I didn't say I don't understand any abstract things. I know few but I'm hardly to understand until there's instance of that abstract thing.

For simple example, a "line segment" in geometry term is actually not exist in this universe because there's no things with such thickness. But we can assume a pencil is the instance of "line segment" because it's how similar shape and pencil exist in this universe.

This will lead me hardly to understanding abstract things that their instances never exist in universe.

So how do you learn/understand something abstract easily without know the instance or abstract things that the instance never exist in universe?

We know math is the mother of abstract things.

  • Abstract things never exist in the universe. They always exist in the mind. In some way, even concrete things exist only in the mind (e.g. how can a mountain exist for any other beings that have no human brains? )
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 14:41
  • @RodolfoAP Sorry I edited my question, I mean abstract thing where there's no instance that fit with it. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 14:43
  • What is society? We only know particular societies. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:07
  • What is money? We only know particular currencies. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


This is a weakness in human thinking, but one which we have a need to overcome. YES -- we almost always initially understand concepts with physical examples, which we then try to generalize.

The essence of having a philosophic mindset, is to try to identify the hidden walls of the boxes that we think within, explore those walls, and then deliberately decide whether to continue to work with those walls or not. Learning to think about abstractions without having physical examples is a skill that philosophers (and theoretical physicists) need to cultivate.

A suggested starting point -- take a page of a dictionary, and think about the ideas presented there. Here is an example: http://i0.wp.com/olddesignshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/OldDesignShop_DictionaryPageParty.jpg

Partake is not an object, it is a social activity which is generalized. You can't point to a pencil or other inert object. Thinking thru "partake" will help a lot.

Partial, as defined here, is solely an attitudinal description, and the attitude may not even be conscious. That will help a lot to consider as well.

Participate is another generalized social concept, and another interesting part of its generalization is that one starts thinking in terms of humans in a social situation, but "participant" can be analogously applied to all sort of other things. A log in my fireplace is a participant in creating a fire. A locking bar for a sliding glass door is a participant in securing my home from unwelcome entry.

Participle -- you will not find ANY physical examples for this abstract concept. Examples solely exist in the abstract realm of language rules.

Train your mind to think about abstractions.

  • instance and physical example are different. Instances of abstract things are not always physical. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 17:12
  • @MuhammadIkhwanPerwira -- We start learning language from point/say physical examples, then social instances, with increasing levels of abstraction. Yes, your questions notes you are mostly stuck at instances, not physical, but the process of getting from physical to ultimately purely abstract thinking can be seen as a series of training steps on a continuum. You are part way there, and how to proceed can be extrapolated from the prior steps you have mastered.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 17:35

Abstraction means removing characteristics. You start with a group of items and concentrate on a unifying characteristic (or a small number of such), while disregarding the other characteristics.

At the same time you must idealize to some extent.

Consider your example of a line segment. You start with a lot of examples of things that are long and thin. You concentrate on the long-and-thin characteristic and disregard the other characteristics. You idealize it to arbitrarily thin or even as a limit of approaching zero thickness.

So you have a pencil, a ruler, a string held very tight, and so on. You draw a line with the pencil, and then declare that you are disregarding the finite thickness. You are also disregarding the finitely accurate straightness of the line you drew. Then you develop a mathematical representation that, in a specific model, has length but zero width.

The reason we do this is because we can manipulate the abstract characteristics according to relatively simple rules. This comes at the expense of ignoring the (hopefully small) inaccuracies that result from the idealizations. A pencil's finite width will mean that it does not behave precisely as a line segment. But for many purposes it will be quite close. And that is the power of an abstract thought.

It is also the source of one of the hazards, in that you may get inaccurate results because of a poor idealization.

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