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The Origin of Abstract Thinking

  • When people are connected with new people by a new tool of communication, their brains automatically try to find something to communicate to each other, just like two strangers meeting at a cocktail party try to find something to talk about.
  • Strangers converse even if and when they have nothing in common and nothing to converse about.
  • Strangers who get connected try and create a context in which they can converse.
  • This usually requires a higher level of abstraction: you discuss the road construction or the postman's shirt with a neighbor, but not with a complete stranger who lives in another city, with whom, instead, you may discuss high-speed trains or sports or foreign affairs.
  • The higher level of abstraction can go either way: a very superficial discussion (e.g., road constructions are annoying, postmen are weird, etc) or a very intellectual discussion (e.g., the railways of China, the world order, etc).
  • The less related our lives are, the higher the level of abstraction at which our brains have to operate in order to find a common context to converse.
  • Interacting with random strangers is more useful for abstract thinking than interacting with close friends, no matter how smart and knowledgeable our friends are.
  • Abstract thinking may have originated precisely when primitive tribes started interacting with strangers of other tribes. E.g., hunting is not an interesting concept when everybody around you does it and does it exactly like you do it; but, if you meet someone who doesn't hunt or hunt in a completely different manner, then you need a concept of hunting in order to converse with him about hunting.