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Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general
rules Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and po ...
and
concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the bod ...

concept
s are derived from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal ("real" or "
concrete Concrete is a composed of fine and coarse bonded together with a fluid (cement paste) that hardens (cures) over time. Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, and is the most widely used building material. Its ...
") signifiers,
first principle A first principle is a basic proposition In logic and linguistics, a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence (linguistics), sentence. In philosophy, "Meaning (philosophy), meaning" is understood to be a non-linguistic entity which is ...
s, or other methods. "An abstraction" is the outcome of this process—a concept that acts as a common noun for all subordinate concepts, and connects any related concepts as a ''group'', ''field'', or ''category''. Suzanne K. Langer (1953), ''Feeling and Form: a theory of art developed from Philosophy in a New Key'' p. 90: " is a powerful abstraction from actual objects and the three-dimensional space which we construe ... through touch and sight." Conceptual abstractions may be formed by filtering the
information Information is processed, organised and structured data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In a more technical sense, data are a set of values of qualitative property, qualitative or quant ...

information
content of a
concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the bod ...

concept
or an observable
phenomenon A phenomenon (; plural phenomena) is an observable In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies mat ...
, selecting only the aspects which are relevant for a particular subjectively valued purpose. For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to the more general idea of a
ball A ball is a round object (usually spherical, but can sometimes be ovoid An oval (from Latin ''ovum'', "egg") is a closed curve in a plane which resembles the outline of an egg. The term is not very specific, but in some areas ( projective ...

ball
selects only the information on general ball attributes and behavior, excluding, but not eliminating, the other phenomenal and cognitive characteristics of that particular ball. In a
type–token distinction The type–token distinction is the difference between naming a ''class'' (type) of objects and naming the individual ''instances'' (tokens) of that class. Since each type may be exemplified by multiple tokens, there are generally more tokens than ...
, a type (e.g., a 'ball') is more abstract than its tokens (e.g., 'that leather soccer ball'). Abstraction in its secondary use is a
material process A material is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Matter, anything that has mass and ...
,Alfred Sohn-Rethel, ''Intellectual and manual labour: A critique of epistemology'', Humanities Press, 1977 discussed in the themes below.


Origins

Thinking in abstractions is considered by
anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, societies. Social anthropology, cultural anthropology and philosophical anthropology study the norm ...

anthropologist
s,
archaeologist Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropology, but archaeologists also draw from biological, geological, ...

archaeologist
s, and sociologists to be one of the key traits in
modern human behaviour Behavioral modernity is a suite of behavioral and cognitive Cognition () refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses many aspects of intellect ...
, which is believed to have developed between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. Its development is likely to have been closely connected with the development of human
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
, which (whether spoken or written) appears to both involve and facilitate abstract thinking.


History

''Abstraction'' involves induction of ideas or the synthesis of particular facts into one general theory about something. It is the opposite of ''specification'', which is the analysis or breaking-down of a general idea or abstraction into concrete facts. Abstraction can be illustrated with
Francis Bacon Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, (; 22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626), also known as Lord Verulam, was an English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General for England and Wales, Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of K ...

Francis Bacon
's ''
Novum Organum The ''Novum Organum'', fully ''Novum Organum, sive Indicia Vera de Interpretatione Naturae'' ("New organon, or true directions concerning the interpretation of nature") or ''Instaurationis Magnae, Pars II'' ("Part II of The Great Instauration") ...

Novum Organum
'' (1620), a book of modern scientific philosophy written in the late
Jacobean era The Jacobean Era was the period in English and history that coincides with the reign of who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I. The Jacobean era succeeds the and precedes the . The term "Jacobean" is often used for the di ...
Hesse, M. B. (1964), "Francis Bacon's Philosophy of Science", in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, ed. D. J. O'Connor, New York, pp. 141–52. of England to encourage modern thinkers to collect specific facts before making any generalizations. Bacon used and promoted
induction Induction may refer to: Philosophy * Inductive reasoning, in logic, inferences from particular cases to the general case Biology and chemistry * Labor induction (birth/pregnancy) * Induction chemotherapy, in medicine * Induction period, the t ...
as an abstraction tool, and it countered the ancient
deductive Deductive reasoning, also deductive logic, is the process of reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making ...
-thinking approach that had dominated the intellectual world since the times of Greek philosophers like
Thales Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς (ὁ Μιλήσιος), ''Thalēs''; ) was a Greek mathematician A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive kn ...

