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[Freeing the Mind][Self Development Contents]

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Ken Ward's Mind Mastery Course

Your owner's manual for your brain - that you never received or never read.

clear.gif (807 bytes) The ideas mentioned in this page are important in:
  • Clarifying meaning - helping you to understand
  • Negotiation - negotiators use these ideas

Hierarchy of Ideas

You may have heard that language can be, at one extreme, vague and general and, at the other, very specific. Language is the best way we have to communicate, but it is often extremely limited.

By understanding the limitations of language you can get a great deal more from it than by remaining in ignorance.

Between the general and the vague, and the detailed and specific, there are a number of gradations expressing things more less generally or specifically.

Consider the statement, 'Bob is intelligent'.

You can wonder just what this means because when you turn to the dictionary you are referred to intelligence, where you find words like understanding and comprehension. By following understanding you find yourself back at intelligence!

Big words have a hypnotic effect because the cause us to search around in our minds trying to find some meaning, which is often difficult or impossible.

To start with it is better to take an example of a word such as furniture. With a great deal of agreement, we can show the levels of generality in the diagram below.

levels.jpg (12355 bytes)

The word furniture is a general word (see the diagram above). An armchair is also a general word, but it is more specific than furniture. On this continuum form general to specific, there are seats and chairs which come in the middle - they are more specific than furniture and more general than armchair.

Under seats we have chairs, settees and stools as examples of seats. These items are on the same level and additional examples of seats. Also, under chairs we have armchair and dining chair which are examples of chairs and are on the same level of general - specific.

Chunking up, chunking down and chunking across

We can take in information in chunks (often 5 to 9 chunks). A general idea is a bit chunk because it contains a lot of information and refers to many items. And a more specific word is a smaller chunk because it contains fewer examples.

When we chunk up we become more general. When we chunk down we become more specific. And when we chunk across, we keep at the same level of generality.

So from a chair, we can chunk up to a seat. And from a chair we can chunk down to armchairs. We can chunk across from a chair to a stool.

Chunking up

We can chunk up by asking:

What is a chair an example of?

What sort of thing is (a chair)?

Chunking down

We can chunk down by asking:

What is an example of (a chair)?

For instance?

Chunking across

We can chunk across by asking:

What's is another example of (a chair)?

Illustrative conversation

She What shall we do tonight?

He: What about going to the cinema? (This is an example of doing things, chunking down)

She: I'd rather go to the opera. (This is another example of doing things, chunking across)

He: You prefer something arty? (Chunks up to arty, which is one example of something more general than opera).

She: Yes.

He: What about the ballet? (Chunks down from arty to ballet, which is an example of arty).

Back to intelligent

You have read above about our saying that intelligent is an abstract word and very hard to experience. We then moved to examine the word furniture, because we claimed it was easier to understand. Having explained the ideas of chunking up, down and across, we now return to intelligence.

In our normal lives, we use the word intelligent, but its specific meaning depends on the speaker.Unlike the word furniture, we cannot give it a hierarchy that has a high degree of agreement.

intelligence.gif (11795 bytes)

In the diagram, we claim that intelligence is a type of Mental Capacity. Its parts include memory, thinking and understanding. And the parts of thinking include problem solving and reasoning.

By chunking down, we might interpret the statement Bob is intelligent to mean that, among other things, Bob has a good memory and Bob is good at reasoning.

However, we are still at a high degree of generality, even at the bottom of this diagram, so we could search for more specific examples. To understand what the speaker really means by Bob is intelligent, we would need to ask the speaker to supply us with some of the speaker's examples.