What is abstraction and how to learn to abstract?

General overview

This concept has its roots in Latin and is literally translated as “distraction.” More often what is meant is not a change in occupation or activity, but a change in thinking, the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, from a different angle, including when the object being analyzed seems unusual. In this way, our mind combines all existing ideas about this object and considers it as if it did not possess individual properties, connections, and phenomena. Ultimately, the selection of natural, understandable and essential features of the object occurs. What is abstraction? This is the distancing or separation of one from the other. Subsequent recognition is optional. Abstraction can be used temporarily, at a certain moment, returning ideas about an object to the original level or, conversely, discovering its new properties. In a narrower sense, the result of abstraction, that is, any distraction, is a generalization of the obtained (studied) theoretical features.

Learning to abstract ourselves

Often asking questions about how to learn to abstract from negativity and problems in society, how to abstract from unpleasant people, people look for complicated ways to solve the problem. Synonyms for “abstract” are the words “distracted”, “move away”. Of course, no one says that learning to move away is easy; this process is long and requires effort . But if you want and set the right goal, you can learn.

  • Finding yourself in a difficult situation, a person becomes lost, his thoughts are confused, and it is difficult to concentrate. And you’ve probably noticed more than once that after a while it dawns on you what was the best thing to do or say at that moment. The point is that after a while, you look at the situation from the outside . And in order to be able to abstract yourself in time in a difficult situation, consider it from such an angle as if what is happening is happening not to you, but to another person, or imagine that you are watching a movie. Thoughts will fall into place, and the decision will come on its own.
  • Disconnect from external stimuli . In reality it's not that difficult. Imagine the phenomena that interfere with you not as an action that can be stopped, but as background noise that will not go away, and then the brain itself will stop responding to them.
  • Always and in all situations, highlight only the important points and aspects . To begin with, mark something for yourself in a notebook; over time, you will learn to systematize and classify the flow, and highlight the main thing mentally, without notes.
  • You can use tables and diagrams that will help organize data and teach you to highlight the main thing.
  • To make it easier to concentrate on one thing, mentally pronounce an important aspect or action.
  • Learn to set clear and understandable goals . It doesn't have to be something florid or around the bush. Don’t think about ways to achieve a goal; rather, consider a clearly defined final result, based on which it will be easier to move towards what you want.
  • Don't do many tasks and things at the same time. Solve problems as they arise , separate the important from the mediocre. Perform any action consistently.
  • The ability to abstract lies in both discipline and a clear routine.

Knowing how to abstract yourself from a situation will help you solve complex cases in a short time, seeing the essence of the issue itself.

Below we invite you to watch an interesting video on the topic: this is the Russian version of the video “Abstract-ness” by the Khan Academy (a non-profit educational organization created in 2008 by MIT and Harvard graduate Salman Khan)

A different look at one object

Every person comprehends something in his life. His consciousness analyzes many factors, looking for individual elements that can have an impact, for example, in making a decision or developing an opinion about a particular object. In such comprehension, the method of abstraction plays an important role. Its goal is the study of objects, as a rule, which have much greater properties, relationships, connections, which, due to perception and thinking, a person cannot fully comprehend. As a general method of cognition, abstraction helps to highlight features. When comprehending an object, a person has the right to simplify it, pay attention to obvious aspects, while forgetting, that is, ignoring the rest.

Are you familiar with such concepts as analysis, synthesis, abstraction? They are widely used in areas such as logic and philosophy; they can exist separately from each other, but are largely interconnected. Synthesis is understood as the process of combining isolated, disparate concepts; its purpose is to bring them together into a single whole or group. Synthesis is an important stage in the activity of human consciousness, in which the cognitive function is formed. In other words, having several parts, synthesis serves to collect them.

On the contrary, analysis seeks to disassemble the existing whole into its component parts. Together, both concepts give rise to ideas about the connections occurring between individual elements of the object of study.

Why is it necessary to develop these skills?

This type begins to develop in a child from an early age. Every child loved to fantasize and daydream as a child, imagining things that are unlikely to happen. This is the very thinking when we abstracted from reality.

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At school, this skill contributed to the study of exact fields of science (the same geometry). At university, the ability was also useful in solving numerous abstract problems. And finally, at work we distribute responsibilities, group them according to specific characteristics, cope with difficulties and often even find some connection between them. We do the same thing when we think about the meaning of our own lives.

There are quite a few areas where this property plays a major role. This is a philosophical teaching, and writing, and psychology. Another advantage is that we can dream, plan for the future, talk about religion or joke. And this list can be continued endlessly.

Such reflections allow us to remain developed and intelligent. We see what formally does not exist, and we know how to study the phenomena of reality. Therefore, the importance of this improvement cannot be overestimated - this is how we increase intelligence, achieve success both at work and in personal life, and use simple methods for this.

Studying reality

Day after day, human consciousness searches for new components, objects and concepts that have not been explored before, in which abstraction indirectly helps. The method of cognition in this case is a set of methods by which new knowledge is discovered, methods of solution and research, as well as systematization and correction of data. This should include conclusions, principles of reasoning, and forecast. Thus, observing an object, a person puts forward hypotheses and theories that serve as a form of assumption. These can later be supported by scientific evidence, experiments, or by collecting additional facts.

