Is there a limit to abstraction?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Speakpigeon, Aug 14, 2019.

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Do you think reality is the upward limit to abstraction?

This poll will close on Jan 14, 2020 at 11:45 AM.
  1. Yes

    0 vote(s)
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  2. No

    0 vote(s)
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  3. I don't know

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  4. The question doesn't make sense

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  1. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    We use abstractions to think about the world.

    Specifically, an abstraction is meant to refer to some part of the world. There are different levels of abstraction because we can use an abstraction to refer to the part of the world already referred to by different abstractions we have already in mind. Thus, we have levels of abstractions, from the low levels to the higher levels. Abstractions on a higher level refers to a larger part of the world than each of the abstractions on the level below that they are an abstraction of.

    We can analyse the world from different and a priori independent angles. However, for each particular angle, abstractions form a well-ordered structure, such that a lower-level abstraction always corresponds to only one of the higher-level abstractions at each higher level of abstraction. In other words, the part of the world referred to by the lower-level abstraction is never referred to by two different abstractions at any of the higher levels of abstraction.

    Broadly, we have more general abstractions to refer to larger parts of the world.

    It appears that the human brain is remarkably nimble playing that game. Each of us has our own privateabstract representation, and therefore our own private collection of abstractions. We need these abstractions both for thinking about the world in the privacy of our mind, and for communicating with other human beings, which explain to a large extent the difficulty we have in understanding each other.

    Shared culture, education, dogma and profession all help greatly in simplifying communication, but even when they share all of these, different people will still differ somewhat in how they abstract at least some part of the world.

    This makes communication inevitably more difficult but is also essential for conceptual progress, whereby the abstract model of one individual may gradually spread to a group of people and from there possibly to the rest of society, and even to humanity as whole.

    The brain is clearly very efficient in this respect. The need is to be able to define any number of well-ordered abstractions from bottom to top, starting life as a new-born with only the bottom level, our inchoate perceptions, only gradually increasing over the years the sophistication of our model of the world, through both private thinking, communication with other human beings, and also probably through the unconscious work of our brain.

    The word "thing" in English has come to be used to refer to our highest-level abstraction. However, while anything all will be a thing, we only use the word "thing" to simplify communication, not to think about the world. Most of the things we can think of have no relation we could think of. Both justice and redness are things, yet we don't normally think of these two things as having any kind of relation.

    The highest-level abstraction which has definite relations and to all other abstractions is reality. Reality for a new-born can only refer to the bottom level, i.e. their immediate and largely inchoate perception of the world. Life thus can be resumed as the building up of an intermediary and ever more complex structure of abstractions coming in between the bottom of our immediate perception of the world and reality as an abstraction in our mind.

    From a topological point of view, then, yes, like an infinite past with a beginning, there is a limit to abstraction and no there isn't.

    Reality is the highest abstraction we know of, and thus it is the upward limit to abstraction. However, it is just as true that there is no theoretical limit to the number of intermediary levels of abstractions that we can insert in between perception and reality. There is a practical limit which is of course the size of our brain and the little time we have available to think up with new abstractions.

    Obviously, we all will have our own private and therefore particular abstract model of the world, and thus for each of us, at any given time, we will only have a finite number of levels of abstractions.

    Another crucial limiting factor is the fact that, for fairly obvious practical reasons, we have to borrow a large part of our abstract model of the world, and this essentially through culture, education, work activity or dogma.

    Most people won't waste their time building for themselves more abstraction levels. They will take for granted whatever they will be able to get from other people and be content with that. However, some people, broadly "thinkers", will apparently choose to spend a large part of the time available to them during their lives doing essentially that. For example, some philosophers, some scientists, some religious thinkers, and probably many more outside these categories.

    However, broadly speaking, humanity as a whole seems to evolve--perhaps more quickly now due to the apparition of mass media, mass tourism, immigration, free trade, science, and the Internet--towards a common abstract model of the world with a particular number of abstraction levels, thus possibly giving the impression to many people that the number of levels is limited not only in practice but also in theory.

    But no. You do as you please.
    EB
     
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  3. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Is there a limit to an abstraction?

    Calculus has them.

    :EDIT:

    Look, if you want to have a discussion don't start with making a poll.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
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  5. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    What is the abstract limit of charisma?
    What is an abstract potential that make thousands of people act in complete unison as if the very same emotion dictates the same response in all?
    Just watched a live concert by Queen, and as an ex-musician, I was amazed at the pure abstract mental control Freddie Mercury could exert over tens of thousands of people and made them laugh or cry at will.

    This poses the question of what form of shared abstract Imperatives can take and what that means in context of a physical world.
     
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7711871-surfaces-and-essences
    Hofstadter's take, in tandem with Emmanuel Sander. He embeds abstraction in a more inclusive process of analogy making.
    (I think they should have built on metaphor rather than analogy, and are off on the wrong foot - but enlightening nevertheless).
    Also, older but first makes a key point in Western development: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steps_to_an_Ecology_of_Mind

    He makes a case for identifying four levels of abstraction as the limit of human capability - and suggests that there may be other entities, even on this planet, also capable of four level abstraction: such as large and long-lived coral reefs.

    A more enjoyable, sophisticated, and modern read, a more complete and larger-scaled take on Gregory Bateson's thought, came in later works involving his daughter Catherine as editor, co-author, and co-thinker, nontrivially. This, for example: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1388441.Angels_Fear But these later books are less technical, and need to be read entire, so a bit slower.
     
  8. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    Just throwing it out there, but I don't think a coral reef has a central nervous system.
     
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    29,555
    Doesn't need one, to abstract. Needs only the necessary complexity of response.
     
  10. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    1,121
    There is nothing abstract to it and everything to do with hormones and DNA.
    EB
     
  11. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    And can you explain how that hormonal everything and DNA generate "empathic responses" .
     
  12. river

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    Neither do jellyfish ; your point .
     
  13. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    They form a biome. Biome

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biome
     
  14. river

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  15. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    This was in support of Beer's question.

    The point I made was that somehow the organisms in a biome find symbiotic relationships and form a hive-mind .

    The human biome is 10 % human and 90 % bacterial. Without the bacteria we humans would die. The bacteria keep us alive!
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2019
  16. river

    Messages:
    12,760
    True

    Without the bio-diversity in the gut , food nutrients wouldn't be broken down to be absorbed into our blood stream , then to our cells and brain . And waste eliminated . Its really quite extraordinary and fascinating system our body goings on .
     
    Write4U likes this.
  17. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    12,360
    If you have not yet seen it, do watch Bonnie Bassler video on bacterial "quorum sensing". And how a cuttle fish uses bio-luminecent bacteria as a "cloaking device" from predators.

    This is a truly informative set and will change your perspective on what evolution and natural selection are capable of producing, given sufficient time and resources.


    and
     
  18. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    5,067
    Can a jelly fish or coral reef do calculus?

    I'm not exactly sure if some people have an agenda and or trying to offend me, or I should just shrug it off.
     

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