How Categories Work

Category theory is the study of how people organize information, and how we use those categories in our daily lives. While the most common categories are those that we use everyday, there are also many more complex and creative categories that humans make up. Categories are useful for a variety of purposes, from studying how people avoid danger to identifying common traits of a population. However, before we go into how categories work, we must first understand how they function. Listed below are some useful examples.

In the process of learning about categories, we organize and reorganize information from our senses and perception. While most categories are not strictly defined, they can be grouped by best examples that possess the properties of the category we’re considering. These examples might be the ideal examples of a particular category. The knowledge view suggests that we acquire categories by reading and hearing statements from others. While this view may be the most common and useful, it still largely leaves us open to a number of other perspectives that are equally important.

Many of the most important categories fall into hierarchies, with concrete categories nesting inside the more abstract ones. A brown bear, for example, is a bear, while a human being is a vertebrate. Humans, too, can fall into hundreds of categories. While biological categories are the easiest to visualize, human artifacts can also fall into hierarchical structures. And while the structure of categories is not as arbitrary as that of biological categories, it can still be useful to understand how different aspects of the human world interact with each other.