When we think about problems of philosophy, science, culture, politics or whatever, or when we try to explain our thoughts or insights, we may do so in terms of existing concepts. Sometimes we will note that the resulting descriptions become complicated, unwieldy and hard to understand.
We should then step back and start working on the language instead of working on the problem at hand. From the task of describing a thought with a set of existing concepts, we should try to find more fitting concepts, so that the problem becomes easy or even trivial to describe. Metaphorically, you may think of such a concept as a vessel, say a basket that makes it easy to store, lift, carry or hand over a lot of small things at once by bundling them into one thing, thus reducing the complexity of the task.
I am a computer programmer, and programming is where I took this idea from. In programming, one can write monolithic program of thousands of lines in terms of a few basic commands or one can try to find the right abstractions, breaking up the problem into sub-tasks each handled by a simple program and then combining these into the complete program. Good programming languages support this by a set of abstraction mechanisms that, in effect, allow changing or extending the language by new concepts. If these concepts (classes, objects, procedures, macros or whatever they are called in programmer’s jargon) are well designed, a complex task might become easily solvable within a few lines. For the end user of the program, doing a complex task may become as simple as clicking on a button. So a basic strategy of programming is to work on the language until the problem becomes trivial.
For example, as a blogger, you can create a professionally looking web site by choosing a “theme” and selecting a few options. In a low level programming language, the same task might take thousands of lines of program code because you would be working in terms of low level concepts like dots and lines and their position, instead of “themes” and “widgets”. By creating high level concepts, the task has been made so easy that non-experts are able to do it. In the same way, a market trader on a traditional vegetable market can carry his or her goods “in terms of” baskets instead of in terms of “low level objects” like tomatoes.
In a similar way, we can make complex topics easy to understand by choosing or – if necessary – by creating the right concepts. You can then first explain or define the concept to your readers and once that is done, you are in the position of writing about a complex topic in much simpler and clearer terms. So be bold enough to coin new terms and invent new concepts.
However, there is a danger as well. Concepts may hide more than they explain. Concepts might be invented for demagogic or ideological purposes and used to transport a hidden message. So stay on guard and remain critical and skeptical. Concepts can bundle a whole lot of functionality in a single word and be used to plant an idea into your mind without you noticing it. They can be used to manipulate. So while we should work on inventing good concepts to convey our message more easily, we should also work on dissecting and criticizing the concepts we encounter.
(‘The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tomato_basket.jpg?uselang=de.)