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What's Up With Categories?
We categorize things CONSTANTLY- it's human nature- but is it at all concrete?
Ah yes, that wonderful ball of pink jelly that resides within our heads. I’m currently studying psychology in school (well, it’s a big part of my first major) and the question of categorization comes up a lot. There’s a funny anecdote that comes up a lot in philosophy. Socrates, who I’m sure needs no introduction, spoke of man as a “featherless biped”. Pretty succinct definition… we don’t have feathers and we walk on two legs! Well, another Greek philosopher named Diogenes (allegedly) plucked all the feathers from a chicken and said to Socrates,
“BEHOLD! A MAN!”
In another book I read about linguistics and game theory, the question came up again. If we took a tiger and shaved it; taught it to walk on two legs; made it a vegetarian; removed its canines; and taught it language (somehow)… would it still be a tiger? Maybe this is a question of when the tiger is no longer a tiger and something else?
Entire papers have been written on how we categorize things and what sort of mental concepts- known as schemas- we put together in our heads to construct the world. Even then it’s still different from person to person! Your generic tree is different than my generic tree. Furthermore, I’m only talking on a concrete level. What if we made it more abstract?
Autonomous driving is a very big “industry” at the moment, and philosophy really comes into play with these developments: specifically ethics. If a car is driving and is about to hit a dog, but to miss the dog it has to hit a person… what should it do?
What would you do?
I don’t want to talk more about the ethics here, but moreso how this deals with categorization. That being said, we’ll jump to a more mundane example to work with: computer science classes and comparative literature classes.
Those who might be more math inclined might put computer science into a group of classes among calculus, algorithms, statistical analysis, etc. That group would be called “interesting classes”. Those who enjoy reading and writing might put comparative literature classes among other classes such as world cultures, creative writing, texts and ideas, etc. That group would be called “interesting classes”.
Uh oh. Wait all of those fall under “interesting classes”? For me, this is the case. I’d love to take any of those. For others, I imagine the situation is different- even you reading this might thing, “who likes ANY of those?” Unfortunately, this is a subjective categorization of abstract concepts. These categories will rely largely on your experiences and, to another large extent, your genetics.
Which Choice is the Better One?
Where do these judgements on categories come from? Are choices objective AT ALL?!
Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for Friday’s newsletter where my friend Wilson will tackle this question! If you’re a lucky person and someone sent you this newsletter, make sure you hit the button below so you don’t miss it. It’ll be a great way to decide what you want to do over the weekend! See you then.
🔎 Some Bonus Resources
🎞 How to (Actually) Watch TV Productively — Spoiler alert: You can't. However, there are ways to make the most of it and ensure you enjoy your relaxing time. My video this week was all about this concept!
⏰ Time Travel — If you could have yourself in 5 years come back to now and tell you something, what would you want to hear? Ok, now how can you make that happen? Shoot us an email with your thoughts :)
🧠 Psychology Concepts — Did the psych part of this newsletter get you excited? Want to know more about how we categorize things? Here are some keywords to help get you started: equivalence class, schemas, event-schemas, classical view on categorization, prototype view on categorization, typicality effect
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