@ K 2006 06 07

Categories. Class, type … taxon … We can’t think without mental drawers to put things in. How we organize our mental drawers can gain us insights about survival; can also endanger us.

Neither K.’s Thinking Tools nor itself have to date been the principal place I’ve talked about categories; that distinction goes to Macroinformation: K. / Thinking Tools / Information / Macroinformation / Existential Categories. Also search by synonyms: class, type, kind … (indeed: try to make a list of synonyms!) (Work hard at it.)

The thought that prompted me to initiate this module today concerns a common thinking flaw which, like many another, can be deliberately manipulated to deceive, but is more commonly exercised unconsciously: deception coming naturally with the kind of critter we are. This point relates intimately with Korzybski’s famous Map / Territory distinction, qv.: it’s impossible for a mortal to know the correct number of categories to have: and we should know that we have this unsolvable problem. We would also do well to try to understand why it’s unsolvable.

Last evening on the lake I saw individuals and sometimes groups from all of the well known species of heron: great blue herons, little blue herons, green herons … that live locally. I also saw a couple of individual herons from species less common to this area. I could live with one category for such creatures: “bird”: they’re all birds.
My mental life would be a tad richer if I had another category though, slightly more specific: birds that wade in the water.

At one extreme I could “name” every individual I saw. If I could say every name I would be less dependent on categories. If I always refer to my son by name then I’ll seldom need more general categories: offspring, children, sons … But then I’d overload at the tree with three dozen cattle egrets roosting in it.. And what if I called Rusty Runty and Runty Rusty?

I have enough drawers at home that I can separate my underwear from my socks and always know where both are: so long as no one, myself included, fails to adhere to my system. If I had more drawers I might also be able to separate black socks from brown socks, but at no point does even the Shah want to have as many drawers as he has socks. Every once in a while all keepers of drawers, files, closets, basements, categories, taxa … should get together and delete unnecessary and misleading drawers. New drawers may also be added: new species, new families, new genera; but not at the drop of a hat.

Last evening on the lake I was glad to be able to identify one odd heron as a Louisiana heron, not as an undeveloped great blue heron, not as a mis-colored little blue heron: a different species, not common in the area. With too few categories I could easily have misclassified the individual. But not every great blue heron with a missing foot is a new species.

There are always laymen ready to “correct” a specialist when the layman jumps to misunderstand the specialist’s category. (The other day for example I complained to the library martinet that the library was run by the state. “Oh, no,” she corrected me, showing that not in a century would she understand what I was talking about: “The library is run by the county!” I was distinguishing centralized, top-down, authoritarian control from libertarian organizings — such as a privately funded public library; she was distinguishing categories within the authoritarian category, apparently unaware that there were other more general categories: that kleptocracy wasn’t the only option.)

There’s no possibility of discussing compulsory education with someone who can’t conceive of anything not being compulsory: state-coerced, state-managed …

I’m not happy with how I’m doing this first draft of this module. I don’t mind the chatty illustrations, so long as the main points are still laid bald.

First I’ll make my points in the Society section: as Loony Bin.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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