Thales
,
Anaximander Anaximander (; grc-gre, Ἀναξίμανδρος ''Anaximandros''; ) was a who lived in ,"Anaximander" in '. London: , 1961, Vol. 1, p. 403. a city of (in modern-day Turkey). He belonged to the and learned the teachings of his master . He s ...

Anaximander
, and
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
. Thales (c. 624–546 BCE) believed that everything in the universe comes from one main substance, water. He deduced or specified from a general idea, "everything is water", to the specific forms of water such as ice, snow, fog, and rivers. Modern scientists can also use the opposite approach of abstraction, or going from particular facts collected into one general idea, such as the motion of the planets (
Newton Newton most commonly refers to: * Isaac Newton (1642–1726/1727), English scientist * Newton (unit), SI unit of force named after Isaac Newton Newton may also refer to: Arts and entertainment * Newton (film), ''Newton'' (film), a 2017 Indian fil ...

Newton
(1642–1727)). When determining that the sun is the center of our solar system (
Copernicus Nicolaus Copernicus (; pl, Mikołaj Kopernik; german: link=no, Niclas Koppernigk, modern: ''Nikolaus Kopernikus''; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. was a ...

Copernicus
(1473–1543)), scientists had to utilize thousands of measurements to finally conclude that Mars moves in an elliptical orbit about the sun (
Kepler Johannes Kepler (; ; 27 December 1571 – 15 November 1630) was a German , , , and writer on music. He is a key figure in the 17th-century , best known for his , and his books ', ', and '. These works also provided one of the foundations for ...

Kepler
(1571–1630)), or to assemble multiple specific facts into the law of falling bodies (
Galileo Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei ( , ; 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly referred to as Galileo, was an astronomer An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific qu ...

Galileo
(1564–1642)).


Themes


Compression

An abstraction can be seen as a
compression Compression may refer to: Physical science *Compression (physics), size reduction due to forces *Compression member, a structural element such as a column *Compressibility, susceptibility to compression *Gas compression *Compression ratio, of a co ...
process, mapping multiple different pieces of
constituent Constituent or constituency may refer to: In politics * Electoral district An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral ar ...
data to a single piece of abstract data; based on similarities in the constituent data, for example, many different physical cats map to the abstraction "CAT". This conceptual scheme emphasizes the inherent equality of both constituent and abstract data, thus avoiding problems arising from the distinction between "abstract" and "
concrete Concrete is a composed of fine and coarse bonded together with a fluid (cement paste) that hardens (cures) over time. Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, and is the most widely used building material. Its ...
". In this sense the process of abstraction entails the identification of similarities between objects, and the process of associating these objects with an abstraction (which is itself an object). :For example, '' picture 1 below'' illustrates the concrete relationship "Cat sits on Mat". Chains of abstractions can be construed,Ross, L. (1987). The Problem of Construal in Social Inference and Social Psychology. In N. Grunberg, R.E. Nisbett, J. Singer (eds), ''A Distinctive Approach to psychological research: the influence of Stanley Schacter''. Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum. moving from neural impulses arising from sensory
perception Perception (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" o ...

perception
to basic abstractions such as color or
shape A shape or figure is the form of an object or its external boundary, outline, or external Surface (mathematics), surface, as opposed to other properties such as color, Surface texture, texture, or material type. A plane shape, two-dimensional s ...

shape
, to experiential abstractions such as a specific cat, to
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
abstractions such as the "idea" of a CAT, to classes of objects such as "mammals" and even categories such as "
object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at any particular time or pl ...
" as opposed to "action". :For example, '' graph 1 below'' expresses the abstraction "agent sits on location". This conceptual scheme entails no specific
hierarchical A hierarchy (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) that are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarchy i ...

hierarchical
taxonomy Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to a specific classification scheme. Originally used only about biological ...
(such as the one mentioned involving cats and mammals), only a progressive exclusion of detail.


