Abstract rain by Tommyvideo

Can You Think Abstractly?

Most of what we know is abstract, so in order to understand reality, you have to be able to think abstractly. This article should help you with that.

Introduction

Every concept that we know is an abstract reality. In fact, most of what we know is not tangible. Everything we talk about, by the time we talk about it, it becomes abstract. It becomes a representation of reality, it is not reality itself.

Even when you can see things, for example: cells, talking about them and how they behave, makes them an abstract concept. By the time you talk about it, it may not behave this way (or maybe it does and we don’t know it).

It is a concept.

When you describe what you see, you immediately put the object, thing, situation, into a representational model of how you would describe that thing. This does not mean that your description will correspond to the reality 100% even if it is happening currently at that time.

You would always say „I have a banana at home“ but you would never say „I have the banana at home“ as this would imply there is a particular banana that has certain attributes and is unique to the category. Of course, every banana is a clone, but that is a different topic.

If you buy things, you are not buying the particular thing itself, but the concept that is applied to the thing.

There can be many concepts applied to a thing: A game (concept) that can be played (concept) by four (concept) players (concept) is different to a game (concept) that can only be played (concept) by two (concept) players (concept).

Still we consider both of them a game (concept).

This can be hard to grasp for people with autism. Why are both of them considered as the same concept (a game) when they are so different to each other?

At a young age they give you an apple and say:

„This is an apple.“

This might imply that every thing there is can be touched, felt, grasped, but this is not the case.

In order to understand the universe you have to understand concepts.

You might conclude that all words with a meaning describe a thing that is happening in the real world.

Excursus: Why do I say “happening”? Because things aren‘t, they happen. When you say „this is an apple“ the apple does not persist, it is currently happening here at that moment in time and space. In one hundred years it is not anymore, but this is a different topic...

The problem arises when you start with more abstract concepts like „velocity“ or „speed of light“. Things that you cannot immediately grasp as they are not objects in reality, but rather phenomena happening in reality.

I have taken these two examples as they are quite common when you have an understanding of Physics. Why physics?

Physics is the natural science where most fundamental scientific concepts and fundamental phenomena of nature are described on the basis of quantitative models and laws in order to explain their properties and behavior with matter and energy and their interactions in space and time. — Definition is my own.

So in order to understand the universe you have to understand concepts. Everything that is not in your immediate proximity has to be explained in concepts and concepts are rather abstract. So in order to understand the universe you have to understand abstract thinking, or rather, be able to think abstractly.

How to Think “Abstract”

There are probably many ways on how to improve abstract thinking and you might not agree with what I post below. That being said, these are the best ways that have improved my abstract thinking and therefore the understanding of everything related:

1.Programming + Computer Science

Understanding concepts in Programming and applying them across several programming languages is a surefire way to improve your abstract thinking. Understand the art of coding as well as understanding the technology behind it, software architecture, and the computer itself.

2.Writing +Reading

The act of thinking on paper makes it easier to think. By explaining things to others in a clear and concise way, you make sure that you understood it. It also helps others to learn what you have learned and that is pretty cool by itself.

Also, you will come across barriers in your own language that make it difficult to explain the things you want to explain. By reading more, you will be able to write better — and understand everything in-between.

There is no book or website that I would recommend. You should focus on what you DON’T understand yet and read as much as you can. I am still looking for the most difficult book ever written…

3.Science

Having a passion for science itself and questioning everything you read is a good way to improve your overall thinking. If you don’t understand something yet, it might be useful to learn it as it might help you in your future endeavors.

„Learning is hard work, but everything you learn is yours and will make subsequent learning easier.“ — Eloquent Javascript

Conclusion

Abstract thinking allows us to think about complex relationships, recognize patterns, solve problems, and utilize creativity. Although we cannot know today what we might need to know tomorrow, abstract thinking will improve our understanding about the world, the universe, and life itself.

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