AskDefine | Define abstraction

Dictionary Definition

abstraction

Noun

1 a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance; "he loved her only in the abstract--not in person" [syn: abstract]
2 the act of withdrawing or removing something
3 the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances [syn: generalization, generalisation]
4 an abstract painting
5 preoccupation with something to the exclusion of all else [syn: abstractedness]
6 a general concept formed by extracting common features from specific examples

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Compare French abstraction. See the adjective abstract.

Pronunciation

Noun

  1. The act of abstracting, separating, or withdrawing, or the state of being withdrawn; withdrawal.
    • 1848: J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
      The cancelling of the debt would be no destruction of wealth, but a transfer of it: a wrongful abstraction of wealth from certain members of the community, for the profit of the government, or of the tax-payers.
  2. The act of leaving out of consideration one or more properties of a complex object so as to attend to others; analysis.
    Note: Abstraction is necessary to classification, by which organisms are grouped into genera and species according to the qualities they share.
    • c. 1837, Sir W. Hamilton, in Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic (1860), Lecture XXXV, page 474
      Abstraction is no positive act: it is simply the negative of attention.
  3. An idea or notion of an abstract, or theoretical nature; as, to fight for mere abstractions.
  4. A separation from worldly objects; a recluse life; as, a hermit's abstraction.
  5. Absence or absorption of mind; inattention to present objects.
  6. The taking surreptitiously for one's own use part of the property of another; purloining. - "[Modern]"
  7. A separation of volatile parts by the act of distillation. - Nicholson
  8. Removal of water from a river, lake, or aquifer, typically for industrial or agricultural uses.
  9. Any generalization technique that ignores or hides details to capture some kind of commonality between different instances for the purpose of controlling the intellectual complexity of engineered systems, particularly software systems.
  10. Any intellectual construct produced through the technique of abstraction.

Translations

References

French

Noun

abstraction
  1. abstraction

Extensive Definition

Abstraction is the process or result of generalization by reducing the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, typically in order to retain only information which is relevant for a particular purpose. For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to a ball retains only the information on general ball attributes and behaviour. Similarly, abstracting an emotional state to happiness reduces the amount of information conveyed about the emotional state. Computer scientists use abstraction to understand and solve problems and communicate their solutions with the computer in some particular computer language.

Thought process

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.
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 R. Hofstadter's illustration of that ambiguity, with a progression from abstract to concrete in Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979):
(1) a publication
(2) a newspaper
(3) The San Francisco Chronicle
(4) the May 18 edition of the Chronicle
(5) my copy of the May 18 edition of the Chronicle
(6) my copy of the May 18 edition of the 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 some thing, at progressively deeper levels of detail, to solve a crime or a puzzle.

Referents

Abstractions sometimes have ambiguous referents; for example, "happiness" (when used as an abstraction) can refer to as many things as there are people and events or states of being which make them happy. Likewise, "architecture" refers not only to the design of safe, functional buildings, but also to elements of creation and innovation which aim at elegant solutions to construction problems, to the use of space, and at its best, to the attempt to evoke an emotional response in the builders, owners, viewers and users of the building.

Instantiation

Things that do not exist at any particular place and time are often considered 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 above.
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 above.
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.

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.
Abstract things are sometimes defined as those things that do not exist in reality or exist only as sensory experience, like the 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 propositions about predicates, which propositions remain to be evaluated by the investigator. In the graph 1 above, the graphical relationships like the arrows joining boxes and ellipses might denote predicates. Different levels of abstraction might be denoted by a progression of arrows joining boxes or ellipses in multiple rows, where the arrows point from one row to another, in a series of other graphs, say graph 2, etc.

Abstraction used in philosophy

Abstraction in philosophy is the process (or, to some, the alleged process) in concept-formation of recognizing some set of common features in individuals, and on that basis forming a concept of that feature. The notion of abstraction is important to understanding some philosophical controversies surrounding empiricism and the problem of universals. It has also recently become popular in formal logic under predicate abstraction. Another philosophical tool for discussion of abstraction is Thought space.

Ontological status

The way that physical objects, like rocks and trees, have being differs from the way that properties of abstract concepts or relations have being, for example the way the concrete, particular, individuals pictured in picture 1 exist differs from the way the concepts illustrated in graph 1 exist. That difference accounts for the ontological 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.
Perhaps confusingly, some philosophies refer to tropes (instances of properties) as abstract particulars. E.g., the particular redness of a particular apple is an abstract particular.

In linguistics

Reification, also called hypostatization, might be considered a formal fallacy whenever an abstract concept, such as "society" or "technology" is treated as if it were a concrete object. In linguistics this is called metonymy, in which abstract concepts are referred to using the same sorts of nouns that signify concrete objects. Metonymy is an aspect of the English language and of other languages. It can blur the distinction between abstract and concrete things:
1805: Horatio Nelson (Battle of Trafalgar) - "England expects that every man will do his duty"

Compression

An abstraction can be seen as a process of mapping multiple different pieces of constituent 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". 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 above illustrates the concrete relationship "Cat sits on Mat".
Chains of abstractions can therefore be constructed moving from neural impulses arising from sensory perception to basic abstractions such as color or shape to experiential abstractions such as a specific cat to semantic abstractions such as the "idea" of a CAT to classes of objects such as "mammals" and even categories such as "object" as opposed to "action".
For example, graph 1 above expresses the abstraction "agent sits on location".
This conceptual scheme entails no specific hierarchical taxonomy (such as the one mentioned involving cats and mammals), only a progressive compression of detail.