Instantiation

Non-existent things in any particular place and time are often seen as abstract. By contrast, instances, or members, of such an abstract thing might exist in many different places and times. Those abstract things are then said to be ''multiply instantiated'', in the sense of ''picture 1'', ''picture 2'', etc., shown
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
. It is not sufficient, however, to define ''abstract'' ideas as those that can be instantiated and to define ''abstraction'' as the movement in the opposite direction to instantiation. Doing so would make the concepts "cat" and "telephone" abstract ideas since despite their varying appearances, a particular cat or a particular telephone is an instance of the concept "cat" or the concept "telephone". Although the concepts "cat" and "telephone" are ''abstractions'', they are not ''abstract'' in the sense of the objects in ''graph 1''
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
. We might look at other graphs, in a progression from ''cat'' to ''mammal'' to ''animal'', and see that ''animal'' is more abstract than ''mammal''; but on the other hand ''mammal'' is a harder idea to express, certainly in relation to ''
marsupial Marsupials are any members of the mammal Mammals (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ' ...
'' or ''
monotreme Monotremes are prototherian mammals of the order Monotremata. They are one of the three main groups of living mammals, along with placentals (Eutheria) and marsupials (Metatheria). Monotremes are typified by structural differences in their brai ...
''. Perhaps confusingly, some
philosophies Philosophy, Philosophical school of thought, schools of thought and philosophical movements. Absurdism - Actual idealism - Actualism - Advaita Vedanta -` Aesthetic Realism - Aesthetics - African philosophy - Afrocentrism - Agential realism - A ...

philosophies
refer to ''
tropes Trope or tropes may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media * Trope (cinema) In Film, cinema, a trope is what ''The Art Direction Handbook for Film'' defines as "a universally identified image imbued with several layers of contextual meaning crea ...
'' (instances of properties) as ''
abstract particular Abstract may refer to: * Abstract (album), ''Abstract'' (album), 1962 album by Joe Harriott * Abstract (law), a summary of a legal document * Abstract (summary), in academic publishing * Abstract art, artistic works that do not attempt to represent ...
s''—e.g., the particular
red Red is the color at the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength Image:dominant wavelength.png, frame, Dominant/complementary wavelength example on the CIE color ...

red
ness of a particular
apple An apple is an edible fruit In botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this fie ...

apple
is an ''abstract particular''. This is similar to
qualia In philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of that studies the and nature of the and its relationship with the body. The is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are addressed, such as the ...
and sumbebekos.


Material process

Still retaining the primary meaning of 'abstrere' or 'to draw away from', the abstraction of money, for example, works by drawing away from the particular value of things allowing completely incommensurate objects to be compared (see the section on 'Physicality' below).
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
's writing on the
commodity In economics Economics () is a social science Social science is the branch A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plan ...
abstraction recognizes a parallel process. The
state (polity) A state is a polity under a system of Government, governance with a monopoly on force. There is no undisputed definition of a state. A widely used definition from the Germans, German sociologist Max Weber is that a "state" is a polity that main ...
as both concept and material practice exemplifies the two sides of this process of abstraction. Conceptually, 'the current concept of the state is an abstraction from the much more concrete early-modern use as the standing or status of the prince, his visible estates'. At the same time, materially, the 'practice of statehood is now constitutively and materially more abstract than at the time when princes ruled as the embodiment of extended power'.


