Chapter 1.8 Consciousness and Concepts

Consciousness and Concepts

Snyder et al. (2004) theorise that savants, (those with exceptional ability in an area to the detriment of other areas) have “privileged access” to lower-level processes of the brain. His research suggests that someone with autism does not perceive the world through cognitive symbols but the “raw information” of the world around them. He also shows how the brain is capable of much more complex calculation than we use it for, but to the detriment of the skills required for high-level social interaction. His research points to the lower, primary processes as being not only the ‘fuel’ for creativity, but also the actor of it as well.

Snyder et al. (2004) assert that conditions such as autism develop because of the brain’s inability to reduce information to representational symbols or concepts.  The brain ‘normally’ overrules its actual environment information with pre-formed concepts from previous experience, as observed when we are fooled by optical illusions; the brain misrepresents the information perceived. The brain has ascribed representing symbols from its memory banks to help it make sense of our environment and to make decisions more efficiently. Snyder et al. (2004) argue that creative people are simply able to experience a ‘purer’ form of their perceptions and this allows for better divergent thinking and less constraint from rigid concepts. Instead, they can experience their world through more ‘fluid’ concepts which we call endocepts. It is likely that through practice, in fact of traditions strongly associated with art, anyone can develop these skills.

The formation and development of concepts by an individual is based on their ability to maintain an accurate refreshing of their environments, to question basic assumptions and rules and we see that this does not stay constant. While we observe this clearly in children, it still functions as an important part of the sense-making of our environments throughout life. Arieti (1976, p.87) describes this part of the secondary process of the mind as the all-embracing attribute to how we make groups of things into a ‘class’, “new concepts are continuously formed from old ones”. Creativity in one sense then is simply the ability to create classes that connect previously unconnected concepts. Translating our endocepts from amorphous thoughts and feelings into conscious thoughts (and eventually expression) require them to become fully represented by concepts. We attribute endocepts to an existing concept that is similar to it or that we feel is representational of it. If the conscious can’t interpret them, it may apply them to classes that in fact contradict, but are the best representation available for the new form. This may help to explain how the mind can create ideas that are original and innovative but also combine existing concepts; it is actually representing amorphous thoughts through the closest cultural representations.

Endocepts, or conceptual fragments and other ‘raw information,’ show how the brain can take large amounts of information and combine them to form new ideas without engagement or direction from the conscious will. The physical world does not offer us neat concepts; it forces us to work with fragmentary and complex information. It is the theatre of our mind that creates and translates the world into concepts. Combined with our emotional reaction and previous experience we often see conflicting and ambiguous results.