For this post, I would like to focus on the concept of ‘abstract’ or ‘abstraction’. I have a few reasons for this particular emphasis, the first of which is the necessarily vague dictionary definition.
From my handy-dandy:
1: Considered apart from a particular instance.
2: Expressing a quality apart from an object
3: Having only intrinsic form with little or no pictorial representation.
1: Summary, Epitome
2: An abstract thing or state.
1: Remove, Separate.
2: To make an abstract of: Summarize
3: To draw away the attention of
1: The act of abstracting: the state of being abstracted.
2: An abstract idea
3: An abstract work of art
I have reread these definitions three times and still cannot attach any interest to them. So, I am going to quote Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/abstraction)
“In philosophical terminology, abstraction is the thought process wherein ideas are distanced from objects. Abstraction uses a strategy of simplification, wherein formerly concrete details are left ambiguous, vague, or undefined, thus effective communication about things in the abstract requires an intuitive or common experience between the communicator and the communication recipient. This is true for al verbal/abstract communication.”
I would like to use the above references – or rather the sources of those references – to make my point. Our society is being held hostage by miscommunication. We lack the intuitive or common experience necessary for effective conversation.
Where do we find information?
My first instinct is always to reach for my dictionary. In this habit, I am a product of my generation and those that came before me. I have adjusted with advances in technology (for the most part), but I adjust from the foundation of ‘before’. Before the internet was on your phone, before laptops were smaller than hardback books, before you could download and read a book without having to turn a page. I even remember when home computers were a luxury rather than a necessity. In truth, ‘before’ was not that long ago.
Sadly, my handy-dandy failed me. I turned instead to the internet. I typed a single word into a search engine, and almost immediately received thousands of options to choose from. In utilizing an internet search engine, I began thinking on an abstract level. I stripped away the specific characteristics of inquiry and approached the subject broadly. Using this approach I can use deductive reasoning to narrow my field of interest to suit the aim I wish to achieve.
“Deductive: Reasoning from the general to the specific; to chunk down.”
“Deductive: Given a set of facts of assumptions which are supposed to be true, deductive reasoning is the mental process to extend these facts into new conclusions using logic; ‘Top Down’, or from the more general to the more specific.”
This method of reasoning was favored by such intellectual giants as Descartes, Galileo, and Hobbes (www.psychnut.com/gloss.html) and yet, it is not the preferred method in our education system. Rather, the opposite approach of Inductive Reasoning monopolizes the academic opportunities afforded young scholars.
“Inductive: Drawing a general conclusion (abstract) from specific facts; chunking up.”
“Unlike deductive arguments, inductive ones promise only probability, not certainty. Thus, if one argues that having watched several different newscasts in several different cities on many different nights, one may infer that newscasts emphasize, in Bob Inman’s phrase, ‘mayhem and misery’, then one is making an inductive argument (in this case, and inductive or empirical generalization). Another kind of inductive argument is an argument from analogy. Inductive arguments are judged by their reliability, where one expects only a high degree of probability, not one hundred percent reliability as with deduction.”
In an academic environment, students are ‘supplied’ with examples of a principle idea. Oftentimes, the principle idea is omitted or addressed only after the examples have been presented. In English class, students read short stories, poetry and essays from respected authors’ representative of their time and society. They are familiar and well explored so much so that the ‘meaning’ and ‘interpretation’ of their works have lost subjectivity. The analysis of their work has come from a long and distinguished line of ‘reliability’, as a result, differing interpretations are often classified as ‘wrong’, ‘misguided’ or ‘misunderstood’ and in need of ‘correction’. The negation of individual responses cripples the students’ ability to form their own opinion. They are denied the journey of exploration and enlightenment that comes with increased knowledge.
In the age of information, blind acceptance of majority opinion is dangerous. As a society we have come to accept ‘probability’ as ‘certainty’. We view ‘exceptions’ as ‘aberrations’ and ‘originality’ as ‘defiance’. Rather than seek a personal understanding we rely on the explanations of others. I am left to wonder where we would be in Descartes, Galileo and Hobbes had been satisfied by accepted ‘truth’.