Monday, June 9, 2008

All About Abstractions

In one of the earlier posts you read that you can ask a series of questions about anything in life. Harsha gave an example of an electric fan, and how the questions boil down to "What is an electron?". And the answer to this question is: we don't know... we'd just blurt out the definition we had "rattofied" in sixth grade and have nothing to say after that...

Is this a "weakness" of the human race..? Being unable to answer such a fundamental question... something that is seen everywhere... computers, toasters, space shuttles, television screens, etc. Is it a weakness to attribute things we're unable to answer to some unseen force (and we can't even describe that "force"... :-| ).

Or is it the other way around? I think so. Being able to build productive things upon something we don't understand... its one of the biggest strengths of the humans.

Technically speaking, this is called "Abstraction" (reminds you of those dreaded Object Oriented Programming classes?!!). Abstraction is about building "black box" objects. You give the object some input, and you get the output. You don't need to know the internal details of the object. This is the "definition" of a black box object as in programming "theory". So how does this relate to real life you ask? I'll give you some examples.

A light bulb. You just plug it into the socket, and turn it on. You don't need to know the internal working of the bulb. If you wanted to go into the details, you could do down to multiple levels... deep into the actual working of the bulb:
1) The bulb has a tungsten filament that resists the flow of current. This produces light.
2) Electrons are flowing through... Maxwell's equations apply...
3) Electrons are made up of quarks, Maxwell's equations won't work for quarks... we need some new theory. (umm.. I made this one up)

But why go into all those details when you just want to light up your room, maybe even make it look a bit more beautiful (radiance? lumen?).

Another example, a television. You just turn it on and flick through channels. You don't apply Maxwell's equations to all the inductors and capacitors inside the TV. Neither do you say "The sound is 60dB above my normal level of listening... I'll just reduce it down exponentially". You simply say the volume is high, and reduce it till you're comfortable.

This reminds me of another example of abstraction... having the ability to speak is one of the biggest abstractions humans have developed naturally. The "High" in the previous example could be a 100dB or anything else... and it differs for everyone. And an even greater abstraction is: You produce some random "sound" from your vocal chords and the others are able to interpret that vibration of air as something meaningful.

Everything we do has something to do with abstraction: driving a car, switching on an AC, making a drawing. And this is due to the algebraic brain that the humans posses. Animals don't. Thats why they're the way they are.

So now you ask what this abstraction has to do with God or the "unseen force"? Well, God is just another abstraction (imho). Just as we have infinite faith in the Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism (they work everywhere), many people have faith in God. The only difference is, we've observed Maxwell's equations apply everywhere and thus "proved" it, while for God, we've been unable to "prove" Him...

Philosophy says "There is God". Technology agrees with philosophy completely, and quite blindly.

I'll tell you why. Technology is ultimately based on results from Nature itself... you do something, and see what happens. And based on these observations, you make laws (Maxwell.. V=iR, etc). Why those observations happen...? We do not know... They just, well, happen!

Maybe there's some lack of a sixth sense that prevents us from knowing why things happen the way they happen. All the simplicity and symmetry in the laws of nature continuously hint there is something... we just don't know it, or maybe we just can't comprehend it... Maybe we'll someday evolve. Then we'll have the capacity to know exactly what God "is".

But will we then have to build a new abstraction about how "God" was "made" or something we can't even think of right now?


Harsha Vardhan M.V said...

cool post liked the sentence
"God is just another abstraction ".
wish more people would understand that and help people around them rather than just blindly praying to some idol and not caring for the underprivilged

Utkarsh Sinha said...

thanks!! but I'm not sure about how the caring for the underprivileged came into the picture by God being an abstraction.. maybe this could be your next post!

but hey.. aren't you supposed to be in Bangalore right now..?

Harsha Vardhan M.V said...

ya when i made that comment i was in bangalore in mysore :)
yup my next post might be about that