Can someone explain what abstract reasoning is to me?



and how its related to iq.

In: Other

Some people learn like building a brick wall. They remember things very well and follow steps one at a time.

Other people learn like a web. They can guess pretty well at what is missing between two ideas. They can make those abstract connections.

They can see patterns and understand what the next step in that pattern is.

People who completely lack that ability tend to struggle.

It’s basically the ability to generalize. The difference between the sentences “If I throw a rock at a window, it will break.” and “If I throw a hard and heavy object at a rigid but fragile object, it will break.” is that the latter is more abstract. Ability to think in abstract terms allows one to apply their experiences to different situations, which contributes to their overall intelligence.

It’s the ability to see patterns and not just memorizing the end result.

Imagine having to learn 10 maths questions for class. You have the 10 questions that will be in the class test and you know they will come in a certain order.

Some people will just learn the answers and the order. Abstract thinkers will learn the actual principle behind them.

This way if the order changes the latter will be good but the former will fail.

This happens more in life than you think.

Med student here. A psych test we use to test abstract thinking in dementia patients: what is meant by “don’t judge a book by its cover”?

Being able to take an example and extract an underlying pattern that you can see in other areas of life is an example of abstract thinking. The opposite of that would be concrete thinking, which would be taking an idiom like the one above and interpreting it literally.

There is a great scene in South Park where scientists were trying to figure something out and there was this massive wall of math calculations and ~~Wendy~~ Heidi looked at it and asked whether they thought a couple of statements were out of order. They realized she was right and she explained she had no idea what anything actually meant so she replaced it with things she did know about and applied the same logic and found that in her abstraction the sentences were out of order. Even though she didn’t what it meant, she saw the logical problem anyway. That is abstraction and it is something humans do very well.

If you ever learn computer science the idea of abstraction starts right away, it is the idea that your can ‘put a box around’ something and instead of learning the exact mechanics of how that box works, you learn how that box interacts with the larger system. Essentially abstraction lets us ‘know enough’ to make good decisions without knowing everything. Understanding how abstractions can lead you astray is the true genius.

If Timmy says he is good at abstract reasoning, what he means is he is good at seeing the ‘big picture’, is able to conceptualize complex ideas, detect relationships between ideas, and probably learns new skills quickly.

If Timmy asked me a lot of questions, and one day I showed him how to google “what is abstract reasoning” and if tomorrow instead of him asking me something, he asked google. It would mean that he understood that google could provide an answer for his questions (ABSTRACT) and is not ONLY used for the specific question “what is abstract reasoning?”

It’s about understanding the point over the example. Your ability to gauge context, inference.

I’ve heard it explained (don’t remember where) is that it comes down to how you handle novelty.

For a 5 year old: you could definitely show them how to use a measuring cup to make a recipe. If they then used a bucket with sand or water in it to measure the volume of something else, that would be intelligence. They learn the skill and application and then can *abstractly* see how it could be used or important in another situation.

Same for verbal IQ, I think. A 5 year old could listen to an adult use a pun and see people respond with laughter. Intelligence would be not only understanding the connection of the pun, but also recognizing it when she comes across one in something she’s saying or even if she sees one that she could make in the course of normal conversation and then uses it to try to make others laugh. The abstraction is that it’s not only that the one pun is funny, but that they are all potentially funny and can be used to connect with others through humor.

An example I have that often makes me and my girlfriend clash is if we both have to learn a new word for university she goes about it by writing the definition on a flash card and testing herself over and over to see if she can remember it word for word whereas I’d rather just have the concept explained to me or hear it in a sentence I don’t think the word for word definition is important or even that helpful

Computers are a great example of successive layers of abstraction:

1. A bunch of atoms interacting according to the laws of physics

2. A bunch of circuits with current switching on and off

3. A bunch of 0s and 1s being stored and processed

4. A bunch of code being executed and data being input/output

5. A program making a bunch of pixels light up

6. A cat video you can watch

All of those are descriptions of the same process, but they get more and more abstract as you go down the list. The idea behind abstraction is you can ignore the fine details of how something works, and just focus on what you can do with it.

You don’t need to get a degree in semiconductor physics in order to use your computer to browse the internet, because all of those details have been abstracted away and you can focus on the big picture of what its capabilities are in terms of things you easily understand.

In the Sherlock Holmes stories you have two characters, Sherlock and Mycroft who are brothers.

