Levels of Abstraction

A preliminary categorization


As long as our five senses have been trained to 'sense' another sentient creature, we have an experiential knowledge of that creature.  For a long time I have been wanting to do this, to try to follow the layers of abstractions and see how far we can go from the physical world we know.  The categorization that follows is strictly an experimental first expression and is open to challenges and changes:

1.  Concrete Logic
That knowledge is the result of concrete logic.  Philosophers call it hermeneutics.  This primary level can also be called concrete reality.

2.  First Level Abstraction:  naming experiencable objects
  Then we shift to the first abstract level by either drawing a picture of that creature or giving it a name 'dog'.  At this level there is a direct link with concrete logic or concrete reality.

3.  Second Level Abstraction:  abstract categorizing concrete reality
Once we have a name for a thing (object or creature) then we have a choice of categorizing or personalizing, depending on our intellectual or imaginary orientation - or whether our dominant neocortex hemisphere is left or right brain dominant.  Intellectually we categorize into species and genus;  Imaginatively we name the dog Rover and begin to give it emotional sub-titles like 'good dog' or 'bad dog.'  In both cases there is still a link to the concrete reality of a physical creature.

4.  Third Level Abstraction:  removing a 1st or 2nd level abstraction to a metaphoric representation of concrete reality.
We apply the name of the creature, 'dog' to a man who visits women in their homes, checks them out, pisses in the toilet or on their lawn and leaves without any emotional or sexual interaction.  That man acts like a 'dog'.  This use of the word raised a first level abstraction to a third level.  There are several permutations to this process:  it can apply to a second level abstraction raised to a metaphor (3rd level), when we call a woman a 'bitch' for a specific kind of behavior that elicits a strong negative response from a man.
To 'dog' someone falls into this metaphoric level also.  This is a very rich, literary and everyday life abstraction we use and permutate as often as possible.

5.  Fourth Level Abstraction:  value judgments and belief systems
Calling somebody a 'dog' or a 'bitch' may be an emotional response, but it functions on the level of metaphor, indirectly related to concrete logic.  Calling somebody 'beautiful' or 'ugly', a Communist or a Nazi, begins the realm of pure abstraction.  Any and all of such 'names' are ideals of being or acting.  They comprise a value judgment or a belief system that may or may not be shared by others because it has no roots in concrete reality.  All 4th level abstractions can be used with concrete reality in that these color or modify some aspect of concrete reality but do not depend on concrete reality.

6.  Fifth Level Abstraction:  creating pure fiction
This level can also depend either on the right or the left hemisphere of the neocortex.  After an initial cooperation between the two brain functions, we can create concepts such as a 'school' or a 'corporation' and animate it with the left brain:  people it, name it, give it a goal, let it begin to make a product, etc.  With the right brain we can paint an 'abstract' painting, write a poem about 'flupins' or a Sci-Fi novel where we create a reality without any continuity to anything we know.

There is an aspect of this 5th Level that I find a bit unnerving:  changing the meaning of words to entrap people.  Take the word 'traffic'.  It is an economic concept, the moving of goods from one place to another.  When I sell you a book, for example, I am trafficking.  But when a policeman gives me a 'traffic' ticket for speeding, we think of using our motor vehicles as participating in trafficking, but in fact, we have not performed any economic activity at all!  The only trafficking that is going on is that the policeman is 'selling' us a ticket, or a 'check', hoping that we will hand it over to a court with the specified sum of money.  (see the essay, “The Criminalization of the Canadian Driver”)   

7.  Sixth Level of Abstraction:  higher mathematics and theoretical and quantum physics.

We are now so far removed from concrete reality and even belief systems about the concrete world that no one even pretends to make or to have a connection.  Except, of course, the quantum theorists who realize that they are encroaching into mystical reality, something that comes even before concrete reality, because concrete reality, is, after all, learned by each of us.

All comments are welcome!