December 27, 2006

Concept Paradox

As an aside, and something to think about, one concept that needs definition/presentation in this database from the beginning may prove to be a major stumbling block for the multi-lingual efforts: how would you describe 'concept' without using words?

It is certain that many concepts considered to be 'basic' by educated adults are not basic at all. All contributors and mediators would have to do much thinking about the 'basic-ness' and commonality of each concept.


This Wiki Website absolutely must be included in this document as a close example of the information structure being discussed here. With a brief viewing (soon to be expanded greatly) the Wikipedia appears to be aiming at a multilingual encyclopedia with interlinked definitions. Each definition may refer to other definitions in the existing encyclopedia.
It could be considered as a single database version of a conceptionary, without any hierarchy of concepts.

The interesting initial discovery is that these links between definitions are also categorised, with many different 'themes' for the categorisation. The complexity of this linkage illustrates that which has been discussed above in sections 1.2 and 1.7, in that the flexibility of the links may disguise the true nature of the concept, and its part of the major concept to which it belongs. For example, our 'Fusion Reactor' may be linked to 'Kettle' by the common concept of 'Bubbling Water', which is interesting, but not as much as 'Energy Capture from Unstable Nuclear Materials'.

The Wiki format of this encyclopedia also allows the definitions to be edited by the reader, hopefully to enhance the definition for future readers. The constant revision of the same definition could lead to an incoherent text that has conflicting information and even debate, whereas a term or concept with multiple definitions from different contributors would allow the enhancements to remain 'autonomous' and for the reader to consider in context of the other definitions supplied.

Further to this, a voting system for agreement with each definition may provide a filtering system for definitions based upon the 'level of agreement' with each supplied definition. This voting system could be open to all readers, or restricting to an 'authority group' depending on the level of specialisation/complexity of the discussed concept.

Categorisation Revisited

Working with this hierarchy of increasingly-specialised sub-conceptionaries (simplest, common concepts in the Primary Conceptionary, and gradually more-complex concepts in Specialised Conceptionaries - or Sub-Conceptionaries) may inherently provide a system of categorisation, with each concept also gaining a 'degree of complexity' indicated by its location in the hierarchy of conceptionaries (and, therefore, the hierarchy of concepts).

Unfortunately, the flexibility of concept linkages could permit multiple routes from most-complex to most-simple concept, and some routes may be much shorter than others. Imagine the immense number of concepts required to describe a Nuclear Reactor. Then imagine an image of a Reactor with a large white drum filled with slowly bubbling water and for metal rods in the centre. Clicking on the drum could give you links to primary concepts such as 'white', 'liquid', 'water' and 'cylinder'.

Filtering of Links could reduce the listed relationships to 'Technical: Science: Physics: Fusion: Reactor' for example, but this system requires that the links also become administrated in a distributed/specialised manner which leaves the door open for local/cultural bias.

These links need to be administrated centrally, and suggestions for more specialised links (such as adding 'Reactor' for 'Technical: Science: Physics: Fusion') should be unanimously approved by a global group of specialists in the particular concept - so that it is understood that further concept definitions will adhere to a globally-agreed organisation of links/categories.

Language Independence

This 'language-less' primary conceptionary also provides some avoidance of the domination of any particular language/culture over the concepts. Maintaining this differentiation between concept and label/identifier in all the distributed conceptionaries should be encouraged (the term 'imposed' is deliberately avoided at this time) as it will make each concept more 'portable'. This would permit each concept to be used in multiple conceptionaries: 'concept replication'. Or move to a more common - therefore, less specialised - conceptionary for reference by multiple sub-conceptionaries: 'concept promotion'.


The primary conceptionary needs to concern itself with the concepts that are common to all mankind, building the foundations for other conceptionaries to build upon. The place to start is probably obvious to every recent parent, regardless of their background/environment.

We start teaching our children concepts of drink, food, clothes; places and times for eating, sleeping and playing; toys provide recognisable shapes, colours and sounds - and even motion with the effects of gravity; finally, from and early stage, we associate spoken and written labels/identifiers, 'words', to each of these concepts that we expect our children to learn.

If it is possible to provide a primary conceptionary, devoid of words, that captures all of these early learning (extremely common) concepts/experiences, describing all the basic building blocks of education for all mankind, then we can provide the absolute path for cross referencing all 'higher concepts' from all the country/culture specific 'near primary' conceptionaries supported by Universities around the globe - whose first responsibility it is to provide 'words', labels, identifiers for each of the concepts in the primary conceptionary in the language(s) of their locality.

A popular example amongst English and Spanish speakers would be
Sesame Street where well established 'actors' walk early-learners through very basic concepts using familiar media and metaphore. Imagine Sesame Street in many more languages, and with an extended learning range, (age related by the current creators).

Imagine now that the primary repository concepts are related/linked to multimedia presentations in a Sesame Street 'specialist conceptionary', where further links exist to connect certain subjects and examples to the Sesame Street 'actors' who regularly present these concepts - and then further links to the more entertainment-biased 'Muppet Show' - for example.


The construction of such a hierarchy of concepts should provide a level of mediation over the concept entries in the more common (primary and near-primary) conceptionaries. Ensuring that the information in these conceptionaries is of adequate standard to be understood by the majority of viewers is essential for all the material that later links to it. The mediators need to test the entries with a wide audience of viewers and gain a measurement of understanding achieved with the presentation of each concept. This is the point at which the true educational value of the conceptionary must be underlined and comprehended by all contributors.


