Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Abstract reasoning, a way i look at it

  1. Jan 25, 2005 #1
    I Do a web search on 'abstract art' and browse around at the paintings...
    It's a great way to get a feel for the word 'abstract'. It's easy to know a definition, it is harder to gain experience of a concept. When i look at a variety of paintings and really 'understand' what the word abstract means...
    then knowing what 'abstract reasoning' is becomes more clear.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2005 #2
  4. Jan 27, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Dali is one of my favorite artists, I have a few of his prints up at home.
  5. Jan 27, 2005 #4
    On the semantics of "Abstract Reasoning"; an opinion.

    Personally I don't see any connection at all between the meaning of the word abstract as it applies to art, and abstract as it applies to "abstract reasoning".

    The word abstract has a wide range of meanings.

    I believe that the following list give some feel for the various meanings of the word abstract, at least as I think of it.

    I will give only three main areas of semantics for the word abstract. I am aware that there are other areas as well.

    1. Intangible, non physical, a thought, an idea, a mood, an ideal (like truth, justice, etc.) - existing only in the mind.

    While this meaning of the word obviously applies to any type of thinking, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with reason. In other words, irrational thoughts are just as abstract as rational ones. So when we think about "abstract reasoning" we need to recognize that the word reasoning is a part of that description.

    In the case of paintings. The paintings themselves are quite concrete (i.e. they exist in physical form). They are typically referred to as abstract because in many cases they convey a mood or idea (i.e. they convey something intangible or abstract in this sense of the word).

    A second meaning of the word abstract is the following:

    2. Summary, synoptic, sketchy, incomplete, impressionistic - to convey only the gist of an idea, mood, or feeling.

    This is probably the main use of the word when used to describe abstract art.

    When an "abstract" or summary is given concerning any abstract reasoning it is expected that there is a more formal detailed logical explanation beyond the abstract (or summary).

    Formal abstract reasoning is usually very complete and detailed and is therefore not abstract at all in this semantic sense of the word.

    Although I should mention that I've seen far too many people hide behind this meaning of the word abstract in an attempt to argue the validity of an extremely vague and incomplete idea. They argue that it is valid "abstract reasoning" simply because it's intangible. The truth of the matter is that their ideas are not reasonable which is the other half of that description!

    I would also argue that the word "abstract" is not used to imply that an idea is incomplete or vague when it is used together in there phrase "abstract reasoning". I see the word "abstract" as having the following meaning in that context:

    3. Applicable to more than one situation. Conceivable without the need for a specific example.

    I see this as the main semantics being implied when using the word "abstract" when it accompanies the word "reasoning".

    As an example, the formalism of mathematics is "abstract reasoning" in this way. Mathematics is not vague, incomplete, or sketchy. On the contrary it is extremely logically rigorous. Therefore it is not abstract at all by the meaning of the word "abstract" as it applies to art.

    Based on the semantics information that I have shared above, I would personally conclude that the word "abstract" as it applies to art has absolutely nothing at all to do with the meaning of the word "abstract" as it applies to "abstract reasoning".

    So when you say that looking at abstract paintings clarifies the meaning of "abstract reasoning" for you I would argue that you have actually misunderstood the entire concept.

    Please keep in mind that this post is solely an opinion and feedback to your thread on this topic. This post is not intended as a personal judgment. Comments and opposing opinions are more than welcome. Discussion is always beneficial.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2005
  6. Jan 27, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Thanks for the links.

    I remember when I really grokked Jackson Pollack for the first time. I was on a visit to NYC and went to MOMA. They had one of his big paintings hung with a wall a few feet in front of it so you couldn't back off and view it as a whole. You had to stand close where it felt like it surrounded you, and it was like being in a forest glade. I just stood there taking it in for the longest time.

    I don't agree that abstract art has nothing to do with abstract thought. Mathematics is called "The subject without an object" for good reason (there are no numbers or triangles "out there"). And appreciation of mathematical beauty is to me something like the appreciation of abstract paintings.
  7. Jan 27, 2005 #6
    Just for the record I never said that abstract art has nothing to do with abstract thought. I simply said that is has nothing to do with abstract reasoning. All thought is not necessarily reason.

