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Concepts and Subjects

The differentiation between concept and subject may be "only semantics," but as Peter Wiesner (IEEE) has said, "It's not only semantics, it's all semantics." Let me differentiate, as both concept and subject maps may have use. Generally, an ontology relates to concepts, a taxonomy to subjects.

Concepts are such things as superposition, transformation, equivalence, propagation, active, passive, process, algorithm, oscillation, resonance, harmonic and synchronous. Subjects (disciplines) are such things as passive circuits, transmission structures, microwave active devices. Subjects and concepts are related but are not equivalent. As you can see in the definitions below, subjects contain a component of authority (stated or implied), concepts involve ideas or abstractions and generation. The authority may include the naming authority and control. Concepts generally relate to the origination of ideas. Concepts are generative in nature. As a metaphor, you can think of subjects as "on the ground" and concepts as "in the air." Some terms can be both concepts and subjects, such as "evolution." Evolution as a field of study within biology is a subject, but evolution as a description of the behavior of economic systems is a concept. The concept of oscillation is of a regular repeated exchange of energy between two states. The concept of oscillation can be realized in specific disciplines such as mechanics (e.g., a mass-spring oscillator), electronics (an inductor-capacitor tank circuit) and economics (business cycle).

The IEEE LOM has adopted the term "discipline" to designate the same classification that those in the US would call "subject." The definition of the term was established be for the selection of the actual name. The term "discipline" satisfied those involved.

Concept maps are typically visual depictions with labeled boxes with links among them. Links typically are label with the relationship (part of, contains, the same as...). This is not to say that subject maps are not good things. They can be very useful.

From: Collaboration through Concept Maps

I've cut and pasted the following definitions from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm:

1 : something conceived in the mind : THOUGHT, NOTION
2 : an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances synonym see IDEA
1 a (1) : the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both (2) : EMBRYO, FETUS b : BEGINNING <joy had the like conception in our eyes -- Shakespeare>
2 a : the capacity, function, or process of forming or understanding ideas or abstractions or their symbols b : a general idea : CONCEPT c : a complex product of abstract or reflective thinking d : the sum of a person's ideas and beliefs concerning something
3 : the originating of something in the mind
synonym see IDEA
1 a : a transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations b : a standard of perfection : IDEAL c : a plan for action : DESIGN
2 archaic : a visible representation of a conception : a replica of a pattern
3 a obsolete : an image recalled by memory b : an indefinite or unformed conception c : an entity (as a thought, concept, sensation, or image) actually or potentially present to consciousness
4 : a formulated thought or opinion
5 : whatever is known or supposed about something <a child's idea of time>
6 : the central meaning or chief end of a particular action or situation
7 Christian Science : an image in Mind
synonyms IDEA [sic], CONCEPT, CONCEPTION, THOUGHT, NOTION, IMPRESSION mean what exists in the mind as a representation (as of something comprehended) or as a formulation (as of a plan). IDEA may apply to a mental image or formulation of something seen or known or imagined, to a pure abstraction, or to something assumed or vaguely sensed <innovative ideas> <my idea of paradise>. CONCEPT may apply to the idea formed by consideration of instances of a species or genus or, more broadly, to any idea of what a thing ought to be <a society with no concept of private property>. CONCEPTION is often interchangeable with CONCEPT; it may stress the process of imagining or formulating rather than the result <our changing conception of what constitutes art>. THOUGHT is likely to suggest the result of reflecting, reasoning, or meditating rather than of imagining <commit your thoughts to paper>. NOTION suggests an idea not much resolved by analysis or reflection and may suggest the capricious or accidental <you have the oddest notions>. IMPRESSION applies to an idea or notion resulting immediately from some stimulation of the senses <the first impression is of soaring height>.
1 : one that is placed under authority or control: as a : VASSAL b (1) : one subject to a monarch and governed by the monarch's law (2) : one who lives in the territory of, enjoys the protection of, and owes allegiance to a sovereign power or state test
2 a : that of which a quality, attribute, or relation may be affirmed or in which it may inhere b : SUBSTRATUM; especially : material or essential substance c : the mind, ego, or agent of whatever sort that sustains or assumes the form of thought or consciousness
3 a : a department of knowledge or learning b : MOTIVE, CAUSE c (1) : one that is acted on <the helpless subject of their cruelty> (2) : an individual whose reactions or responses are studied (3) : a dead body for anatomical study and dissection d (1) : something concerning which something is said or done <the subject of the essay> (2) : something represented or indicated in a work of art e (1) : the term of a logical proposition that denotes the entity of which something is affirmed or denied; also : the entity denoted (2) : a word or word group denoting that of which something is predicated f : the principal melodic phrase on which a musical composition or movement is based.
2 obsolete : INSTRUCTION
3 : a field of study
4 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c : SELF-CONTROL
6 : a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity
Copyright © 2003 Thomas D. Wason

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