What is an abstraction?
Colloquially, we use something like ‘concept’ in our everyday life when we talk about an abstraction. An abstraction is a way to describe a low-level system using a high-level summary, by throwing away lots of irrelevant information. This way, we can describe a complex system using a smaller representation.
John Wentworth gives the example of a computer, which is described on a low-level using an accurate description of all the electrons flowing through its chips. But as it turns out, we can well abstract from this low-level system by tracking voltages across it. We throw away lots of irrelevant information (the exact position of electrons) and substitute it, by tracking voltages.
Formally, an abstraction is a function F of a low-level system X, thus .
Source: Chan, L., Lang, L. and Jenner, E. (no date) ‘Natural Abstractions: Key claims, Theorems, and Critiques’. Available at: https://www.alignmentforum.org/posts/gvzW46Z3BsaZsLc25/natural-abstractions-key-claims-theorems-and-critiques-1 (Accessed: 19 March 2023).