Make your life more abstract

Life is complex but does it really need to be?

When you fly an airplane you’re more concerned with putting input into the controls to get some desired outcome rather than what is happening on the control surfaces. If you rotate the yoke left the plane banks to the left. Pull back and the plane pitches up.

Everything that happens on the control surfaces of the plane has been abstracted into a dozen or so knobs that sit in the cockpit. This means that, although you may have a general understanding of what happens on the wings that makes the plane bank, you don’t need a PhD in aerospace engineering to be a good pilot.

This is a good thing because if you needed to run around micromanaging the airplane while on final approach it would be far more difficult to land safely.

The level of abstraction allows for you to do more as a pilot.

As you read this right now you don’t need to think about breathing because, through millions of years of evolution, we’ve had breathing abstracted away to a little knob in our mind. That way when we are fighting or flighting we can focus on surviving.

Thank god.

Similarly, the economy is too complex for Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve to improve through direct action so they rely on abstraction. They lower the interest rates, which encourages people lend more, and economic activity increases. Through years of study they have identified the right knob to turn to create the desired output.

The economy, your body, and an airplane are complex systems and the antidote to complexity is abstraction. This is very familiar to anyone who writes software for a living.

“In software engineering and computer science, abstraction is a technique for managing complexity of computer systems. It works by establishing a level of complexity on which a person interacts with the system, suppressing the more complex details below the current level.” -Wikipedia

Abstraction isn’t just a computer thing though. It can be applied to everything in life.

Businesses are complex, but we create abstraction by finding metrics to track and manipulate. Raising kids is complex, so we create abstraction by hiring help. Keeping our body healthy is complex, so we abstract by eating the right things and exercising.

The more complex the system, the more critical it to find some way to abstract away the details.

What will you abstract next?