Ontological status

The way that physical objects, like rocks and trees, have
being In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, la ...
differs from the way that properties of abstract concepts or relations have being, for example the way the
concrete Concrete is a composed of fine and coarse bonded together with a fluid (cement paste) that hardens (cures) over time. Concrete is the second-most-used substance in the world after water, and is the most widely used building material. Its ...
,
particular In metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of ...

particular
,
individual An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In ...
s pictured in '' picture 1'' exist differs from the way the concepts illustrated in '' graph 1'' exist. That difference accounts for the
ontological Ontology is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Ph ...
usefulness of the word "abstract". The word applies to properties and relations to mark the fact that, if they exist, they do not exist in space or time, but that instances of them can exist, potentially in many different places and times.


Physicality

A physical object (a possible referent of a concept or word) is considered ''concrete'' (not abstract) if it is a ''particular individual'' that occupies a particular place and time. However, in the secondary sense of the term 'abstraction', this physical object can carry materially abstracting processes. For example, record-keeping aids throughout the
Fertile Crescent The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East The Middle East ( ar, الشرق الأوسط, ISO 233 The international standard An international standard is a technical standard A technical standard is an establishe ...

Fertile Crescent
included calculi (clay spheres, cones, etc.) which represented counts of items, probably livestock or grains, sealed in containers. According to , these clay containers contained tokens, the total of which were the count of objects being transferred. The containers thus served as something of a
bill of lading A bill of lading () (sometimes abbreviated as B/L or BOL) is a document issued by a carrier Carrier may refer to: Entertainment * Carrier (album), ''Carrier'' (album), a 2013 album by The Dodos * Carrier (game), ''Carrier'' (game), a South Pac ...
or an accounts book. In order to avoid breaking open the containers for the count, marks were placed on the outside of the containers. These physical marks, in other words, acted as material abstractions of a materially abstract process of accounting, using conceptual abstractions (numbers) to communicate its meaning. Abstract things are sometimes defined as those things that do not exist in
reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only imaginary Imaginary may refer to: * Imaginary (sociology), a concept in sociology * The Imaginary (psychoanalysis), a concept by ...

reality
or exist only as sensory experiences, like the color
red Red is the color at the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength Image:dominant wavelength.png, frame, Dominant/complementary wavelength example on the CIE color ...

red
. That definition, however, suffers from the difficulty of deciding which things are real (i.e. which things exist in reality). For example, it is difficult to agree to whether concepts like ''God'', ''the number three'', and ''goodness'' are real, abstract, or both. An approach to resolving such difficulty is to use '' predicates'' as a general term for whether things are variously real, abstract, concrete, or of a particular property (e.g., ''good''). Questions about the properties of things are then
proposition In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, lab ...
s about predicates, which propositions remain to be evaluated by the investigator. In the ''graph 1''
below Below may refer to: *Earth *Ground (disambiguation) *Soil *Floor *Bottom (disambiguation) *Less than *Temperatures below freezing *Hell or underworld People with the surname *Fred Below (1926–1988), American blues drummer *Fritz von Below (1853 ...
, the graphical relationships like the arrows joining boxes and ellipses might denote predicates.


Referencing and referring

Abstractions sometimes have ambiguous
referent A referent () is a person or thing to which a name – a linguistics, linguistic Phrase, expression or other symbol – reference, refers. For example, in the sentence ''Mary saw me'', the referent of the word ''Mary'' is the particular person calle ...
s; for example, "
happiness The term ''happiness'' is used in the context of Mental health, mental or emotional states, including positive or Pleasure, pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subj ...

happiness
" (when used as an abstraction) can refer to as many things as there are people and events or which make them happy. Likewise, "
architecture upright=1.45, alt=Plan d'exécution du second étage de l'hôtel de Brionne (dessin) De Cotte 2503c – Gallica 2011 (adjusted), Plan of the second floor (attic storey) of the Hôtel de Brionne in Paris – 1734. Architecture (Latin ''archi ...

architecture
" refers not only to the design of safe, functional buildings, but also to elements of creation and
innovation Innovation is the practical implementation of ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relation ...

innovation
which aim at elegant solutions to
construction Construction is a general term meaning the and to form , , or ,"Construction" def. 1.a. 1.b. and 1.c. ''Oxford English Dictionary'' Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) Oxford University Press 2009 and comes from ''constructio'' (from ''com-' ...

construction
problems, to the use of space, and to the attempt to evoke an in the builders, owners, viewers and users of the building.