    I hold a different view on this altogether. I firmly believe that the concept of quantity is absolutely manifest ontologically in our physical surroundings. In fact, I hold that this ontological manifestation of quantities is in fact why our universe obeys mathematics. Actually, I much prefer to think of it the other way around. Mathematics does a good job of describing the ontological manifestation of the quantitative properties of our universe.

    So, yes, for me numbers are really "out there".
    (i.e the quantitative nature of the universe is real)

    I agree. But the mere fact that we can appreciate mathematics aesthetically doesn't automatically mean that mathematics is necessarily vague, incomplete, or merely impressionistic. It's still based on very detailed clear logic that is actually quite rigorously detailed. That's certainly a different type of abstraction than is normally implied when referring to abstract art.

    I personally think that it is a bad practice to compare abstract art with abstract reason and claim they the word abstract has the same semantics in both of these situations. It tends to imply that abstract reasoning can be vague, incomplete, and purely impressionistic, and still qualify as being reasonable.

    Mathematics is neither vague, incomplete, nor is it based on impressionism.

    Well, Kurt Gödel would argue that it is incomplete, and that's true. But that's only because it's currently based on an idea of an empty set. But that will inevitably change eventually. Then mathematics will be complete. :approve:
  8. Jan 28, 2005 #7
    June Wayne is heavily influenced by space exploration and advances in science, her self described "Quantum Impressionism" is an accurate way to describe it imo. As an added bonus, she's one of the most amazing women ever... starting back in about 40ish i think with a major "woman of the year" honor. Brought her art to mexico city... then revived the "master" form of lithography in the US.

    All i'm saying neutron >>> if i 'understand' the 'concept' "abstract" as opposed to merely 'knowing' the 'definition' of the term... it really does not matter what term i put after it does it? "Thought", "Reason", "Art"...

    ps, you're welcome for the links :)
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2005
  9. Jan 28, 2005 #8
    All I'm saying is that the word "abstract" is used to refer to more than one concept.

    When you say that you understand the 'concept' "abstract", my first thought is to ask you which meaning of the word are you referring to? I too feel that I understand all of the concepts that the word "abstract" can be used to convey. But even so I still find myself asking people what they mean by "abstract" because I'm not sure how they are using the word. You make it sound like as if the word has only one possible meaning and that once you've grasped that meaning you've got it all. I just don't see it like that.

    For me, the word is flexible, and I certainly don't mean the same thing by it when I refer to abstract reasoning as I do when I refer to abstract art. Those are two entirely different uses of the word and they convey different concepts for me. If I thought that someone's reasoning was abstract in the same way that art is abstract I probably wouldn't be interested attempting to reason with them.
  10. Jan 28, 2005 #9
    VERY flexable...

    i search on abstract art and see all the different abstractions... stylistic representations; all of which will be in the category 'abstract'. Yes, i think a good understanding of 'abstract' has to include the understanding that people see things differently. "abstract" in essence must be "1" concept though there are many 'concieving' it(art, reason) with degrees of difference.

    Last edited: Jan 28, 2005
  11. Jan 28, 2005 #10
    neutron, i realize you have touched on Many more things in your previous posts that deserve more attention... it is forthcoming.
  12. Jan 29, 2005 #11
    Neutron star,
    I can only really agree to the third definition you've offered for "abstract". It goes right along with what selfAdjoint was saying about mathematics, and that all reduces to the difference between Universals and Particulars.

    As to your second definition, I think you're confusing abstractness for vagueness. If this is a valid synonimity, then so be it; but I don't think people typically use the word "abstract" in that manner. Perhaps with "abstract" could mean very broad in scope, but that needn't imply vagueness.

    And as to your first definition, I think it's deeply rooted in Dualistic philosophies that may or may not even have meaning at all. So, it would perhaps be better to ground the need/purpose of such terms as "a thought" (rather than the process of "thinking"), non-physical, etc....
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2005
  13. Jan 29, 2005 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Yeah, right. Did you hear that Disney has bought [tex]\pi[/tex]? They're going to put it on display at Epcot.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook