Levels of Abstraction

by Dwayne Phillips

What are you talking about? What level of abstraction are you discussing?

There are levels of abstraction. A car moves me from here to there. A car has an engine, a transmission, wheels, and fuel. An engine has spark plugs and belts and hoses. A spark plug has a housing, insulator, and electrodes. These are levels of abstraction. If someone asks me about a car, I should probably not first discuss the electrodes on the spark plug.

This is pretty obvious, right? Obvious is in the eye of the beholder.

Let’s convey information better. What level do you wish to understand? Let’s decide on the level before beginning the discussion. Let’s just discuss that level. While discussing a level, we may wander to one level above and one level below to enhance understand. No more, however, than one level. We don’t jump from an engine to insulators. We don’t jump from a system to which scheduling package we are using in software. That is a jump of several levels.

Let’s keep it simpler. Note, we cannot always keep it simple, but we can choose to keep it simpler and improve understanding for everyone.


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Dwayne Phillips

Engineer, computing, consulting, writing, teaching, and a few other things in an effort to make us all better and smarter.