Simplification and ordering

Abstraction uses a
strategy Strategy (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxim ...

strategy
of simplification, wherein formerly concrete details are left ambiguous, vague, or undefined; thus effective
communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power o ...

communication
about things in the abstract requires an
intuitive Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts ( descriptive knowledge), skills (procedural knowledge), or objects (Knowledge by acquaintance, acqu ...
or common experience between the communicator and the communication recipient. This is true for all verbal/abstract communication. For example, many different things can be
red Red is the color at the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength Image:dominant wavelength.png, frame, Dominant/complementary wavelength example on the CIE color ...

red
. Likewise, many things sit on surfaces (as in ''picture 1'', to the right). The property of ''
red Red is the color at the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength Image:dominant wavelength.png, frame, Dominant/complementary wavelength example on the CIE color ...

red
ness'' and the relation '''' are therefore abstractions of those objects. Specifically, the conceptual diagram ''graph 1'' identifies only three boxes, two ellipses, and four arrows (and their five labels), whereas the ''picture 1'' shows much more pictorial detail, with the scores of implied relationships as implicit in the picture rather than with the nine explicit details in the graph. ''Graph 1'' details some explicit relationships between the objects of the diagram. For example, the arrow between the ''agent'' and ''CAT:Elsie'' depicts an example of an ''
is-a In knowledge representation Knowledge representation and reasoning (KR², KR&R) is the field of artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, unlike the natural intelligence human intelligence ...
'' relationship, as does the arrow between the ''location'' and the ''MAT''. The arrows between the
gerund A gerund ( abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase; for exa ...

gerund
/
present participle In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through t ...
''SITTING'' and the
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
s ''agent'' and ''location'' express the
diagram A diagram is a symbolic Depiction, representation of information using Visualization (graphics), visualization techniques. Diagrams have been used since prehistoric times on Cave painting, walls of caves, but became more prevalent during the Age ...

diagram
's basic relationship; ''"agent is SITTING on location"''; ''Elsie'' is an instance of ''CAT''. Although the description ''sitting-on'' (graph 1) is more abstract than the graphic image of a cat sitting on a mat (picture 1), the delineation of abstract things from concrete things is somewhat ambiguous; this ambiguity or vagueness is characteristic of abstraction. Thus something as simple as a newspaper might be specified to six levels, as in
Douglas Hofstadter Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945) is an American scholar of cognitive science Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic ...
's illustration of that ambiguity, with a progression from abstract to concrete in ''
Gödel, Escher, Bach ''Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid'', also known as ''GEB'', is a 1979 book by Douglas Hofstadter Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945) is an American scholar of cognitive science, physics, and comparative literature ...
'' (1979):
:(1) a publication ::(2) a newspaper :::(3) ''The San Francisco Chronicle'' ::::(4) the May 18 edition of ''The San Francisco Chronicle'' :::::(5) my copy of the May 18 edition of ''The San Francisco Chronicle'' ::::::(6) my copy of the May 18 edition of ''The San Francisco Chronicle'' as it was when I first picked it up (as contrasted with my copy as it was a few days later: in my fireplace, burning)
An abstraction can thus encapsulate each of these levels of detail with no loss of generality. But perhaps a detective or philosopher/scientist/engineer might seek to learn about something, at progressively deeper levels of detail, to solve a crime or a puzzle.


Thought processes

In , ''abstraction'' is the
thought process Thought (or thinking) encompasses an "aim-oriented flow of ideas and associations that can lead to a reality-oriented conclusion". Although thinking is an activity of an existential value for humans Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the mo ...

thought process
wherein
idea In common usage and in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosoph ...

idea
s are distanced from objects.


