Humans are the only beings that use Abstractions for every aspect of their life. Most beings operate on their carnal instincts — Food, Procreation and Shelter. Humans on the other hand have created abstraction layers on top of these.
A group of people creates food and another transports it. While each animal has to hunt, it is no more the duty of every human to grow/hunt for food. Instead we have created Money as an abstraction layer over food (and every other thing for that matter).
Food has stopped being just food. There are cuisines — Italian, Indian, Oriental. There are diets — Atkins, Paleolithic… Apart from well cooked food we also have, medium and rare cook meats.
Eating is no more just for nutrition (actually it is no more for nutrition). Dining is an experience in itself. Are we going Fine Dining today? Are you up for 1 Dollar Sushi? Is it a wine tasting party? Are we barbecuing ?
Procreation has many euphemisms. Making love, dating, seeing people, taking someone out, hooking up… There is a complete process for choosing our mate. Some people arrange a marriage, others fall in love, some take divorce, and some have extra marital affairs.
In any case there are layers of abstraction over the simple activity of procreation. These layers just like the food example are there for adding flavor to the banal activity of reproduction. This flavor is what we call meaning.
Shelter similarly has all the layers on top of it (metaphorically). Whether it is interior decoration or it is the industry of real estate. There are wrappers on top of wrappers.
What do these abstractions do?
These layers of abstraction let us exercise our imagination.
Imagination to dream up of modes of entertainment like Movies, Novels, Comics etc. Imagination to exercise this body — sports, Olympics, Gyms etc. Imagination to set up Laws to move (traffic laws), to punish, to get married, to settle conflicts etc. Imagination to draw up borders, build bridges, construct maps etc. Imagination to construct languages, technologies, subjects of study etc.
On top of basic needs we created simple mechanisms to enjoy the primal instincts. When these mechanisms started going out of control (overeating, forced sex, homelessness) we created Law and Order on top of that to control ourselves.
Then we appointed some people to control other people. To establish the credibility of these power exercising people we created Validations — Schools, colleges, certifications etc. We segregated professions so that some people work towards healing others, some towards mending broken things and some towards exploring science.
All this imagination was the result of a big brain in humans.
A bigger human brain meant that a human can think up of complex ways of solving his/her problems than any other being.
It is this imagination that has led us to set up the most elaborate of systems of functioning — Society. All these abstractions let us function as a high performance individual in Society.
While it seems intuitive that these abstractions are what keep humans on top of the food chain, it is quite tricky to observe that a lot of misery stems out of the breakdown of these.
Why do abstractions break down?
Layers of abstractions lead up to assumptions. There is an assumption involved with every kind of abstraction. Look at an average person’s routine below and figure out the assumptions.
We wake up using an alarm clock (Assuming the roof won’t collapse/ your partner won’t kill you in your sleep). Our transport is taken care of (Assuming the following work — Laws, Technologies like Uber & Tesla, Science of Engines, Economy of cars). We go to the workplace (Assuming that we have a role in the food chain. Assuming our job still exists. Assuming that they will pay money at the end of the month). We come back from workplace and participate in family activities fully accepting the structures of a family/relationships (Assuming that your family loves you and needs you).
The path from a thought (Premise) to an action (Conclusion) is replete with small bridges called Assumptions.
All these assumptions seem intuitive. This is where it starts to break down. Assumptions play the role of freeing up our mind from needless worries. Assumptions help us do what we really want to do without bothering about the actions of other people.
Assumptions behave like curse words. They are used extensively for the expression of our thought and we don’t even actively remember using them.
Assumptions are everywhere. Every misunderstanding, expectation, belief system and vision is based on assumptions.
Your partner won’t leave you is an assumption
Your health will remain perfect is an assumption
Your friends will always match up to your expectation is an assumption
Money is important is an assumption
The root cause of all misery is the breakdown of these assumptions. Whenever some layer of abstraction falters it violates the underlying assumption. This is the genesis of sadness. Every cause of misery can be traced down to the shattering of some assumption (and some abstraction layer).
Breakup — The assumption that you are the perfect partner for the other person (Procreation)
Job Loss — The assumption that you will be valued solely by your credentials(Shelter)
Death — The assumption that everything in life has to make sense(Food)
Car Accident — The assumption that everyone follows traffic rules(Shelter)
What we don’t account for in our day to day life is the fact that at the end of the day we are animals living in an absurd world. There is a lot of absurdity in our lives. In an attempt to give meaning to human life and to drive humanity forward we have created structures.
What we forget is that these structures can and will breakdown at multiples junctures throughout life. And when they do we encounter a lot of sadness and misery.
What is to be done then?
Advocating the renunciation of these structures is useless. Without all the rules and structures a human can easily go mad. What can be done though is to always remember that we are functioning on assumptions. We should always try to deconstruct the assumptions on which we and others around us operate. We should try to understand and challenge the assumptions.
Assumptions are a necessary evil but not challenging these assumptions blinds our creativity.
We just need to remember that every claim has an assumption. Figuring it out not only gives insight into the minds of people making the assumption but it also lets you analyze your life from an unbiased perspective.