How can I understand abstract concepts

Abstract thinking - what is it?

Abstraction describes the ability to leave out the details in the thought process and to generalize and thus simplify them directly. The recorded information is reduced to the essentials so that it can be processed in a different way. Therefore, abstract thinking is very helpful in everyday life. For example, the term “book” is an abstract term. There are books in different sizes and colors, but we have reduced this subject to the essentials so that the term “book” is understandable for everyone. Anyone can understand the question “Will you hand me the book?” Without knowing which book it is exactly.

Three different levels of abstraction

Numerous studies have shown that abstract thinking in humans can be divided into three levels of abstraction.

  1. Intermediate basic level, for example "table"
  2. Abstract generic term, for example “furniture
  3. Concrete level of an individual example, for example "my desk"

The terms from the intermediate basic level represent the basic categories. They are characterized by certain properties. For example, they are initially learned by small children, for example "ball". Only later do the other terms such as "toy" and "table tennis ball" follow. When dealing with them, there are special typical movements, such as “catching” and “throwing”. This is similar for all objects of the intermediate basic level (all balls can be thrown and caught).

Their appearance is roughly the same. Therefore there is an image in the memory for this particular category which can represent the whole category. The easiest way to see this is in picture books for toddlers. A ball may differ in color and size, but the characteristic shape is always the same in picture books. As experience increases, the conception of these three levels of abstraction changes. In the course of life, you cannot remember every single ball, but you can use sports to differentiate, for example.

Abstract thinking in humans and animals

This ability for abstract thinking is typical of humans. As far as researched, animals do not have them. This can be explained with a simple example: We have three points A, B and C. These form a triangle. Animals would just run from A to B to get to C. For humans it is immediately understandable that the easiest way from A to C is to walk directly from A to C. Another example of abstract thinking is recognizing yourself in the mirror. If you look in the mirror, you recognize yourself. Whereas a dog, for example, cannot do anything with the appearance in the mirror and may even mistake it for another conspecific.

Abstract terms

Abstract terms are terms that humans can imagine without ever having seen them. So he can replace spoken words that describe the term with a picture in his head. Humans abstract the spoken word because they have the ability to think abstractly. Examples of abstract terms for example:

  • adventure
  • disgust
  • stupidity
  • intelligence
  • luck
  • joy
  • bad luck
  • bad luck
  • hope
  • conflict
  • boredom
  • love
  • Sadness
  • innocence
  • madness
  • coincidence

Abstraction and Logic - What's the Difference?

Abstract thinking is a basic framework. Abstract thinking actually means reducing something to the essentials. Logical thinking is more related to reason. You think based on arguments. In addition, abstraction does not depend on feelings, or has absolutely nothing to do with emotionality. Abstract thinking is more analytical, neutral thinking. Logical thinking, however, is closely linked to feelings. For example, it can be logical to listen to what is known as “gut instinct”, even though all the arguments speak against it. However, if your gut instinct says something else and you don't follow it, you run the risk of getting physically ill and suddenly it sounds logical to follow your gut feeling. Often, however, logical thinking also implies the ability to ignore feelings.

Abstract thinking - ability decreases with age

The aging processes in the body do not stop at the brain either. Therefore, abstract thinking skills deteriorate with age, as do all other cognitive skills. This process is accelerated by any illnesses. If you are affected by one of the following diseases, you should put your cognitive abilities and thus also your ability for abstract thinking under special observation at an early stage in order to identify possible deficits as early as possible. The diseases that affect abstract thinking include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Vascular disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • neurodegenerative diseases

Cognitive training is particularly suitable for training abstract thinking. There are special “brain jogging” puzzles and tasks for all game consoles, as well as for smartphones, tablets and computers. But well-known puzzles, such as Swedish puzzles and Sudoku, train cognitive thinking and thus also abstract thinking. Many studies have found novel methods of brain training. One of these methods is, for example, so-called n-back training, which is available for smartphones and other technical devices. This trains the brain if you only devote yourself to this training twenty minutes a day, twenty days at a time. After that, brain performance and abstract thinking are improved. This effect lasts for 3 months. Then you have to start again with the training.