As used in different disciplines


In art

Typically, ''abstraction'' is used in the arts as a
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not a word. The difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme bound and free morphemes, sometimes does not stand alone ...
for
abstract art Abstract art uses visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th c ...
in general. Strictly speaking, it refers to art unconcerned with the literal depiction of things from the visible world—it can, however, refer to an object or image which has been distilled from the real world, or indeed, another work of art. Artwork that reshapes the natural world for expressive purposes is called abstract; that which derives from, but does not imitate a recognizable subject is called nonobjective abstraction. In the 20th century the trend toward abstraction coincided with advances in science, technology, and changes in urban life, eventually reflecting an interest in psychoanalytic theory. Later still, abstraction was manifest in more purely formal terms, such as color, freedom from objective context, and a reduction of form to basic geometric designs.


In computer science

Computer scientists Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the architectures of its computation as well as practical techniques for their application. Computer science is the study of Algorithm, algorithmic proc ...
use abstraction to make models that can be used and re-used without having to re-write all the program code for each new application on every different type of computer. They
communicate Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power o ...

communicate
their solutions with the computer by writing
source code In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and ...

source code
in some particular
computer languageComputer language is a formal language In logic, mathematics, computer science, and linguistics, a formal language consists of string (computer science), words whose symbol (formal), letters are taken from an alphabet (computer science), alphabet ...
which can be translated into
machine code In computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a particular task. Programming involves tasks such as analysis, ge ...
for different types of computers to execute. Abstraction allows program designers to separate a framework (categorical concepts related to computing problems) from specific instances which implement details. This means that the program code can be written so that code doesn't have to depend on the specific details of supporting applications,
operating system An operating system (OS) is system software System software is software designed to provide a platform for other software. Examples of system software include operating systems (OS) like macOS, Linux, Android (operating system), Android and Mi ...

operating system
software, or hardware, but on a categorical concept of the solution. A solution to the problem can then be integrated into the system framework with minimal additional work. This allows programmers to take advantage of another programmer's work, while requiring only an abstract understanding of the implementation of another's work, apart from the problem that it solves.


In general semantics

Abstractions and levels of abstraction play an important role in the theory of
general semantics General semantics is concerned with how events translate to perceptions, how they are further modified by the names and labels we apply to them, and how we might gain a measure of control over our own responses, cognitive, emotional, and behavio ...
originated by
Alfred Korzybski Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (, ; July 3, 1879 – March 1, 1950) was a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics General semantics is concerned with how events translate to perceptions, how the ...

Alfred Korzybski
.
Anatol Rapoport Anatol Rapoport ( uk, Анатолій Борисович Рапопо́рт; russian: Анато́лий Бори́сович Рапопо́рт; May 22, 1911January 20, 2007) was an American mathematical psychologist. He contributed to general ...
wrote: "Abstracting is a mechanism by which an infinite variety of experiences can be mapped on short noises (words)."


In history

Francis Fukuyama Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (, ; born October 27, 1952) is an American Political science, political scientist, Political economy, political economist, and writer. Fukuyama is known for his book ''The End of History and the Last Man'' (1992), which ...

Francis Fukuyama
defines
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
as "a deliberate attempt of abstraction in which we separate out important from unimportant events".


In linguistics

Researchers in
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo ...

linguistics
frequently apply abstraction so as to allow analysis of the phenomena of language at the desired level of detail. A commonly used abstraction, the ''
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
'', abstracts
speech sound In phonetics and linguistics, a phone is any distinct speech sound or gesture, regardless of whether the exact sound is critical to the meanings of words. In contrast, a phoneme is a speech sound in a given language that, if swapped with another ph ...
s in such a way as to neglect details that cannot serve to differentiate meaning. Other analogous kinds of abstractions (sometimes called "
emic unit In and related fields, an emic unit is a type of . cited in Kinds of emic units are generally denoted by terms with the suffix ''-eme'', such as ', ', and '. The term "emic unit" is defined by Nöth (1995) to mean "an invariant form obtained fro ...
s") considered by linguists include
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A ...
s,
grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...

grapheme
s, and
lexeme A lexeme () is a unit of lexical meaning that underlies a set of words that are related through inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeol ...
s. Abstraction also arises in the relation between
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

syntax
,
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
, and
pragmatics In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the m ...
. Pragmatics involves considerations that make reference to the user of the language; semantics considers expressions and what they denote (the designata) abstracted from the language user; and syntax considers only the expressions themselves, abstracted from the designata.


