Ch1 L50: Summary (Part III)

  1. The basic cognitive step to make sense of the world around us is to connect things based on the law I called the law of adjacency: two spatial, temporal, or conceptual things are related to each other in mind [1]. As an example, we saw how the brain could relate the smell of a rose to its shape and create a bigger sign I called supersign. The supersign could grow with our emotional evaluation. If you enjoyed its fragrance, the supersign would be shape – smell – good. The supersign can relatively change. For example, if a thorn punctured your finger the supersign most likely would be shape – smell – bad. Besides, the supersign can grow indefinitely (like a living organism) when we tag more pieces of information to it [2].
  1. Then the most important cognitive step happens. The brain draws away similarities from two or more objects and takes them together to create a concept. Rose is the concept which groups the things above [3]. Ignoring the differences [4] requires creating an abstract sign of them.
  2. Based on the level of abstraction, concepts have a hierarchy. For instance, the concept of flowers is more abstract than of roses [5].
  3. One of the reasons that we use concepts is having limited working memory. We have 4 chunks of working memory to process for units of information and if we group them, the group will be processed in one unit [6].
  4. Concepts are the cognitive meanings of things. When you eat an apple, you enjoy its sweet taste which is the emotional evaluation. However, to ruminate it you need the concepts: apples, are, and sweet to logically assess the experience [7].
  5. Meanings have a hierarchy based on their amplitude and frequency. If a concept has a high emotional amplitude or frequency, it will turn into a belief [8]. For example, why you learn from your parents can easily create your belief system because of the emotional bond between you and your parents; or when you hear something from different sources, you tend to find it true (frequency) and that’s how propagandas work.
  6. Beliefs enable us to predict. If you believe that every tiger is dangerous and you see a tiger, you can predict that it will be dangerous too. This type of logical argument is called syllogism [9].
  1. When a kid creates the concept of horses and they see a horse, they call it “horse” (assimilating it to the concepts they’d created) and their parents’ positive reinforcement consolidates the definition or belief. The kid is in the equilibrium state until they see a donkey. They’d shout “horse” but this time, their parents wouldn’t be happy. They’d say “no it’s not a horse, it’s a donkey”. The kid would go through the disequilibrium state. Then the brain would need to create a new concept for donkeys; in other words to accommodate to the new situation. [10]
  2. This simple yet very important process is the key factor in the development of intelligence. When it comes to horses and donkeys, the kid might not resist changing their mind; however, when our beliefs are falsified with counterexamples [11], we might tend to ignore them for three reasons: first of all, to doubt our beliefs, requires effort that we’re reluctant to put due to minergy [12]; secondly, doubting brings uncertainty which causes fear [13]; lastly, if it’s a social belief, the fear of losing it can be induced by fear of losing the social support or even some kind of punishment. Thus, when we experience a counterexample, we might ignore or eliminate it in a procrustean way [14].
  3. Then we saw that if we rigidly defined beliefs as concrete, they’d shatter or cause more pain to be protected. But if we see them as metals, they can be remolded; so, they can be flexible and resilient at the same time.
  4. Concepts enabled us to generalize [15] and the greatest generalization of all time has been “everyone will eventually die” [16]. Becoming aware of our mortality raised the stress level and we worked harder to defeat Death [17]. Besides, to alleviate the stress of mortality, the greatest opium to forget the problem was invented: the concept of the afterlife [18].
  5. To fight Death, we needed to know the dangers that caused it [19]. Our cognitive evolution can be divided into three eras based on the type of cause we’ve found for the natural phenomena: In the magic era, they believed that their actions could cause or control the natural courses. This notion was falsified by many counterexamples religion brought. The religion changed the entire system and said we have no power and everything happens according to God’s will. Ultimately, science combined those ideas and said that the universe has its independent mechanism, however, they can be discovered and controlled. [20]


[1] I introduced the law of adjacency in the 8th post [Link]. For example, this law enabled our ancestors to invent calendars using temporal adjacency.

[2] We studied this example in the 8th post [Link].

[3] The formation of concepts was discussed in the 12th post [Link]

[4] I’m sure that if pay more attention, we can find many differences between them: the number of their leaves, petals, their size, color, etc.

[5] This argument is very important for the foundation of learning math and diagnosing how kids can struggle with learning it. Because in mathematics concepts grow more abstract and that’s why students find it more and more difficult to grasp them. From the very beginning, math uses abstract concepts. 1 is a concept. Kids might relate it to 1 finger or apple to understand it or as Wittgenstein said to use it properly [Link], but they don’t know what 1 is. When they learn negative numbers, it will become more abstract because there are no negative numbers in nature. Temperature can be negative based on our measuring system, not by nature. Therefore, negative numbers are more abstract. And as we move forward to the complex numbers, they will get more and more abstract. When students see imaginary numbers, they go nuts because the complex numbers are two-dimensional [Link].

[6] We discussed this phenomenon in the 9th post [Link]

[7] Link to the 21st post on why language enabled us to think. Besides, we discussed in the 13th post [Link] that concepts are abstract meanings so they need the dress of language to be seen.

[8] We investigated beliefs in many posts starting from the 25th. [Link]

[9] Again you can refer to the 25th post where we talked about syllogism. [Link]

[10] We studied this situation in the 24th post. [Link]

[11] we talked about counterexamples in the 28th post. [Link]

[12] Minergy is the word I’ve come up with to explain our tendency to spend minimum energy to get things done. Since we’ve survived through millions of years of scarcity, one of the most fundamental strategies our brain has developed was to save energy for the possible coming dangers; thus it’s unwilling to spend energy on things it finds unnecessary. [Link]

[13] Link to the 26th post

[14] In the 24th post [Link], I told the story of Procrustes who was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica who physically attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, to force them to fit the size of an iron bed. So, the adjective procrustean describes the attitude to eliminate the differences of an idea to fit it into one’s philosophy.

[15] Link to the 26th post about generalization

[16] Link to the 39th post

[17] As I said before, we’ve been relatively successful. We’ve developed science and technology which improved the quality of our lives, consequently the life expectancy.

[18] Link to the 40th post

[19] Link to the 29th post

[20] Link to the 30th post

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