It is generally agreed that there are three types of entity in the physical universe: people, places and things--but some physical entities fall into more than one of these categories.
Ships, for instance, are a person, a place and a thing. We personify a ship by calling it "she" and in our mind, it briefly acquires the status of a person. Geographical features (such as hillock, berm or even garden) are merely places and things. Buildings can be people as well as places, developing a personality in the minds of those who live or work in them.
Animals (aside from homo sapiens) are cast into the role of people or things, depending on context and the personal beliefs of the observer. When we're eating hamburger, we are glad that the cow gave "its" tasty flesh to us. When we come home from work and see our dog, "he" is happy to see us.
Given mankind’s fetishistic tendency to categorize everything we encounter, it comes as a surprise to me that we have not created a taxonomy of form and purpose that tries to account for the context-sensitive nature of human experience. Such a taxonomy would be capable of classifying any physical or nonphysical entity according to the way the observer perceives it. It would not literally categorize things, any more than a horoscope or the I Ching literally tell one's future. Rather, it would provide a framework in which an individual could organize his thoughts, deriving useful information from the process. This is my short, half-baked attempt at providing such a taxonomy.
Read it as an exercise in creative thinking, and if you like the ideas, have fun with them. Wake up tomorrow and categorize everyone you meet according to the taxonomy. If it doesn't suit you, make up your own taxonomy and send it to me. You'll be surprised at how creative the human mind is.
As you read, keep in mind that my classification does not exclude combinations. If I say there are three types of people, what I really mean is that every person exhibits traits in varying degrees of the three fundamental types of person. Indeed, it is impossible for anything in my taxonomy to be ontologically pure. The world thrives on diversity and contrast. Any taxonomic system that attempts to categorize the world must take this fact into account.
There are three types of people in the world:
- Ocean people tend to live and work near the water. They are quietly introspective, philosophical, and prone to depression--but they are generally content with themselves and the world around them. They are symbolized by the colors blue or green, by the dolphin animal, and by the Chinese concept of yin.
- Mountain people live at high altitudes and in dry climates. They are pragmatic realists with much common sense and a keen eye for strategy. They love efficiency, but are not necessarily opposed to disorder. They recognize that the two concepts are orthogonal, whereas many non-Mountain people think efficiency and disorder are mutually exclusive. Some Amerindian tribes consisted solely of mountain people. They are symbolized by the color red, by the rabbit animal, and by the concept of yang.
- Plains people live on flat ground but prefer fertile land to arid land. They spend their lives creating and synthesizing, bringing order from chaos. In fact, they have an inherent distaste for disorder. They are often not comfortable around technology, because technology is stuff that creates disorder. (We’ll get around to a formal definition of “stuff” in a little while.) They are symbolized by the colors white or yellow, by the horse animal, and by an equal balance of yin and yang.
Not everyone falls neatly into one of the three categories. In fact, most people exhibit traits of all three categories, in varying degrees. There are ocean-plains people, mountain-planes people and ocean-mountains people. A few individuals are even ocean-mountain-plains omniheurists!
One thing that all three kinds of people have in common is the job. A person’s job isn’t merely his workaday occupation; it’s what he does. The job of an unemployed man is to be idle, and sometimes to search for work. The job of a professional athlete is to entertain and to prove that willpower and practice make the impossible, possible. There are three kinds of job:
- Jobs that involve moving things. Most jobs fall into this first category. Almost all jobs involve moving something, but “moving-things” jobs are distinct, in that the primary goal of the job is to move things. A pizza man moves pizza. A telephone operator traditionally moves words (although this job has largely been made obsolete by automatic switching equipment.) An accountant moves money.
- Jobs that involve telling people things. A schoolteacher is the best example of a job that involves telling people things. Going back to an earlier example, modern-day telephone operators spend the workday telling people phone numbers and dialing instructions. A news anchor tells the same thing to many people. “Telling-things” jobs are few in number but very important to society.
- Jobs that involve putting things on top of other things. These jobs rarely involve literally putting objects on top of other objects; rather, often have an aspect of categorization to them. A scientist uses logic to put things in a given place relative to other things, and thereby derives useful information about how the world works. A building contractor makes buildings using the powerful principle of putting things on top of other things. My own job is a putting-things job. By creating this taxonomy I have put many things on top of, beneath or beside many other things.
Most people do their jobs in order to obtain things. People need things to survive; the impulse to acquire and keep the things we need (and many things we don’t need) is encoded in our genes. In this capacity, things are better known as stuff. Stuff is things people need or want, whereas things are just things. A good example of stuff is firewood. Good examples of things are the sky, peach fuzz, and the Oort cloud surrounding our solar system. Stuff is the most interesting sort of things, and that’s why I’m talking primarily about stuff. There are three kinds of stuff:
- Food is stuff that nurtures people. Usually, food is something that people eat, which physically nurtures them. Sometimes food can nurture the mind or the spirit as well as the body. Because of this, books have a high degree of food aspect.
- Sex is stuff that brings people pleasure. While the act of sexual intercourse is a verb and therefore doesn’t count as stuff, all the ingredients of intercourse count as sex. Men’s and women’s bodies are sex. A penis and a vagina are both very much sex. Drugs are sex. Music, poetry and prose all have a high degree of sex aspect.
- Toys are bits of stuff that entertain people and sometimes serve a useful purpose. Most possessions are toys. Automobiles, computers, guns, athletic equipment, writing equipment--all of these things are toys.
(As an aside, a plastic cucumber being used as a sex toy is a great example of stuff that is food, sex and toy at the same time.)
I haven’t done much thinking yet about the nature of places. So far, I can think of only one broad categorization: inside places and outside places. Interstellar space is the penultimate example of an outside place, and a shower is a great example of a nested inside place. (Shower is inside bathroom; bathroom is inside house; house is inside neighborhood, and so forth.)
It is important to note that humans cannot conceive of a place that is completely outside and has no inside aspect. Even when we think of deep space, we think of it as being somehow contained inside some larger space. This is why we have trouble conceiving of an infinitely large universe. Our notion of volume (which is the property of filling space) comes from our conception of the boundaries between spaces; conceiving of a truly outside place, which has zero volume and infinite volume at the same time, is beyond us.
Please, let me know what you think of my ideas. Contribute ideas of your own to challenge and edify me. I originally wrote this document for entertainment, and I hope you have been entertained and stimulated.