In mathematics

Abstraction in
mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and their changes (cal ...
is the process of extracting the underlying structures, patterns or properties of a mathematical concept or object, removing any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected, and generalizing it so that it has wider applications or matching among other abstract descriptions of equivalent phenomena. The advantages of abstraction in mathematics are: * It reveals deep connections between different areas of mathematics. * Known results in one area can suggest
conjecture In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...
s in another related area. * Techniques and methods from one area can be applied to
prove Proof may refer to: * Proof (truth), argument or sufficient evidence for the truth of a proposition * Alcohol proof, a measure of an alcoholic drink's strength Formal sciences * Formal proof, a construct in proof theory * Mathematical proof, a co ...
results in other related area. *Patterns from one mathematical object can be generalized to other similar objects in the same class. The main disadvantage of abstraction is that highly abstract concepts are more difficult to learn, and might require a degree of
mathematical maturityIn mathematics, mathematical maturity is an Mathematical jargon, informal term often used to refer to the quality of having a general understanding and mastery of the way mathematicians operate and communicate. It pertains to a mixture of mathematica ...
and experience before they can be assimilated.


In music

In music, the term ''abstraction'' can be used to describe improvisatory approaches to interpretation, and may sometimes indicate abandonment of
tonality Tonality is the arrangement of pitches and/or chords Chord may refer to: * Chord (music) A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple Musical note, notes (also called "pitches") that are heard ...
.
Atonal Atonality in its broadest sense is music that lacks a tonal center In music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cultural aspects of all hu ...

Atonal
music has no key signature, and is characterized by the exploration of internal numeric relationships.


In neurology

A recent meta-analysis suggests that the verbal system has greater engagement for abstract concepts when the perceptual system is more engaged for processing of concrete concepts. This is because abstract concepts elicit greater brain activity in the inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus compared to concrete concepts which elicit greater activity in the posterior cingulate, precuneus, fusiform gyrus, and parahippocampal gyrus. Other research into the
human brain The human brain is the central organ Organ may refer to: Biology * Organ (anatomy) An organ is a group of Tissue (biology), tissues with similar functions. Plant life and animal life rely on many organs that co-exist in organ systems. ...

human brain
suggests that the left and right hemispheres differ in their handling of abstraction. For example, one meta-analysis reviewing human brain lesions has shown a left hemisphere bias during tool usage.


In philosophy

Abstraction in
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, language. Such questio ...

philosophy
is the process (or, to some, the alleged process) in
concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the bod ...

concept
formation of recognizing some set of common features in
individual An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In ...
s, and on that basis forming a concept of that feature. The notion of abstraction is important to understanding some philosophical controversies surrounding
empiricism In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
and the
problem of universals The problem of universals is an ancient question from metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epi ...
. It has also recently become popular in formal logic under predicate abstraction. Another philosophical tool for discussion of abstraction is thought space. John Locke defined abstraction in ''An Essay Concerning Human Understanding'': 'So words are used to stand as outward marks of our internal ideas, which are taken from particular things; but if every particular idea that we take in had its own special name, there would be no end to names. To prevent this, the mind makes particular ideas received from particular things become general; which it does by considering them as they are in the mind—mental appearances—separate from all other existences, and from the circumstances of real existence, such as time, place, and so on. This procedure is called abstraction. In it, an idea taken from a particular thing becomes a general representative of all of the same kind, and its name becomes a general name that is applicable to any existing thing that fits that abstract idea.' (2.11.9)


