Three Types

TypesI've never been big on labels, on the classification of everything in neat, tidy little boxes. For one, it always struck me as an attempt to assign order mostly for the sake of the assigner, whether or not it actually reflected the true nature of things. Sometimes, the classifications seemed to reflect little more than ambiguity. Especially where the categorization involved people, the labeling process struck me as overly simplistic given the complex, even paradoxical nature of the human condition.

Of course, it's useful to be able to identify the components of one's surroundings. The complete absence of labels would result in some fairly awkward situations, such as being handed a wolverine when what you really wanted was catsup. And then there are the top-level labels—the metacategories, perhaps—that don't identify things so much as define them. These tend to be the result of painstaking research and observation, often over a period of many years—the better part of a lifetime, even. It helps, no doubt, to have the sort of mind that brings together seemingly unrelated pieces of a puzzle; it helps to be extraordinarily intuitive, preferably to the point of genius.

Verena Huber-Dyson is emeritus professor of the Philosophy department at the University of Calgary, and got to know Kurt Gödel in Princeton. The correct interpretation of his work is, it seems, a driving force in her life. In a brief article, somewhat disturbingly titled Gödel in a Nutshell, she divides people into three types.

The essence of Gödel's incompleteness theorem is that you cannot have both completeness and consistency. A bold anthropomorphic conclusion is that there are three types of people; those that must have answers to everything; those that panic in the face of inconsistencies; and those that plod along taking the gaps of incompleteness as well as the clashes of inconsistencies in stride if they notice them at all, or else they succumb to the tragedy of the human condition.

As metacategories, I think, these do a wonderful job of defining the fundamental distinctions that so often make all the difference between a life of relative contentment, and one that seems primarily engaged in the process of extinction.


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