Abstraction and Simplicism

What is Abstraction

I am talking in terms of Computer Science of course. Abstraction in computer sciences picks out what is relevant. Separating the wheat from the chaff, Occam’s Razor, Bull without the Sh** … etc.

Abstraction has some strong roots in philosophy which must be credited to the question “what is reality?”. Try googling that and you will end up with answers from quantum physicists to psychologists to (probably me, hopefully this page) to philosophers (of course). Reality is a deeper question to answer than for this blog. But even among its discourse, there is a strong agreement that perception of reality is important in the how we know reality. Some say Reality is independent of our perception, others say it is not.

Abstraction is at the heart of practical computer science (and most engineering). As computer scientists or engineers, the important thing is how to abstract the important aspects of reality that will enable us to model problems so that we can solve them.

To give an example; when you buy a drink at a shop that costs 5-bucks, with a 10-buck note. You immediately know that you are expecting the shop owner to return a change of 5-bucks to you; or else hell will break loose. You have successfully done abstraction, even if you don’t know it yet. Here is how: You must have made a calculation like “10 minus 5 equals 5” in your head. Obviously the numbers are representing the money you are about to take out of your bank reserve. The number 10 is not same as your money 10-bucks, but given the circumstance the number 10 can be used to model/represent your money 10-bucks. In reality (plainly speaking), your 10-bucks has properties like the value of 10, a rectangular area, a volume (especially when u roll it), a weight (if you have that much) etc. but for the purpose of getting a drink, only the value 10 is important; that is abstraction.

The idea to take here is that simple abstractions are almost always certainly better. By simple I mean only what is necessary. In the example above, you could decide to remember that your 10-bucks note is rectangular, while calculating what your change will be, but trust me it is just a waste of brain power (which may actually be due to the lack of it). Simple abstractions are better.

What is Simplicism

Check a dictionary… and you may not find it, as I mean it here. For lack of a wider vocabulary, Simplicsim here is in contrast to “Simplistic” as in “neo-conservatives have a simplistic view of good and evil”. Simplicism is the ability to make a seemingly complex issue in to a simple one that solves the problem. I have come across people who do that and it is just impressive. I try to do it as much as I can too.

If you are the type of person who is likely to blame your parents for falling in a pothole (after falling) because they didn’t teach you how to jump, then you need simplicism in your life. If there was a Simplicism Angel or muse nearby, it will scream “JUMP” (may be not a good example).  I think simplicism can solve a lot of your day to day problems because it does not get too much in to details of a situation, just what it thinks is relevant (like u r responsible for jumping potholes). Here are a few everyday situations, what you might do without simplicism, and what the Simplicism Angel will ask you to do:


Without simplicism

Simplicism Angel says

Alarm goes off in the morning Hit snooze and add just 15 mins (which translates to 45 mins) Wake Up!
Got that paper to start reading The assignment is not due until next week, I can start in two days Get the paper, Start Reading!
I am supposed to call/email Adam May be later,(I hope) I will remember Call Adam!

If the simplicism angel were human, he/she will be considered dumb, shallow, not getting the whole picture, myopic, simplistic (of course, what do you expect) and someone who shouts a lot (all the exclamation marks in his/her statements).

You can come up with many situations where the simple answer is actually the more productive one; that is if you don’t have the Simplicism Angel shouting at you. But of course some situation, especially those that actively involve other people, do not apply; there’s good chance you will come out as plain “simplistic”.

How Abstraction and Simplicsm Relate

If your Situation is Reality, then the wise words of the Simplicism Angel is Abstraction; that is taking only the relevant details of a situation to achieve the immediate goal.

The Big Idea

Learn a lesson from Computer Science. If that is too techy, learn a lesson from the Simplicism Angel. If that is too spacey, do away with all the “crap” in situations that does not help much and get on with it. Now! preferably.



Filed under Computer Science and the World

3 responses to “Abstraction and Simplicism

  1. Great practical philosophy

  2. We can do scholarly work together to further develop and refine this philosophy.

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