Cognition, as a method of abstraction, has distinctive features from the comparison method. It is expressed in qualitative and quantitative forms of abstraction, when essential (indisputable) features are highlighted. To make a decision, a person often relies on a comparison method that allows him to evaluate possible (desired) indicators with real indicators. All the pros and cons are put on the scales, which subsequently influence the final choice.

Theories of abstraction

There are two theories of abstraction:

  • eliminative;
  • productive.

Productive abstraction is based on the postulates:

— Abstraction is a new object, and “universal abstractions” exist independently of our consciousness in the so-called “world of ideas.”

— Formal logic has no power over productive abstractions, which tend more towards the “logic of the whole” (this statement is based on the concept of an idea in a productive abstraction, as a set of smaller ideas, in relation to which the main one is more of a “whole” than a “general”) . Ernst Cassirer calls this idea a “function.” However, it is worth noting that the logic of productive abstractions has not been studied enough, so a comparison of eliminative and productive abstractions is temporarily not possible.

The cogs of our internal mechanism

So what is abstraction? Undoubtedly, this is a complex mechanism that we resort to, sometimes without even realizing it. Mentally, a person separates the existing from the non-existent, isolating individual elements from the set. This could be a chain of events, a series of processes, a group of objects. Thus, turning to the individual characteristics of a person, psychology is able to abstract general properties from specific ones that apply to a given individual. This once again proves the indisputable argument that each person, like his mind and consciousness, is unique.

What is abstract personal thinking?

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If abstraction is the process of creating abstract mental constructs, then abstract thinking is the ability to operate with them. This allows us to think about categories that do not exist in nature.

Example . A strict teacher criticizes a young man who “possesses too much water” during an exam: “Let’s get to the heart of the matter.” Why does the student use such clever phrases? Its task is to hide gaps in knowledge or even their complete absence. This is the essence of abstract thinking.

Human knowledge about the real world is not complete, comprehensive, or specific. But a person must somehow navigate the unknown, which is why he thinks abstractly. This is a unique ability of humanity, which allowed it to create all the benefits that people still enjoy today.

Abstract thinking is a form of cognition that can overcome dead ends in reasoning. It allows, at least at a general level, to describe various phenomena. Abstract thinking also allows you to see a problem from different angles. It is this human ability that ensured the creation of various religions. God is the generalized goodness and power in almost every culture.

Application – in everything

The method of scientific abstraction is used in many areas: politics, mathematics, logic. We have already learned that under the general concept of abstraction lies a distraction from external phenomena in order to highlight unimportant details or the essence of the subject itself. Thanks to such an “outside view,” scientific concepts are born, which, in turn, form unified properties and connections that are combined into categories.

Thus, scientific abstraction can be traced in economics. In the world there are millions of different food and non-food products that people need every day. They all differ in many characteristics and properties. But, moving away from their endless comparisons, man involuntarily united them into a single category - goods as products intended for sale.

Scientific abstraction is noticeable in construction. Every construction includes a detailed calculation that takes into account the features of the future building. But exact geometric correspondences, as well as the strict interaction of all its individual components, are not always 100% feasible - it is either theoretically impossible or practically unacceptable due to excessive complexity. Because of this, using the method of scientific abstraction, the structure is schematized. Alleged minor factors are excluded, which, in turn, does not affect the accuracy and reliability of the calculations performed.

Formation of emotional state

The word “abstract” can be used to create an emotional and complete story in your imagination. For example, you can imagine how a child receives a diploma from a prestigious university, or, say, diving into the waters of the warm Mediterranean sea. To do this, you just need to learn to abstract yourself.

This ability to distract from details and concentrate on the main thing will help you move towards achieving your cherished goal. However, emotions and love for fairy tales do not determine everything. Smart adults choose for themselves which fantasy and events they want to live in, and when to leave the world of dreams and enter reality.

Thinking abstractly is the ability of every person

To summarize the topic discussed, we now definitely know what abstraction is - a mental, conscious distraction from the properties of an object, due to which a new idea about it appears or a logical concept is formed.

The ability to apply abstraction in everyday life is inherent in a person from birth. In many ways, language skills and the development of the language itself play a big role here. Thus, when thoughts “flow” in an abstract order, consciousness does not focus on individual features of an object, characterizing it according to general indicators (for example, “fruit”). In contrast to the abstract, science provides arguments for the concrete - in this case, consciousness expands the boundaries of understanding, looking for additional properties (not just “fruit”, but “orange” or “sweet and sour apple”).

Types of Abstractions

Abstractions are transformed ideas about an object or phenomenon of the objective world.

  1. Isolating abstraction. Corresponds to the isolation and fixation of certain features of an object or phenomenon.
  2. Converting abstraction. Corresponds to the general characteristics of an object or phenomenon (taking into account all the features together).
  3. Idealization. Corresponds to the replacement of a real goal with a certain idealized image. It is used for the most effective use of all available tools to achieve the designated result.
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