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This lesson describes reification, which is the tendency for individuals to ascribe a definitive value or form to an abstract concept. It is also the brain’s ability to ”fill-in-the-blanks” when visual information is missing.

What Is Reification?

Reification is the tendency for individuals to ascribe a definitive value or form to an abstract concept. It is perceiving or regarding something other than for what it was originally intended. Reification can also refer to the brain’s ability to fill in the blanks when visual information is missing. This process also assigns meaning to abstract or visual images that do not actually exist.

Fallacy in Concrete Thinking

Reification can occur in one of two ways. The first is known in psychology as a fallacy in concrete thinking. This occurs when an abstract belief or concept is treated as if it was tangible or real.

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The fallacy is the process of assigning a psychological property to an object as if it had its own capabilities.An example of this would be the phrase ‘you can’t fool Mother Nature.’ The phrase treats nature as a real person, even though we know that it’s not. Another example would be the phrase ‘fighting for justice.

‘ We would understand that it is an adage for putting a lot of time and effort into making sure a situation is right or fair. However, it could be misconstrued as fighting for a person named ‘Justice.’In both these examples, there’s no real confusion going on. We understand, of course, that nature isn’t a real person, just like we understand that we’re discussing justice. This form of reification is not confusion for what is real and what is not, but the abstraction of language into tangible understanding.

The Gestalt Effect

Another form of reification is the Gestalt Effect, which is essentially the visual recognition of figures as whole forms instead of a series of lines and curves. The human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts, which contributes to the famous Gestalt phrase: ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Take a look at this image.

Reification Orb

At first, the spikes appear to be poking out of a white ball. However, if you look again it is simply a series of spikes drawn in a white area. Because of the specific shape of the black arrows, your brain is filling in the white space with a ball that’s not there.

This form of reification is a construction or generative perception where an object is perceived as having more spatial information than is actually present in the original stimulus.

Reification Square

Here’s another example.

In this white square, just like the orb from earlier, reification gives the illusion of details that are not there. Our minds fill in the gap for the outline of a white square.

Mental Models

So why does reification happen? One of the reasons is our tendency to rely on mental models for understanding our surroundings. A mental model is the thought process about how something works in the real world.

It represents the relationships between things and a person’s perception about actions and consequences.Our minds often work to fit what we see or hear into familiar patterns that match pre-existing mental models. We see or understand things that may not actually exist because our minds helpfully, but falsely, recognizes familiar patterns. Put differently, our brains use reification to help us understand new things by conforming ideas to our existing understanding of the world.

Lesson Summary

Reification can refer to either a person’s tendency to ascribe a definitive value or form to an abstract concept or to the brain’s tendency to fill gaps in visual information. There are two principle types of reification: the fallacy in concrete thinking and the Gestalt effect. Fallacies in concrete thinking occur when we treat abstract beliefs or concepts as tangible or real objects. This kind of reification can be seen in many figures of speech, such as ‘fighting for justice’ or ‘you can’t fool mother nature.

‘ The Gestalt effect is more associated with our visual perception. It refers to the visual recognition of figures as whole forms instead of a series of lines and curves.Both of these types of reification result from our alliance on mental models to create structures for understanding our surroundings.

Our minds work to fit new information, especially if it’s strange or complex, into preexisting or familiar patterns, giving rise to these kinds of verbal and visual illusions.

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