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Conceptual and Intellectual Skills Mastery:
Applications of Meditation


We excerpt from an article George wrote, "Conceptual and Intellectual Skills Mastery" and add a commentary about how meditation techniques can be used to augment the progress of learning new concepts and acquiring the intellectual skills to work with them.

by George A. Boyd ©2003

Concept Mastery

"A concept is a tiny form or idea within the intellectual stratum of the mind. It is a container of information. It may contain information about

  1. Correct pronunciation of the word(s) for the concept

  2. Correct spelling of the word(s) for the concept

  3. Definition of the concept's meaning

  4. Derivation of the concept's meaning from word roots

  5. Synonyms for the concept, associating it to words with similar meaning

  6. Antonyms for the concept, associating it to words that have contrasting or opposite meaning

  7. Criteria for differentiating the concept from other concepts

  8. The relationship of association of the concept to other concepts

  9. Its place in an ordered category or schema, from which it may be ranked with other concepts

  10. Its importance in a range of values, from which its priority may be discerned

  11. Its size or number, from which its magnitude can be compared with other concepts

  12. Correct use in language, when writing or speaking the concept

  13. Its implications or consequences, or inferential meaning

  14. Subjective meaning, identifying its symbolic, visual, or mythological representations"

"Conceptual knowledge is primarily mediated through the verbal quadrant of the intellect, but my also define and expand mathematical concepts, axioms of logic, and symbolic representations."

We suggest that a technique of structured questioning derived from meditation called process-style inquiry may be useful for mastering concepts. This can be applied by asking the following questions and finding the answers to:

What is the correct spelling and pronunciation of this concept?

How is it correctly expressed in language [e.g., is it an adjective, noun, verb]?

What does this concept mean?

To what concepts is it related?

How does it contrast with its opposite concept?

Why is this important to what I am studying?

What are the implications and applications of this concept?

Types of Intellectual Skills

Intellectual skills operate on an individual concept or a conceptual matrix of interrelated concepts (model) by algorithmic or heuristic methods.

An algorithmic method specifies a series of steps to solve a problem. It tells you, if X condition exists, you will do Y. Algorithms are used to develop flow charts, to perform mathematical calculations, and to simplify routine decision-making. It lays out a step-by-step procedure that you follow, like instructions for a cookbook recipe.

A heuristic method sheds light upon a concept, clarifies what the concept means, discovers its practical uses or applications, and explores its implications. It allows you to contemplate and appreciate the idea. In the heuristic method, you inquire and explore what something means, and ask many questions to elicit new perspectives and to uncover what something means.

Teaching a student is largely a heuristic process, which sheds light on concepts, current and historical events. Testing is an algorithmic method, which measures the acquisition of knowledge, as are the problem solving exercises by which a student practices his or her newly found skills.

To gain mastery of an intellectual skill requires the combination of both heuristic and algorithmic methods—a heuristic approach to promote understanding of the idea, and an algorithmic procedure to practice or implement it.

Mastery of an intellectual skill proceeds through as series of steps that may use algorithmic or heuristic methods.



Introduction, initial exposure to a concept


Demonstration, teacher exemplifies, models or performs the task successfully


Student practices the task on a simple problem


Student applies the skill on increasingly complex problems


The student discerns by the teacher's explanation and the application of his or her own critical thinking the uses and limits of the method


Demonstration of skill mastery through testing


Student integrates and owns the skill so it can be utilized whenever appropriate. At this level of skill mastery, the student can explain and teach the skill to others, and use it to solve real life problems.


Meditation methods have heuristic value in that they allow students to reflect upon and explore an idea to give greater understanding of it. But this some approach can be applied to the larger scope of conceptual knowledge embraced by a model.

This ability to explore concepts and models augments the student's critical thinking ability. It permits the student to explore all aspects of a conceptual model. The student can move up the conceptual hierarchy from the facts that underpin it, to the concepts that organize the facts, to the theories that tie together the concepts, to the model that integrates the strands of explanatory theory into a coherent system. The student's cognitive mastery of the entire system of knowledge presented in a model leads to integration, the ability to apply the model to real life problem solving, and to teach the model to others.

Levels of Application of the Two Methods

Algorithmic and heuristic methods have applications both within and outside the purely conceptual domain of the academic classroom. We can characterize three modes of demonstration: information gathering (facts), organizing knowledge (concept/model), and utilization (integration and application). The following levels of application of these two methods can be identified:


Content of this Level



An object in the environment can be examined, weighed, measured, etc.


Personal Interaction

A situation that involves an interaction between two or more people


A historical event experienced by two or more people at a discrete time

Concept and Model

Exploring and implementing an idea within its model



An abstract, symbolic representation of an idea appearing, for example, in art, politics, mythology, or religion

Objective Application

Problem solving in the real world, for example in business, science, or diplomacy.

Integration and Application

Subjective Application

Personal problem solving, for example, resolving a health concern by seeing a physician, or a personal issue by seeing a psychotherapist.

Meditation best contributes to the heuristic exploration of the dimensions of concept and model, symbol, and subjective application. You can meditate upon a concept, a model, or a symbol, or work through a personal issue. Meditation can also give rise to creative solutions that can be utilized in the arena of objective applications, such as finding a novel synthesis that breaks a deadlock in negotiations, though this is less common than its conceptual and subjective applications.

In particular, reflective meditation methods have wide applicability for these five dimensions. We suggest it would be valuable for educators and students to learn them to augment the process of learning and integrating knowledge and skills needed in career and family life, and to function as an adult in our complex modern society.

For education to be effective, it must emphasize both concept mastery and intellectual skills mastery. This will produce the coveted high test scores that are so much in demand by school districts across the country. It will further fulfill the presidential mandate that no child shall leave the educational system without cognitive mastery of the skills necessary for employment, to successfully raise a family, to make a positive contribution to society, and discharge the civic duties of citizenship.


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