How to Explore Mental Abstractions

The process of mentally abstracting is an important tool for us to be able to analyse phenomena. The problem is, it's often misused by the mind and can become a source and reinforcement of unhappiness, frustration and dissatisfaction.

Exploring mental abstractions can be highly enlightening, as these abstractions are often reflections of, as well as influenced by, the mind and its desires. This tutorial will look at how to start exploring the dynamic nature of the mind, helping us to learn how to overcome unhappiness by understanding what makes us unhappy.


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    Start by reflecting on what an abstraction is. Abstracting is the art of being able to shape a thought in our minds and, despite the mental dialogue and mental chatter, to be able to describe, recognise, categorize, perceive and explore it. In any experience, we may perceive a multitude of facets as well as factors such as our internal emotions and ideas, our intentions, our biases and desires as well as our memories. Externally we are influenced by a wide range of different factors, by our environment, by friends and family, and by enemies and threats. Consider a basic scenario that applies to you in your day-to-day life. A very simple example is when we are driving. We have a destination and a purpose for going there; to be able to describe both the journey as well as the purpose, we must abstract it to be able to describe it effectively. In the same way, abstracting is an important mental tool. We use it to analyse and process experiences and data to be able to act or react as the case may be. When we remember knowledge such as how to drive, how to cook, how to survive in basic terms are all abstractions of knowledge when they remain in our mind as active memory. This covers all functional daily habits and routines as well as skills that we rely on for a living.
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    Consider the relationship we have with our abstractions and ideas. Without memory and knowledge, including muscle memory, we would essentially be little more than old infants. Apart from basic biological needs, an infant has not yet collected enough information to be able to create an identity, even though the difference between them and their surroundings is an awareness that develops quickly.
    • Relationships are essentially dependent on our abstraction and memory retentive nature of the mind and body. Without it we would have ability to recognise and measure appropriately, for these skills require that experience.
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    Expand this field to take in mental measurement. Measurement in essence, is largely about distinction and relevance. A basic early distinction is the "me and you" separation. Measurement is a critical skill in action, reaction and relationship to something or someone. We may in a mundane example, measure tastes, touch, sounds, ideas and all the sensory data we depend on. It becomes more subtle when we start to rely on this mind process. In a more refined sense, it is a quantitative process - how much should we do, should we do nothing etc. All questions are in effect related to measurement because a person is at point A and intends to get to point B, be it that point A is we are hungry so point B is the resolution of hunger, which means eating. Point A may be the desire to purchase a new thing and point B as the resolution is obtaining it, by earning and saving the funds to achieve that goal.
    • Remember that these skills exist for a reason, our survival as individual and social human beings depends on being able to interact with everything in life.
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    Consider where these skills can create unhappiness. Both processes can directly make us unhappy. When a person treats the abstraction and measurement as if it is the thing itself, then it resolution process is compromised. So when we imagine something, be it a dream or a nightmare and believe it is real, we become dominated by it as if the monsters are real. The dream is the experience and that process is real, but its content is simply an abstraction.
    • The important aspect where this applies, is when we believe something, then we are in trouble when we treat the concept as the thing itself. In practice, if we believe it may rain today, but it does not, either we will shrug it off, or we feel unhappy because we became expectant or dependent on the idea of rain coming. The amount of emotion we feel is directly proportionate to its relevance to us.
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    Evaluate different aspects of measurement in relationship to memory. Memory is an abstraction itself, but it too plays a very important role. A basic example to consider in day to day life, is driving. When a person drives to a destination, all along the way a person is measuring. Measuring the speed, distance between the car in front and behind, measuring time but above all, measuring our own abstractions. When we are stuck behind a slow driver, we become frustrated because we are measuring not only against our arrival time, but also against the times the experience of driving this same stretch of road did not have delays. This is abstraction in process - the recognition of a problem is a mental abstraction, but so to is the comparison of other times driving but also whether we will be late and other problems later on. This creates new feelings - such as unhappy at being frustrated, concern at being late, fear of being told off for being late and so on. When we are aware of these feelings, we start to abstract and measure these too.
    • The relevance of this is all down to the point that this measuring occurs all the time and it is when we measure in this way and start abstracting, we become frustrated, annoyed, unhappy and all the other undesirable feelings.
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    Consider why we place such great importance on our abstractions. Our abstractions cover our day to day life, but is also central in business, family, spiritual and all other aspects of life. In consequence, they form, supplement and reinforce all our ideas and abilities to act in life. The catch however is that when we take them too seriously and place too much relevance on them, then they fall into the same pattern as before that the more important they are to us, the more protective and insecure we become and more afraid and hurt when something undesirable happens.
    • The dynamic nature of abstraction and measurement creates a separating effect. When we distinguish ourselves from the experience, we are no longer in the experience itself, as we have these measurements and experiences in between us and the experience. Eventually, we build a wall of ideas and beliefs which can give us a sense of security, but at the same time limit our capacity to act creatively and directly, but when we not only value our ideas but that sense of security it's a double hit as we become more protective of them.
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    Consider how you can act to resolve a problem. As these mental processes exist for good reason, the complication arises when we use the tools the wrong way. Just like when using a rolling pin to mow the grass is the wrong tool for the job, measurement and abstractions being our identity, our memories, points of view and values can get in the way of experiencing life fully. In essence, a person can only rise above day to day problems when the relevance is no longer there. Generally speaking, people let go of thoughts and feelings all the time. They have an idea to go shopping, to clean the windows, to mow the lawn etc, but when life gets in the way we don't experience any unhappiness when the original plan was not critical to us. The skill lies in being aware not only when you are separating yourself from the experience, but also become aware that its more practical to use the knowledge as knowledge and not knowledge as an abstraction.

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Categories: Philosophy and Religion