Sherlock can see a single piece of evidence, such as a callous on a particular part of someone’s particular finger, and determine they must be a habitual pipe smoker because the heat of the bowl, when held, warms that particular part of that particular finger.

That is deductive reasoning. If you have enough background knowledge, you can say that event b is directly caused by event a.

Mycroft, on the other hand, worked backwards from that. If you told him that pipe tobacco sales increased, he could tell you a) all the social and financial aspects that must have led to such an increase as well as b) all the health ramifications of such an increase as were known at the time, down to the percentage increase of men with callouses on their fingers.

a) Is abstract reasoning. b) is deductive reasoning.

This is why Mycroft is sometimes referred to as “Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother.”

Think about a dog.

What kind of dog did you think of? A lot of people think of golden retrievers, but there are a lot of dog breeds. You might have even been thinking of a specific dog.

“Dog” is an abstract concept. It just means a particular kind of animal, and we have to use more specific words like “terrier” to describe specifics. We call those “concrete” ideas.

People who are good at abstract reasoning are good at thinking about things like how “dog” is different from “the big red dog named Clifford”. And when they think like that, they also might note how Elmo, a red muppet, is *kind of similar* to a big red dog in that they’re both red things. “Red things” is an abstract thought. Fire engines are often red, so now we’re thinking about those. And apples. And so on.

We consider people who are good at abstract reasoning to be smarter because they tend to be able to solve complex problems with it. When they look at the problem, they know the solution is “something that does X”. So they start to reason, “What are things that do that?” A less abstract person can only solve problems if they have experiences that teach them how.


Suppose I ask two people to explain how to boil water with an assortment of household items in front of them. A tea kettle or a pot is the “best” answer. But what if I didn’t give them one?

A person who thinks abstractly might note I’ve included a glass bowl and some candles. That’s a heat source and something that can hold water, which is *like* a stove and a pot. So that *could* maybe boil some water. A person who does not think abstractly might never notice. To them, you need a stove and a pot and they see neither so they’re stuck.

That’s why abstract thinking is useful for problem solving. Once you describe what you want, you can start thinking about things that are *like* what you want and some combination of those things are probably a solution. If you can’t think through abstraction very well, you can only solve problems you’ve been taught how to solve, which is still useful but not *as* useful.

Abstract thought is thinking about something that isn’t in front of you, and possibly hasn’t ever been in front of you. So, you learn what a chair is by being around them – seeing them, sitting in them, moving one around. That’s concrete thought, its how we learn as babies.

The first time we use the word “chair”, we’ve used a symbol to represent the thing that is a chair – that’s basic abstraction. We learn to do that in toddlerhood when we learn language / to talk.

From there, learning to read, to see a photo or a drawing of a chair are additional layers of abstraction. From there, we can take what we know about chairs and think about different types of chairs, including chairs we’ve never seen or sat in before.

Eventually, around the time we’re teenagers, we can think about chairs in settings we’ve never been in – a chair for a spaceship without gravity, for example. That’s when you’re getting into pure abstraction.

It’s your ability to take pieces from different puzzles and put them together to make new images.

If you were able to read that sentence and understand that I wasn’t referring to physical puzzle pieces – that is also abstract reasoning.

Abstract reasoning is considered to be part of executive functioning (found in the pre frontal cortex of the brain) which is considered to be the higher order thinking part of the brain.

Abstract reasoning means you can think about concepts more broadly rather than very literal and specific interpretations. For example – if I ask you what’s the similarity between a bike and a bus, you might say that they’re both means of transport. When you don’t have abstract reasoning the typical answer is that they’ve both got wheels. You’re able to identify what the idea or concept is.

Thus abstract reasoning plays a critical part of learning, because you’re able to apply concepts to different situations, even if you are unfamiliar with it – eg you can appreciate that a train is also a mode of transport even if you’ve never seen one before

Think about how some people are _really_ good at analogies. They’re able to find hidden connections between two contrasting subjects.

– “Abstract” implies you’re taking a different approach to a thought.

– “Reasoning” implies you’re using it to build understanding of the original idea.

Using abstract reasoning, we’re able to take complex concepts and relate it to something that we’re used to seeing.

Many intelligent people LOVE to use analogies in teaching to express an idea/concept to a crowd. Which is why IQ tests look for people’s ability to think differently for better understanding.