that cover a wide range of situations and boundary cases. You will often need as little as 3-5 typical examples and a variable number of boundary examples.
  4. Be open and willing to reformulate your concept when you notice an example that is different, strange or otherwise appealing. What you want is a tight description but wide enough to accommodate what is the gist of the concept.
  5. If you have a concept formulated (e.g. about entrepreneurship, working-out, cars, kids, faith, money, Rembrandt paintings, mountaineering, buying houses etc), inspect which examples or experiences you used to create it. Remove outdated examples that no longer serve you and use more recent examples. Mentally re-crete your concept again by finding patterns, similarities and differences, between the examples you collected. Just think about it and get new insights.
  6. Do it with every new concept you learn.

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The image above shows a quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.

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