Ontology, Equestrian Style
by David Kennedy Bird
In which an impromptu discussion of philosophy erupts among three randomly-assembled persons: two twenty-something women, and The Blogger, who now dutifully reports the exchange to his readers for their potential benefit and edification. And all that sort of thing.
As the scene begins, Female #1—whose real name sounds kind of like ‘Paleontology,’ only much shorter and with different letters—but in order to protect her identity we are calling her something else—to wit, ‘Female #1— is about to make a profound observation regarding human types. Her cousin, Female #2, whose real name is a slight variant of ‘Augury,’ is perched nearby reading a book with one ear and listening in on the conversation with the other ear. The question of how she can be reading a book with one ear…it’s a real book, not an audiobook… can safely be deferred to another day.
Female #1: There are two types of people in this world: horse people and normal people.
The Blogger: And the people who make musical instruments by winding old silk stockings around a spool and playing them with chopsticks. That’s a third category entirely.
Female #1: I was being serious.
The Blogger: There’s no doubt of that! And any serious foray into the development of a classification system deserves the very closest attention from one’s intellectual companions.
Female #1: I have no response to that.
The Blogger: And we… [here the Blogger makes a sweeping gesture that tacitly includes the cousin, seated across the room with one ear in a book] …are your deeply interested intellectual companions.
Female #1: There may be a slight difference between “giving somebody your very closest attention,” and “making fun of them by proposing ridiculous ideas when they’re thinking out loud.”
The Blogger: Perhaps, perhaps. So why don’t you restate your two categories.
Female #1: Horse people and normal people.
Female #2: [piping up from across the room] And dog people!
The Blogger: …and chopstick – silk stocking – spool – musician people. Four categories! Your taxonomy is rapidly coming apart, [person’s name withheld, but it sounds kind of like Paleontology except with different letters and not as long].
Female #1: Oh, come on!
The Blogger: And to make matters worse, just off the top of my head, i’m now thinking of the category of people who have been to Jupiter in a spacecraft that was made by supergluing 46 microwave ovens together.
“Ah,” you may reply, “that’s not a very densely populated category.”
Sure, fine, but the point is that it is a category distinct from categories 1-4. So now we’ve identified FIVE groups of people in this world. And we may not yet be finished discovering new ones.
Female #1: You’re pretty good at carrying on the whole conversation all by yourself. I could go get a donut and coffee and come back in about an hour, and I bet you’d still have both of us covered.
The Blogger: You’re not the first person who’s said that.
Female #2: [from across the room] And the people who keep guinea pigs. That’s a very distinct community.
Female #1: Look, guys, I was just making a simple comment on whether people are into horses or not. There’s no need to make a production out of it.
The Blogger: What you call “making a production out of it” is simply our display of intense interest in your line of thinking. We are subjecting your ideas to careful philosophical scrutiny because we think so very highly of you.
Female #1: Well, gee. Thanks. I feel strangely moved.
Female #2: And pythons. Some people keep a ball python at home in a large glass case. Those are not the horse people and they’re not the guinea pig people. Well, some of them could be guinea pig people. They could raise guinea pigs in order to feed them to the python. So now we have an overlapping of two of the categories. This is getting really interesting. I think I could take a liking to philosophy if it were all like this.
Female #1: If you mention one more animal, so help me.
Female #2: And the people in northern Finland who herd reindeer! [ducks around a corner]
Female #1: Grrrrr. Okay, I’ve got this: all of the above mentioned categories are just sub-categories within the “normal people” one. There are still only two main categories. Horse people and normal people. [sweet smile]
The Blogger: Oohh, that’s good… but I anticipate a possible difficulty. You may run into some snags trying to pass off the people who use chopsticks to draw music out of stocking-encircled spools, or the people who say they have been to Jupiter in a collection of microwave ovens, as “normal.” I’m just saying.
Female #1: Okay… how about ‘horse people’ and ‘the uninitiated.’
Female #2: [popping back into the room] And the people who keep those enormous fish tanks with ten kinds of tropical fish in them, and an eel, and some kind of bizarre crab thing that lives on the bottom, and lots of intricate-looking pumps and aerating equipment, and some fancy weeds.
Female #1: STOP that!
The Blogger: And the people with those asymmetrical haircuts in which the vast majority of their hair is gathered on one side, thereby creating the impression that they should be tilting their head at a rather severe angle in order to maintain balance.
Female #2: Right! I’ve never understood that. Why can’t people just settle for a regular, symmetrical haircut?
Female #1: GUYS!
The Blogger: So now we’re up to, what, about eight different categories?
Female #2: Ten. I’ve been keeping a tally. But two of them overlap: the python people and the guinea pig people.
The Blogger: Excellent! Attention to detail is good.
Female #1: Oh my word. Neither one of you is a normal people.
The Blogger: Then, according to your initial scheme, we must both be horse people! But I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Well, that’s not true. I was at another little boy’s birthday party once, a long time ago, and it was held at a stable, and all the party guests took turns riding the pony. I was the only one for whom the dang pony wouldn’t do anything. He just stood there. I tried following directions, but the pony just wouldn’t respond. It scarred me.
Female #2: Well, of course it did! Poor little boy. Bad, bad pony.
Female #1: I have entered a nightmare from which I fear I will not awaken.
Female #2: Can there be a separate category for people who might have become horse people, but didn’t, due to a traumatizing incident in early childhood?
The Blogger: That makes sense to me.
Female #1: Okay, stop, please, just stop. Listen. Here’s what I was doing. I was simply observing that some people in the world are into horses, and then there’s everybody else. That’s what I was saying.
The Blogger: A true enough observation, as far as it goes.
Female #2: Which isn’t very far! What about the people who practice dentistry and go to Africa in order to shoot a lion?
The Blogger: Right, right! Of course. Is that eleven categories so far?
Female #2: Twelve.
The Blogger: Gotcha.
Female #1: Okay, time out, time out, let me try this. There’s a potentially infinite number of ways in which you can categorize people. Right? You could come up with bajillions of classification schemes, and many of them would be totally valid and what not. All I’m saying… all I’m saying… is that there is one classification scheme that I’m thinking of right now, and it’s got two categories in it, that’s all, just two categories. And those categories are (1) the horse people, and (2) the people who aren’t horse people. That’s all I’m saying.
Female #2: And then there are the people who’ve seen pictures of horses on the internet, and they’ve thought to themselves, “Wow, maybe I should get a horse, I could be a horse person,” but then they think, “Well no, I bet it’s a lot of trouble and expense, and I’d have to have someplace to keep him, which I don’t, and there’s probably some kind of license you have to get, similar to a driver’s license, but for horses.” And so they decide against it.
The Blogger: Against purchasing a horse? Or becoming a horse person?
Female #2: Are they not the same thing?
The Blogger: Well, it seems to me that someone could technically own a horse without being a horse person. They could own one for their business but they hire someone else to groom it, because they personally can’t relate to horses.
Female #2: Yeah, I can see how that might be true.
Female #1: Oh my WORD.
The Blogger: You two are related, aren’t you?
Female #1: No… no, I don’t think so.
Female #2: Definitely.