Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

River of Abstractions

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

River of Abstractions

Article excerpt

"USE THE ABSTRACTING PROCESS," I instruct the class, "to explain how I can spot a student doodling and only pretending to take notes." "Map-makers," they inform me, "select information from the environment based on the context of the situation, their state of mind, and their evaluation of what seems most important." I like this explanation, because it shows that they HAVE taken notes, and because it identifies some critical elements of abstracting. To take them deeper into the process, I ask them to enter a "river" of abstractions.

I give them one minute to map the territory of the classroom. They must use their senses to pay attention to the stimuli around them. After exactly sixty seconds of "quiet," they report what they noticed.

"I heard the clock humming."

"I could taste the coffee I had for breakfast -- ugh!"

"I noticed that Jen had her hair cut."

Other students comment on the light streaming through the windows, the colors in the curtains, the feel of the chairs, and the sounds of the heating system. One student swears she heard the Marine Hymn whistled in the hallway.

"So, why hadn't you abstracted this information before?" One of my brightest says that she chose to pay attention to me and thus neglected the other stimuli. The wise class nods in agreement.

"Does this mean you COULD have abstracted all of these other pieces of information, but chose not to?" No. Position in the room influenced what they abstracted. Those in the back did not hear the clock. Only Paula could abstract the coffee taste in her mouth, though someone close to her might have smelled her breath. …

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