Concrete thinking and Abstract thinking could be the the two types of thinking that we do. Concrete thinking is very specifically related to concrete objects or reality; abstract thinking is beyond the here and now, beyond what is directly perceived. Most of our thought process would have elements of both these types. It is not that education or something else give us this, but we get it in the process of growing up. Surely our surroundings, education, work etc determines how much percentage each one accounts for in our lives. Here I am more interested to speak on abstract thinking.
Children observe things and learn, which is concrete thinking. After a certain age, they slowly pick up the art of abstract thinking. Depending on how much it is encouraged and appreciated, they pick up the art of it. Many of the school subjects require abstract thinking, and not a proper development happening in the children could hamper their ability to do certain types of subjects. We could see abstract thinking in mathematics. An extremely different type of abstract thinking is seen in arts too. So it is wrong to make a claim that abstraction is the birth-right of mathematicians or scientists, but artists, linguists and philosophers use it. Even normal people use it. And it is not just the tradition of the modern period. When we read some texts of Indian Philosophy, we will find extremely high degree of abstraction.
Employers use abstract thinking based questions in the interviews for the prospective candidates. Parents tell stories to the children, which is a way of helping them understand some abstract concepts too via concrete stories. Instead of just studying facts or opinions alone, we have a lot of prose and poems with abstract thinking. Why it is given importance?
- It helps to connect things. Concept of humanity helps to connect between humans.
- It helps to makes rules and regulations without our biases interfering too much;
- It helps to perceiving analogies. Without this, knowledge about unknown or unseen things are not possible.
- Why questions help each one of us to find a satisfying answer to important issues of life, especially the meaning and purpose questions. It is very difficult to answer them only with concrete thinking.
- It has helped in the growth of science and all the facilities we enjoy are a direct fruit of it.
- It has helped in the growth of religion, art, literature and architecture.
We should make all attempts to develop abstract thinking. Whenever you study abstract subjects or when you gather abstract thoughts, the question is what is the immediate use of it. The growth of humanity is the testimony for the use and meaning of it.
When I say this, I don’t wish to avoid concrete thinking. We should be able to strike that delicate intricate balance unique for all of us, that we are grounded and flying.