The neurology of abstraction

Some research into the 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 .

Abstraction in art

Most typically abstraction is used in the arts as a synonym for abstract art 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, freed from objective context, and a reduction of form to basic geometric designs.
In music, abstraction refers to the abandonment of tonality. Atonal music has no key signature, and lacking an externally imposed standard, is characterized by its internal relationships.

Abstraction in psychology

Jung's definition of abstraction broadened its scope beyond the thinking process to include exactly four mutually exclusive, opposing 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 opposing 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. 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).

Origins

see also Modern human behaviour The first symbols of abstract thinking in humans can be traced to fossils dating between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago in Africa.

Notes

References

  • Eugene Raskin, Architecturally Speaking, 2nd edition, a Delta book, Dell (1966), trade paperback, 129 pages
  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd edition, Houghton Mifflin (1992), hardcover, 2140 pages, ISBN 0-395-44895-6
  • Jung, C.G. [1921] (1971). Psychological Types, Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01813-8.
abstraction in Arabic: تجريد
abstraction in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Абстракцыя
abstraction in Bosnian: Apstrakcija
abstraction in Czech: Abstrakce
abstraction in Danish: Abstraktion
abstraction in German: Abstraktion
abstraction in Spanish: Abstracción (filosofía)
abstraction in Esperanto: Abstraktado
abstraction in Persian: تجرید
abstraction in French: Abstraction (philosophie)
abstraction in Galician: Abstracción
abstraction in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Abstraction
abstraction in Italian: Astrazione
abstraction in Hebrew: הפשטה
abstraction in Hungarian: Absztrakció
abstraction in Macedonian: Апстракција
abstraction in Dutch: Abstractie
abstraction in Japanese: 抽象化
abstraction in Norwegian Bokmål: Abstraksjon
abstraction in Norwegian Nynorsk: Abstraksjon
abstraction in Polish: Abstrakcja (filozofia)
abstraction in Portuguese: Abstração
abstraction in Romanian: Abstractizare
abstraction in Russian: Абстракция
abstraction in Slovak: Abstrakcia
abstraction in Serbian: Апстрактно мишљење
abstraction in Swedish: Abstraktion
abstraction in Thai: นามธรรม
abstraction in Turkish: Soyutlama
abstraction in Ukrainian: Абстракція
abstraction in Chinese: 抽象化

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Walter Mitty, ablation, abrasion, absence of mind, absentmindedness, absorption, abstract, abstract idea, abstractedness, abulia, alienation, altarpiece, analysis, annexation, anxiety, anxiety equivalent, anxiety state, apathy, appropriation, bemusement, block print, boosting, bromide, brown study, castle-building, catatonic stupor, cliche, close study, collage, color print, commonplace, compulsion, concentration, contemplativeness, conversion, conveyance, copy, cyclorama, daub, daydream, daydreamer, daydreaming, deduction, deep thought, dejection, depression, depth of thought, detachment, diptych, disarticulation, disassociation, disconnectedness, disconnection, discontinuity, disengagement, disjointing, disjunction, dislocation, disunion, division, divorce, divorcement, doctrinairism, doctrinality, doctrinarity, dream, dreaming, elation, embezzlement, emotionalism, engraving, engrossment, erosion, euphoria, explanation, fantasy, fantasying, filching, fit of abstraction, folie du doute, fraud, fresco, general idea, generalization, generalized proposition, glittering generality, graft, hackneyed expression, hypochondria, hysteria, hysterics, icon, illumination, illustration, image, incoherence, indifference, insensibility, isolation, lethargy, liberation, lieu commun, lifting, likeness, locus communis, luxation, mania, melancholia, melancholy, mental distress, mere theory, miniature, montage, mooning, moonraking, mosaic, mural, muse, musefulness, musing, muted ecstasy, obsession, panorama, parting, partition, pathological indecisiveness, pensiveness, photograph, picture, pilferage, pilfering, pinching, pipe dream, pipe-dreaming, platitude, poaching, preoccupation, print, profound thought, psychalgia, psychomotor disturbance, purification, refinement, reflectiveness, removal, representation, reproduction, reverie, scrounging, segmentation, separation, separatism, shoplifting, snatching, sneak thievery, snitching, speculation, speculativeness, stained glass window, stargazing, stealage, stealing, stencil, still life, study, stupor, subdivision, subduction, sublation, subtraction, sweeping statement, swindle, swiping, tableau, taking away, tapestry, theft, theoretic, theoretical basis, theoretics, theoria, theoric, theorization, theory, thievery, thieving, thoughtfulness, tic, tired cliche, trance, triptych, truism, twitching, unresponsiveness, wall painting, wistfulness, withdrawal, woolgathering, zoning
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