In psychology

Carl Jung's definition of abstraction broadened its scope beyond the thinking process to include exactly four mutually exclusive, different complementary psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Together they form a structural totality of the differentiating abstraction process. Abstraction operates in one of these functions when it excludes the simultaneous influence of the other functions and other irrelevancies, such as emotion. Abstraction requires selective use of this structural split of abilities in the psyche. The opposite of abstraction is concretism (psychology), concretism. ''Abstraction'' is one of Jung's 57 definitions in Chapter XI of ''Psychological Types''.
There is an abstract ''thinking'', just as there is abstract ''feeling'', ''sensation'' and ''intuition''. Abstract thinking singles out the rational, logical qualities ... Abstract feeling does the same with ... its feeling-values. ... I put abstract feelings on the same level as abstract thoughts. ... Abstract sensation would be aesthetic as opposed to sensuous ''sensation'' and abstract intuition would be symbolic as opposed to fantastic ''intuition''. (Jung, [1921] (1971): par. 678).


In social theory

In social theory, abstraction is used as both an ideational and material process. Alfred Sohn-Rethel, asked "Can there be abstraction other than by thought?" He used the example of commodity abstraction to show that abstraction occurs in practice as people create systems of abstract exchange that extend beyond the immediate physicality of the object and yet have real and immediate consequences. This work was extended through the 'Constitutive Abstraction' approach of writers associated with the Journal Arena (Australian publishing co-operative), ''Arena''. Two books that have taken this theme of the abstraction of social relations as an organizing process in human history are ''Nation Formation: Towards a Theory of Abstract Community'' (1996) and the second volume published in 2006, ''Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back In''. These books argue that the nation is an abstract community bringing together strangers who will never meet as such; thus constituting materially real and substantial, but abstracted and mediated relations. The books suggest that contemporary processes of globalization and mediatization have contributed to materially abstracting relations between people, with major consequences for how we live our lives. It can be easily argued that abstraction is an elementary methodological tool in several disciplines of social science. These disciplines have definite and different man concepts that highlight those aspects of man and his behaviour by idealization that are relevant for the given human science. For example, is the man as sociology abstracts and idealizes it, depicting man as a social being. Moreover, we could talk about (the man who can extend his biologically determined intelligence thanks to new technologies), or (who is simply creative). Abstraction (combined with Weberian Idealization (science philosophy), idealization) plays a crucial role in economics. Breaking away from directly experienced reality was a common trend in 19th century sciences (especially physics), and this was the effort which was fundamentally determined the way economics tried and still tries to approach the economic aspects of social life. It is abstraction we meet in the case of both Newton's physics and the neoclassical theory, since the goal was to grasp the unchangeable and timeless essence of phenomena. For example,
Newton Newton most commonly refers to: * Isaac Newton (1642–1726/1727), English scientist * Newton (unit), SI unit of force named after Isaac Newton Newton may also refer to: Arts and entertainment * Newton (film), ''Newton'' (film), a 2017 Indian fil ...

Newton
created the concept of the material point by following the abstraction method so that he abstracted from the dimension and shape of any perceptible object, preserving only inertial and translational motion. Material point is the ultimate and common feature of all bodies. Neoclassical economists created the indefinitely abstract notion of homo economicus by following the same procedure. Economists abstract from all individual and personal qualities in order to get to those characteristics that embody the essence of economic activity. Eventually, it is the substance of the economic man that they try to grasp. Any characteristic beyond it only disturbs the functioning of this essential core.


See also


Notes


References

* ''The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd edition'', Houghton Mifflin (1992), hardcover, 2140 pages, * * * Jung, C.G. [1921] (1971). ''Psychological Types'', Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. . * Sohn-Rethel, Alfred (1977) ''Intellectual and manual labour: A critique of epistemology'', Humanities Press. * .


External links

* *
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Gottlob Frege

Discussion at The Well concerning Abstraction hierarchy
{{Authority control Abstraction, Concepts in epistemology Concepts in metaphilosophy Ontology Thought