Generalization is the process of proceeding from the specific to a generality. Generalization is the opposite of specialization which is easy to say but harder to describe. Though it is a little harder to describe, our minds are organized to do it implicitly to organize information. Generalization is the process of proceeding from several special cases to a more general one.

In an information sense we remove attributes that identify the special cases retaining the attributes that describe the class of things which contain the special cases. Another way to say what generalization is, is to ask what do all the things in a group have in common.


One thing that we do to simplify our lives, is called generalization. The reverse of generalization is specialization. These are logical operations that allow us to reason from examples.

Here is a thought exercise. Imagine your favorite tree. Mine is a willow tree in our back yard when I was 5. Now imagine another tree. Mine is a maple in my back yard today. Now think of them together. I can't really superimpose them, though they are both large. And there it was, the leap. I categorized the trees by size. I set aside interesting differences and collected the similarities.

This prioritization of properties or attributes is generalization. We are discovering treeness or what it is to be a tree. Trees have a characteristic trunk. Trees are bigger than bushes generally, though there is some confusing overlap.

People do this implicitly. In the worst case it is called prejudice. One of the better forms is called discernment.

A sloppy way to think of it, is to put things in a group and give it a label. Prejudice is when we too hastily place something in the wrong group.

A systems engineer must carefully choose his attributes and quantify their value ranges. Getting the attributes wrong will cause the product to miss markets. Getting the values of the attributes wrong may result in a design that is impossible to reify.

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