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Mindfulness, categories, and the 14 kinds of animals

List of animals (Borges) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I've been enjoying a wonderful book that a reader thoughtfully sent to me a couple weeks ago. It's called Mindfulness, and it presents some fascinating evidence on the ways that we process and parse our world, as well as the peculiarly human things that can happen when we unintentionally (natch) embrace mindlessness.

The topic of "categories" is critical in this book, with the author suggesting that the child-like ability to re-label and re-categorize, even or especially as we age, is a key factor in continual growth -- let alone things like creativity and, in a particularly colorful example, the tactic to lure Napoleon deep into Russia for his "self-defeating occupation of Moscow."

I loved this example of categorization provided via Jorge Luis Borges from what purports to be "a certain Chinese encyclopedia, the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge."

For your consideration, friends, the fourteen kinds of animals:

  1. those that belong to the Emperor,
  2. embalmed ones,
  3. those that are trained,
  4. suckling pigs,
  5. mermaids,
  6. fabulous ones,
  7. stray dogs,
  8. those included in the present classification,
  9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
  10. innumerable ones,
  11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
  12. others,
  13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
  14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

Whether or not this is real (it seems a little far-fetched to me), you can't dispute that the world can start looking pretty different when you accept how differently things can be sliced and diced -- and how we're so often unconscious of the sturdy mental silos we constructed and filled when we were young.

You sure that's a Dalmatian? Looks more to me like that which has just broken a flower vase.

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An Oblique Strategy:
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