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Levels of abstraction

 

Disciplines > Communication > Theory > Levels of abstraction

Object | Experiences | Concepts | See also

 

There are three levels at which we may communicate about things: object, experience and concept. As we go up the levels of abstraction, ideas increase and reality recedes.

1. Object

At the 'object' level, we talk about tangible material things, many of which we can touch and pick up. The truth of an object is independent of people (unless, of course, you are an existentialist). It exists whether we are there or not.

2. Experiences

At the experience level, we talk about the experiences we have had. This now has the abstraction of interpretation. However, it is still very real to us, at least.

When two people talk about a common experience, they refer to the same objects, but may have different feelings about them. This is a common source of conversation, interest and maybe conflict, as we often expect others to have the same experiences as us.

3. Concepts

At the conceptual level of communication, we talk about ideas and thoughts we have had. Concepts include our beliefs, values and schemas. These are internal constructions that are abstracted away from reality, although we often mistake them to be that reality they represent.

Words are effectively concepts in the way they are little packets of meaning by which we try to communicate. Concepts can be accepted or rejected, however and the same word may be interpreted differently by different people.

When I listen to your experience, I receive it as a concept and hence can evaluate it and put my own interpretation on it. When we communicate, much of what we say is conceptual, which is one reason why communication is so difficult.

See also

Signal response 

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