Last edited 29th October 2020

Reality Building how we think

Abstraction as a necessary part of human nature

One characteristically human attribute is our ability to create and manipulate symbols beyond simple signals. It is to create a symbolic world in their own image that makes humans, humans. Culture, ritual, music, language are all symbolic and as such depend on the abstraction layer that symbolism places between reality and perception.

Language is an auditory abstraction layer on top of perception.

Abstraction as a tool

I think of it more of the act of separating meaning and representation away from the underlying reality.

Example with infinity:

  • You remove the "meaning" of endlessness by using hand-wavy terms like, 'it goes on forever' which allows you to accept the fact that it never ends without having to try and observe endlessness
  • You remove the "representation" of endlessness by representing it by something that is certainly finite, a line with an arrow on it.

In this case your able to use abstraction, to make the concept of infinity abstract. You can have a reasonable (at least to your ability to reason) understanding of infinity without having to interact with underlying reality of an endless sequence of numbers.

Conversation with Kevin De Baerdemaeker