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I'm looking for a word to describe when you are aware that something is real, however because you've never experienced said-thing firsthand, the thought of the thing seems like an abstract concept even though you are aware that it is very much real.

FOR EXAMPLE: I'm aware that genocide is occurring right now in other countries. However, because I don't live somewhere where I need to worry about genocide, genocide just seems like a intangible concept.

EXAMPLE 2: Despite my awareness of cancer, cancer has always just been a ________ to me because my family has never been effected by the disease.

Concept, idea, abstract, notion, are all close to the word but not what I'm looking for. Anything will help! Thank you!

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    theoretical possibility? – deadrat Sep 5 '15 at 1:52
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I'd use hypothetical:

  • Supposed but not necessarily real or true:

  • a hypothetical circumstance, condition, scenario, or situation:

    • OK, let's consider this possibility then—just as a hypothetical.

The Free Dictionary

  • EXAMPLE 2: Despite my awareness of cancer, cancer has always just been hypothetical (a hypothesis) to me because my family has never been effected by the disease.
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unfathomable (not able to be completely understood; incomprehensible - Random House)

Genocide has always been unfathomable.

hasn't hit home

Despite my awareness of cancer, it hasn't hit home.

not concrete

Despite my awareness of cancer, it has never been concrete to me because my family has never been affected by the disease.

not conceivable

Despite my awareness of cancer, it has never been concrete to me because my family has never been affected by the disease.

Also, I haven't understood what's wrong with abstract and abstraction, which seem to me to fit perfectly both of your examples:

I have only an abstract understanding of genocide.

Genocide has been a mere abstraction to me.

  • +1, especially for getting "abstract/ion" back on the table (or at least trying to). In my opinion it would also work well as an adjective in a two [multi]-word answer, such as "[just an] abstract possibility" (just as you've used it with "understanding"). (cc: @Emily ) – Papa Poule Dec 14 '15 at 23:05
  • @PapaPoule - I guess we could also say abstract appreciation of.... – aparente001 Dec 18 '15 at 5:21
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"an unrealistic threat" seems to fit.

  • "Cancer has always been an unrealistic threat to me because no one in my family has ever been affected by the disease."

also: genocide seems like an unrealistic tragedy.

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