Various organisations are defining ontologies which are similar to specialised conceptionaries, but are based upon no standard of structure or internationalisation. The World Wide Web Consortium is defining XML based communications between ontological databases with the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Ontological Web Language (OWL).

Hierarchical Distributed Conceptionaries

These 'Links' between concepts permits different, distributed, repositories (databases located at different points on the Internet, around the globe) to concentrate on specific subjects. Universities in each country worldwide could provide a local language/culture specific conceptionary, providing the local linguistic and artistic representation of the concepts that have already been defined: defined locally, or on remote conceptionaries.

This distributed conceptionary lends itself to hierarchy of conceptionaries ranging from the more common concepts (primary conceptionary) to the very specialised conceptionary (local terminology, abbreviations, acronyms and jargon) right down to corporate or personal levels.

Such specialised conceptionaries may, or may not, be available to the public, but the references (links) to the underlying concepts would (normally) be to conceptionaries available to everyone via the Internet.

An example of one such (publicly accessible) specialised conceptionary has already been mentioned above:
This site hosts Professor David R. Hill's authorised and up-to-date version of "A Conceptionary for Speech & Hearing in the Context of Machines and Experimentation", although many copies (some with errors and omissions) exist in various formats on the Web.

It is easy to imagine the information being dynamically extracted from a 'local/specialised conceptionary' database. Such a database would need to conform to rules and standards to which all conceptionaries will comply, to permit those distributed conceptionaries to act as one large distributed database, and permit services that use the conceptionary to anticipate where certain information will be available for each concept and its related content.

Concept Categorisation

Categorisation of concepts may be the stumbling block of the successful conceptionary: as it is supposed to be 'universally available' to all users, the use of any categorisation system may provide a cultural bias that is not understood by all users. For example: the categories Basic, Academic, Commercial, Historical and Fiction might provide a useful starting point for categorisation, but what would these mean to a farmer from central Africa?

These terms (the example categories) are themselves 'concepts' that are familiar to many cultures, but not completely universal.

The categorisation may be more appropriately based upon the level of complexity of the concept. The level of complexity may be measured as the number, (or depth), of other concepts it depends upon. For example: the colour red may only have the concept of 'colour' underlying it, in which case 'red' is relatively simple as a concept. However, if 'red' is dependent upon a 'vertical stack' of concepts (such as: colour, light, frequency, velocity, amplitude, wave, photon, particle, mass, quanta, energy) then the concept may said to have a high level of complexity and require prior knowledge of the lesser/component concepts.

The 'categorisation of concepts' by 'concept dependency' may be eliminated (due to the possibility of circular relationships) and, instead, 'links' between the concepts and their human representations may be limited to certain 'types'.

'Language' provides an obvious link between concept and the words used for it by different people in different places and times in history. 'Examples of Use' would extend this for clarity in each language. Where 'Literature' may further extend the link to places where to concept is used exhaustively, or interestingly, in existing written documents (or film/theatre/media). It is possible to provide audio examples of use, (video for sign languages, for the deaf), phonetic and metadata for speech recognition systems such as Professor David Hill's conceptionary (Section 1.3) was collated for.

'Culture' provides a link to explain how a common concept is treated differently by different people. Examples: god, law, property, freedom. 'Culture' may be extended by 'Geography', 'Politics', 'Art' and 'History'.

'Technical' may provide the path to more complex human understanding of a single concept, by extending through to 'Science' and further to specific definitions by the various academic communities who use the same concept in different environments (and often in different ways). As well as Science, other specialisations may be linked, such as 'Commercial', 'Industrial', 'Agricultural', 'Domestic' ...


A concept is anything that is understood and communicated or recorded by a human, (though not necessarily limited to humans). Examples: human; animal; vegetable; food; drink; smell; flower; colour; sunshine; sky; star; planet; sphere; orbit ...

The links between the concepts and their spoken/written representations in the many various cultures may be arranged to provide links between the concepts themselves. So that 'red' is linked to 'colour', 'light', 'frequency', 'wave', 'refraction' ...

The representation of each concept requires a method of presentation that eliminates the need to use words (as much as possible). Complete elimination of words may prove impossible - some concepts will not be understood otherwise. For the majority of cases images, sounds, animations and even digital audio/video should present each concept.


  • "A database of 'concepts' that links each concect to its various representations in the languages and cultures of mankind. A concept in this database is not (necessarily) a high-level, abstract, understanding of a complex idea"
    Described by Ray Cherry in hand-written notes, during the summer of 2000

  • "A conceptionary, like a dictionary, is useful in learning the meanings of words. Unlike a dictionary, it is designed to make the reader work a little, and to develop associations and a conceptual framework for the subject of the conceptionary. It is not an encyclopaedia, though it has as one function, in new or inter-disciplinary areas, the drawing together and reconciliation of disparate sources. Like Marmite (a yeast extract), it is designed to be nutritious and highly concentrated. Do not be put off by the consequent strong flavour. The aim is to achieve broad coverage of material from areas such as psychology and physics, as well as from speech recognition and synthesis, because such material is highly relevant to speech researchers and often difficult to track down. Historical material is included for the same reasons"
    A description of his own (specialised) conceptionary, by Professor David R. Hill of the University of Calgary, Canada - circa 2001: provides the latest version of the document which, according to the Professor, has a history going back to 1976 when it was entitled "A first order conceptionary to acoustic interaction between men and machines"

Professor David Hill may have been the first to use the word 'conceptionary'. If you know of any earlier (preferably published) use of the word, please let me know.