41 Activity – Level of Abstraction

What’s your favorite Harry Potter story?

How you answer this question depends on how abstractly you think of the category of “Harry Potter story.” Here are some possible answers:


  1. “My grandmother gave me Deathly Hallows as a birthday present and because it is my favorite Harry Potter story, I re-read the book a lot. I keep it on the top of my bookcase”
  2. “Our reading teacher suggested to my class that we all read Deathly Hallows over the summer and I really liked it, so it is my favorite Harry Potter story.”
  3. “My favorite Harry Potter story is Deathly Hallows. I saw it at the movies with my friends.”
What’s is the level of abstraction of these answers? What properties of “Harry Potter story” are considered or NOT considered by each answer?

Before you look at the explanation below, now that you have been studying the difference between the SAME THING and the SAME TYPE OF THING,  think back to the activity where you analyzed different types of libraries.  A seed library isn’t exactly like a library that lends books because the seeds that are returned are the children of the seeds that were borrowed.   But since the returned seeds are the same type as the ones that were borrowed, a seed library functions like a book library.

The more you practice your organizing skills, the more often you will see these “Santa” or “Harry Potter” questions come up, and you’ll have to decide about the level of abstraction of the resources you organize.

Answer #1 is the narrowest way to define the “Harry Potter story” category. The category has only one member, the specific book that you got as a present from your grandmother. Answer #2 treats all of the copies of Deathly Hallows that students read as equivalent; perhaps the students all borrowed the book from the school library, which has many copies of it because is it very popular.  Answer #3 is the most abstract definition of “Harry Potter story” because it doesn’t consider the format of the story and would consider book and movie versions as members of the same category.

Does the level of abstraction in how you think about Harry Potter matter? Suppose you have an assignment to write a report about your favorite Harry Potter book? Do you think your teacher would like it if they found out that you didn’t read a book but wrote about a movie you watched?

In the next two chapters you will learn some new concepts and skills that will help you decide about the level of abstraction of categories you create.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

"The Discipline of Organizing" for Kids Copyright © 2022 by Robert J Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book