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

What is an abstraction?

  1. Feb 17, 2005 #1
    Abstractions are of extreme importance as a tool for reasoning, and we humans use them all the time to reduce complexity. Let's say, we think in terms of beaches rather than grains of sand. Also the words 'consciousness' or 'soul' are other examples.
    So what is exactly an abstraction: a subset of the properties, a metaphor, a representation, or something else? The concept itself is hard to define.
    Also what defines an abstract concept? Are there any physical limits that define it or is it just a mind process?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2005 #2
    Abstract reasoning is, in its earliest forms, the use of universals vs. particulars. If I observe two rivers that run along side one another, but never intersect, I can use the abstract concept of "parallelism" to describe a Universal relationship, that is being demonstrated in this "particular".

    That is not a definition of "an abstraction", but just a sort of sketch of what it means to reason abstractly (from an historical perspective).
  4. Feb 19, 2005 #3
    'abstract thinking ' is sometimes used as a term in oppostition to 'concrete thinking ' for example in assessing whether people have certain cognitive deficits .
    So a person may be asked the meaning of a well known phrase such as 'too many cooks spoil the broth' or 'people in glass houses shouldnt throw stones'.
    If the person takes these literally and thinks it is something to do with cooking or breaking windows then they seem unable to think on an abstract level . i.e. to separate the general meaning from the particular example given . So in this case abstract thinking does reduce the complexity of detail but describes a situation at a more general level which seems to involve a more sophisitcated way of thinking
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook