Abstraction Quotes (38 quotes)

All versions written for nonscientists speak of fused males as the curious tale of the anglerfish–just as we so often hear about the monkey swinging through the trees, or the worm burrowing through soil. But if nature teaches us any lesson, it loudly proclaims life’s diversity. There ain’t no such abstraction as the clam, the fly, or the anglerfish. Ceratioid anglerfishes come in nearly 100 species, and each has its own peculiarity.

But the nature of our civilized minds is so detached from the senses, even in the vulgar, by abstractions corresponding to all the abstract terms our languages abound in, and so refined by the art of writing, and as it were spiritualized by the use of numbers, because even the vulgar know how to count and reckon, that it is naturally beyond our power to form the vast image of this mistress called ‘Sympathetic Nature.’

From Pythagoras (ca. 550 BC) to Boethius (ca AD 480-524), when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of “such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth” (Aquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.

Fundamentally, as is readily seen, there exists neither force nor matter. Both are abstractions of things, such as they are, looked at from different standpoints. They complete and presuppose each other. Isolated they are meaningless. … Matter is not a go-cart, to and from which force, like a horse, can be now harnessed, now loosed. A particle of iron is and remains exactly the same thing, whether it shoot through space as a meteoric stone, dash along on the tire of an engine-wheel, or roll in a blood-corpuscle through the veins of a poet. … Its properties are eternal, unchangeable, untransferable.

If Spirit is an abstraction, a conjecture, a Chimera: Matter is an abstraction, a conjecture, a Chimera; for We know as much, or rather as little of one as of the other.

In mathematics ... we find two tendencies present. On the one hand, the tendency towards abstraction seeks to crystallise the logical relations inherent in the maze of materials ... being studied, and to correlate the material in a systematic and orderly

In order to comprehend and fully control arithmetical concepts and methods of proof, a high degree of abstraction is necessary, and this condition has at times been charged against arithmetic as a fault. I am of the opinion that all other fields of knowledge require at least an equally high degree of abstraction as mathematics,—provided, that in these fields the foundations are also everywhere examined with the rigour and completeness which is actually necessary.

It is above all the duty of the methodical text-book to adapt itself to the pupil’s power of comprehension, only challenging his higher efforts with the increasing development of his imagination, his logical power and the ability of abstraction. This indeed constitutes a test of the art of teaching, it is here where pedagogic tact becomes manifest. In reference to the axioms, caution is necessary. It should be pointed out comparatively early, in how far the mathematical body differs from the material body. Furthermore, since mathematical bodies are really portions of space, this space is to be conceived as mathematical space and to be clearly distinguished from real or physical space. Gradually the student will become conscious that the portion of the real space which lies beyond the visible stellar universe is not cognizable through the senses, that we know nothing of its properties and consequently have no basis for judgments concerning it. Mathematical space, on the other hand, may be subjected to conditions, for instance, we may condition its properties at infinity, and these conditions constitute the axioms, say the Euclidean axioms. But every student will require years before the conviction of the truth of this last statement will force itself upon him.

It is the function of notions in science to be useful, to be interesting, to be verifiable and to acquire value from anyone of these qualities. Scientific notions have little to gain as science from being forced into relation with that formidable abstraction, “general truth.”

It may be true, that as Francis Thompson noted, ‘Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star’, but in computing the motion of stars and planets, the effects of flowers do not loom large. It is the disregarding of the effect of flowers on stars that allows progress in astronomy. Appropriate abstraction is critical to progress in science.

John Bahcall, an astronomer on the Institute of Advanced Study faculty since 1970 likes to tell the story of his first faculty dinner, when he found himself seated across from Kurt Gödel, … a man dedicated to logic and the clean certainties of mathematical abstraction. Bahcall introduced himself and mentioned that he was a physicist. Gödel replied, “I don’t believe in natural science.”

Mathematics associates new mental images with ... physical abstractions; these images are almost tangible to the trained mind but are far removed from those that are given directly by life and physical experience. For example, a mathematician represents the motion of planets of the solar system by a flow line of an incompressible fluid in a 54-dimensional phase space, whose volume is given by the Liouville measure

Mathematics is much more than a language for dealing with the physical world. It is a source of models and abstractions which will enable us to obtain amazing new insights into the way in which nature operates. Indeed, the beauty and elegance of the physical laws themselves are only apparent when expressed in the appropriate mathematical framework.

No substantial part of the universe is so simple that it can be grasped and controlled without abstraction. Abstraction consists in replacing the part of the universe under consideration by a model of similar but simpler structure. Models, formal and intellectual on the one hand, or material on the other, are thus a central necessity of scientific procedure.

Of the many forms of false culture, a premature converse with abstractions is perhaps the most likely to prove fatal to the growth of a masculine vigour of intellect.

Recurrences of like cases in which

*A*is always connected with*B*, that is, like results under like circumstances, that is again, the essence of the connection of cause and effect, exist but in the abstraction which we perform for the purpose of mentally reproducing the facts. Let a fact become familiar, and we no longer require this putting into relief of its connecting marks, our attention is no longer attracted to the new and surprising, and we cease to speak of cause and effect.
Religion and science ... constitute deep-rooted and ancient efforts to find richer experience and deeper meaning than are found in the ordinary biological and social satisfactions. As pointed out by Whitehead, religion and science have similar origins and are evolving toward similar goals. Both started from crude observations and fanciful concepts, meaningful only within a narrow range of conditions for the people who formulated them of their limited tribal experience. But progressively, continuously, and almost simultaneously, religious and scientific concepts are ridding themselves of their coarse and local components, reaching higher and higher levels of abstraction and purity. Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths.

That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.

The assumptions of population thinking are diametrically opposed to those of the typologist. The populationist stresses the uniqueness of everything in the organic world. What is true for the human species,–that no two individuals are alike, is equally true for all other species of animals and plants ... All organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of organic entities, form populations of which we can determine the arithmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions, only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality. The ultimate conclusions of the population thinker and of the typologist are precisely the opposite. For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real and the variation. an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.

The beauty of physics lies in the extent which seemingly complex and unrelated phenomena can be explained and correlated through a high level of abstraction by a set of laws which are amazing in their simplicity.

The field of scientific abstraction encompasses independent kingdoms of ideas and of experiments and within these, rulers whose fame outlasts the centuries. But they are not the only kings in science. He also is a king who guides the spirit of his contemporaries by knowledge and creative work, by teaching and research in the field of applied science, and who conquers for science provinces which have only been raided by craftsmen.

The first thing to realize about physics ... is its extraordinary indirectness.... For physics is not about the real world, it is about “abstractions” from the real world, and this is what makes it so scientific.... Theoretical physics runs merrily along with these unreal abstractions, but its conclusions are checked, at every possible point, by experiments.

The Geometer has the special privilege to carry out, by abstraction, all constructions by means of the intellect.

The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, to furnish a refined pleasure, and to lead our feeble reason from the works of nature up to its great Author and Sustainer. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of Astronomy. No other science furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system; the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system; of distances from which the light of a fixed star would not reach us in twenty millions of years, of magnitudes compared with which the earth is but a foot-ball; of starry hosts—suns like our own—numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces.

The instinct to command others, in its primitive essence, is a carnivorous, altogether bestial and savage instinct. Under the influence of the mental development of man, it takes on a somewhat more ideal form and becomes somewhat ennobled, presenting itself as the instrument of reason and the devoted servant of that abstraction, or political fiction, which is called the public good. But in its essence it remains just as baneful, and it becomes even more so when, with the application of science, it extends its scope and intensifies the power of its action. If there is a devil in history, it is this power principle.

The last few meters up to the summit no longer seem so hard. On reaching the top, I sit down and let my legs dangle into space. I don’t have to climb anymore. I pull my camera from my rucksack and, in my down mittens, fumble a long time with the batteries before I have it working properly. Then I film Peter. Now, after the hours of torment, which indeed I didn’t recognize as torment, now, when the monotonous motion of plodding upwards is at an end, and I have nothing more to do than breathe, a great peace floods my whole being. I breathe like someone who has run the race of his life and knows that he may now rest forever. I keep looking all around, because the first time I didn’t see anything of the panorama I had expected from Everest, neither indeed did I notice how the wind was continually chasing snow across the summit. In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung, floating over the mists and the summits.

The most important distinction between the two qualities [talent and genius] is this: one, in conception, follows mechanical processes; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances, and like

“A gate of steel

Fronting the sun, receives and renders back

His figure and his heat!”

“A gate of steel

Fronting the sun, receives and renders back

His figure and his heat!”

The point of mathematics is that in it we have always got rid of the particular instance, and even of any particular sorts of entities. So that for example, no mathematical truths apply merely to fish, or merely to stones, or merely to colours. So long as you are dealing with pure mathematics, you are in the realm of complete and absolute abstraction. … Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction from any particular instance of what it is talking about.

The point of mathematics is that in it we have always got rid of the particular instance, and even of any particular sorts of entities. So that for example, no mathematical truths apply merely to fish, or merely to stones, or merely to colours. … Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction from any particular instance of what it is talking about.

The world in which we live is a hopeless case. I myself prefer to abide in abstractions that have nothing to do with reality.

There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills. [p.222]

There is no way to guarantee in advance what pure mathematics will later find application. We can only let the process of curiosity and abstraction take place, let mathematicians obsessively take results to their logical extremes, leaving relevance far behind, and wait to see which topics turn out to be extremely useful. If not, when the challenges of the future arrive, we won’t have the right piece of seemingly pointless mathematics to hand.

There is nothing mysterious, as some have tried to maintain, about the

*applicability*of mathematics. What we get by abstraction from something can be returned.
This property of human languages—their resistance to algorithmic processing— is perhaps the ultimate reason why only mathematics can furnish an adequate language for physics. It is not that we lack words for expressing all this E = mc² and ∫e

^{iS(Φ)}DΦ … stuff … , the point is that we still would not be able to do anything with these great discoveries if we had only words for them. … Miraculously, it turns out that even very high level abstractions can somehow reflect reality: knowledge of the world discovered by physicists can be expressed only in the language of mathematics.
To us investigators, the concept 'soul' is irrelevant and a matter for laughter. But matter is an abstraction of exactly the same kind, just as good and just as bad as it is. We know as much about the soul as we do of matter.

We lay down a fundamental principle of generalization by abstraction:

*The existence of analogies between central features of various theories implies the existence of a general theory which underlies the particular theories and unifies them with respect to those central features.*
We may assume the existence of an aether; only we must give up ascribing a definite state of motion to it, I.e. we must by abstraction take from it the last mechanical characteristic which Lorentz had still left it.

Women have absolutely no sense of art, though they may have of poetry. They have no natural disposition for the sciences, though they may have for philosophy. They are by no means wanting in power of speculation and intuitive perception of the infinite; they lack only power of abstraction, which is far more easy to be learned.