Conceptualization is a skill. The process involves working out an idea or explanation and formulating it mentally. Everyone can and does conceptualize, but like all skills, some people are better at it than others. Speed matters for many of those who consider themselves intelligent. They demonstrate their erudition and big IQ numbers – and impress others – with their ability to come up with swift conceptualizations of just about anything that crosses their path. Or so they think. In reality, we are all familiar with the person who can snap out ideas and explanations that sound plausible at the time, but which soon prove incomplete, inadequate, or just plain wrong.
Careful consideration of the evidence suggests the best quality conceptualizations take a long time to formulate. Since intelligence, patience, and dedication (or obsession) are required, high-quality conceptualizers are rare. Speedy conceptualizers are usually poor-quality conceptualizers. Slow conceptualizers have the right idea, but most people lack some of the other qualities needed to do a good job. A special attribute of artists of all kinds is their strong preference for not pinning themselves down with fixed conceptualizations.
Rapid conceptualization can lead to another common problem: excessive conceptualization along rigid and erroneous lines. The hasty conceptualizer accumulates a vast store of half-baked ideas and ill-considered concepts. The rapid rate of formulation leaves little time for due considerations of consistency or integration with other material. The big ego makes backing down or admitting errors unthinkable.
A characteristic attitude of the fast or poor-quality conceptualizer is an inflexible emphasis of, and reliance on, language. Thinking may draw on associations and intuition, but in the end, formulating ideas and concepts is a linguistic process. Many thinkers elevate language to a status it does not deserve. In a sense, they are trapped inside language (the conscious mind or ego). They fail to see that not everyone conceptualizes in this limited way.
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Wright goes so far as to say “inhabiting language” is good and normal while those who are not so trapped, those who are “inhabited by language” are psychopaths! This cannot be true. Language is a tool. It is a function along with the other tools in the psyche such as imagination, intuition, memory, emotion, will, and resonance. Thinkers use their tools; they do not inhabit them. Look what happens to those who “inhabit” their imaginations. Language looms large because it is the seat of our consciousness and therefore appears more central than it really is.
It is precisely the ability to see past the ego illusion that allows us to recognize the resources of the unconscious mind, accept and integrate the constant self that we find there, and become whole.
A conceptualizer defined only by language, who inhabits language, must inevitably have an impoverished sense of self. Since only the ego uses language, the much larger and more complex non-linguistic unconscious has no role to play in defining the person. More to my point, without the resources of unconscious associative thinking, intuition, resonance, and so on, there can be only limited ability to conceptualize at a high level of skill.