“Big Pictures” are not really pictures, visual experiences of large and complex happenings. Because visualization is our primary sensory system, we often use it in analogy for more conceptual ideas. We “see” and “view” much that is not visual.

In that I lack visual mental imagery , as do roughly 3% of the population, I don’t know what kinds and intensities of visual imagery may accompany so-called Big Picture thinking.

Conceptual Schemes” is a term I borrowed from educational science, but also exists as a concept in philosophy. Conceptual Schemes are no more actually experienced than are Big Pictures. Conceptualizing involves the use of language in thinking. There remains philosophical controversy over the precise nature of conceptual schemes (specifically about conceptual relativism cross different languages and cultures).  I use the term as but a label when referring to large coherent patterns of brain activity that serve as context for sensory interpretation and rational thought. Neuroscience is far from identifying these patterns.

Four urls on “conceptual schemes” in the literature:

Conceptual Schemes: An Introduction (Conceptual Relativism)           3 pages, Michael Lacewing.

Donald Davidson, long bio article 1996, revised 2014, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Three Models of Conceptual Schemes, Michael P.  Lynch, 2008. abstract + access,      first page.

For this essay, Conceptual Schemes in Science refers to an inter-subjectively agreed upon “phenomenon” (such as energy conservation or natural selection), claiming to be represented by patterns of symbols (capable of being “visually studied”).  Many different patterns of symbols can be judged by “experts” to be equivalent representations of these scientific conceptual schemes. Yet, when humans think about these conceptual schemes they are NOT consciously experiencing THE conceptual scheme, as such. We might say that their conscious experiences are in the context of the conceptual scheme active in their mind/brain, not conscious.

Trying again. There are three “conceptual entities” that are related to the term “conceptual scheme”. (1) the fundamental “structure/process” of a hypothetical, objective system {such as a family, corporation, biological cell, cell phone, planet, or star}, (2) a set of sems (texts, semiotic structures) which when studied results in (3) patterns of activity in human mind/brains serving as subconscious context when the humans communicate about the specific conceptual schemes.

In educational science, knowledge of conceptual schemes are to be used by curriculum designers in creating their learning experiences for students; but, one should not attempt to directly instruct a conceptual scheme. However, the intention of the education is to “embed” the conceptual scheme in the mind/brain of the student so that future behavior related to the conceptual scheme will be consistent with the accepted behavior expected.

My own published article Oct 1969:

If you look up definitions of concept, idea, or conceptual scheme in the dictionary you will not find definitive rules-for-use, but only vague references. Indeed, if you examine the scientific and philosophical literature about 1) descriptors of inter-subjective (“objective”) reality, 2) the phenomenology of experience, and 3) neuroscience – you will discover much “hand-waving”. Our so-called precision with language is revealed as a gross exaggeration.  Our language is what we have to work with – and is powerful, and better than no language; but we need to keep aware of its limitations.


Whether we talk about Big Pictures or Conceptual Schemes, we are referring to hypothetical entities that we don’t directly experience, yet which serve as primary contexts for our experiences and our personal beliefs about reality and our worlds. We can both, concurrently, 1) converge on similar enough conceptual schemes to effectively cooperate and 2) diverge significantly on what we mean by the terms we use to actually be living on different worlds and believing in different realities. Yet, most of us live our lives as if most others basically shared our worlds and realities, with but a few differences.  For our enemies, or for those noticeably “alien”, we can list the primary differences; but probably assume that for most other aspects, we share the same world or reality.

I propose that our knowledge of human persons, humankind, and “human nature” varies greatly among cultures, nations, and even among scientific disciplines. We have no accepted conceptual schemes about humankind. It is not the case that “the best and the brightest” agree on the nature of human nature. The quantity and quality of new findings about “human nature”, over the past century and accelerating over the past few decades, has been truly awesome. But its diffusion within the human population has been very limited, even among the “already educated”. More sharply, this knowledge among primary societal decision-makers is very limited.

A recent (Spring 2016) dialog between Western scientists and Vedanta scholars demonstrates wide differences about “human nature”.

That we really know “who we are” is our grand delusion. This applies to humanist activists, who – throughout history – have attempted to teach and organize populations to significantly change. They fail to reach their goal because they don’t adequately comprehend that which they are attempting to change: themselves and other humans. They violate “laws” of the “real human nature”. In analogy they are attempting to create perpetual motion machines. We can adequately learn “who we are”, sufficiently to succeed in transcending our Crisis-of-Crises, IF WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE NEED TO REALLY LEARN WHO WE ARE.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.