Abstract / Concrete


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Concrete                    -                      Abstract
Analogue                   -                       Digital


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People can identify a given action in many ways. Of particular interest is that act identifications vary in level of abstraction.

High-level identifications are abstract (e.g. becoming more cultured), lower-level identifications become more and more concrete (e.g. attending a ballet; listening to sounds and watching people move around while you sit quiet and still). Low-level identifications tend to convey a sense of "how" an activity is done; high-level ones tend to convey a sense of "why."

Although people drift upward and downward as circumstances change, there's also evidence that people differ in the levels they tend to maintain as they think about what they're doing. Some people report typically thinking of their actions in low-level terms; others typically think of their actions in high-level terms.

These differences are reflected in a variety of ways. For example, compared with high-level identifiers, low-level identifiers tend to be more impulsive and less planful or stable in their behaviour, consistent with the idea that they're especially vulnerable to cues implying different identifications.

[...] Emmons (1992) found evidence that people differ in levels of abstraction they characteristically use when reporting their personal strivings. Some people report strivings that are broad, abstract, and expansive. Others report strivings that are narrower, more concrete, and even superficial.

These tendencies are also reflected in moment-to-moment contruals of behaviours they're engaged in. When randomly paged and asked to report what they were doing, high-level strivers reported they were engaged in relatively high-level activities; low-level strivers reported they were engaged in relatively concrete actions.

[C.S. Carver & M.F. Scheier]
On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, p. 74-5, 79


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A high-level identifier is akin to a frame, or a grand-narrative.

In the absence of high-level story, behaviour becomes more diverse. The story imposes sense on those things nested within it; it orders them, providing direction, or 'rules'; it erects boundaries and classes certain things as off-limits.

In its absence, anything goes.

God is the ultimate high-level identifier. For believers, everything takes place under the omniscient eye of a higher-power: no action goes unseen.


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Another similarity between the Miller et al. (1960) statement and the Powers (1973a) model concerns the distinction between digital and analog processes and the idea that the two can work in concert within a system.

The Powers model is mostly analog in nature (i.e. both feedback and discrepancies are represented continuously and quantitatively). It deviates from that quality only at the program level, where behaviour is a digital process (i.e. a linear string of decisions).

In the same way, Miller et al. argued that "planning at the higher levels [equivalent to Powers's programs] looks like the sort of information-processing we see in digital computers, whereas the execution of the Plan at the lowest levels looks like the sort of process we see in analogue computers."

They went on to suggest that development of a skill is comparable to providing a digital-to-analog converter for the output of a digital machine. Thus, Miller et al. saw the two kinds of systems as compatible.

[C.S. Carver & M.F. Scheier]
On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, p. 76-7


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Related posts:-
The Pyramid
The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities)

1 comment:

  1. It all about the balance. It shows every where if we pay careful attention.

    Thanks for jotting this down.

    ReplyDelete