The Limits of Categorization

There is no one specific way to categorize things. That is the underlying premise of this EconTalk podcast with David Weinberger.

In the podcast, Russ Roberts (the host) and David Weinbeger discuss that, as humans, we tend to gravitate towards an intellectual box model of organization; we tend to try to place things into their respective “boxes”. We do this because we categorize things intellectually just as we would categorize things in the physical world. But, as Roberts points out, what happens if more than one thing can go in more than one box, or when one thing can go into two different boxes at the same time? We really start to encounter this sort of conundrum (and it is vastly amplified) once we enter the realm of the digital (the internet), where there is no limit to the amount of information available, and certain “things” can indeed be in more than one place at the same time.

As the conversation continues, Weinberger states that the implications of this digital dilemma apply to the universe as a whole. He states that the universe has a range of attributes, and there is no one correct way to organize these attributes. What we typically do instead is organize things according to our needs, interests, culture etc. Furthermore, if there is no one specific way to categorize things, this implies that there are a myriad of ways (perhaps infinite) to see new relationships and connections.

This last sentence, I believe, has profound implications for human happiness, as well as entrepreneurship. How can you not be happy if you realize that there are many different ways to view life and the things in life? How can you worry that all potential business ideas are already taken when there are an infinite amount of them? As opposed to physical/material resources and goods, there seems to be no presence of scarcity in the realm of human ideas…

“Discoveries, like resources, may well be infinite: the more we discover, the more we are able to discover.” –Julian Simon


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