I’ve observed abstraction both in the movement from assembly language to high-level coding frameworks and in the human upgrade from chiseled stone to steel tools. In all cases, abstracting principles and moving to higher-order thinking enables progressive leaps forward.
Changing the basis for a decision can affect an entire discussion. In some ways, those who figure out the end are more powerful than the best of those who design the means.
But so many times we live exclusively in a world of means. We don’t stop to divine the ends, or even move up the systems-thinking chain. Answers to intractable questions may be available laterally. When people see such answers, they often call them the results of creativity. They don’t realize that creativity is only the result of a habit of mind.
So what makes abstraction into progress?
Completion of the abstraction is one factor. If the abstraction is mostly complete it can be useful. But it can’t allow the freedom and comfort of giving our minds entirely to the higher-order frame of mental reference. Though being able to mentally scale referent frames may be the habit of a strong, creative mind, it’s better for progress that the abstraction be completed and society function at the new, higher level.
Critical mass, support, and surrounding infrastructure are also part of the picture. The pace of change cannot be too fast, or the ecosystem that surrounds the abstraction will choke it off.
What else am I missing?