After doing some research on the original Venn diagram for my previous post on embodied container schema, I became obsessed. So I made some initial experiments, and it became clear that I needed to create a Venn Diagram House.
At first, it was to explore how our natural ability to map rooms in a house might help us map categories of things in our mind. Especially in the case of a 4-sphere Venn diagram, it’s difficult to see what’s going on from the outside—maybe it’d be easier from the inside!
I quickly got distracted furnishing the house with Venn couches, Venn shelves, and Venn cabinets, holding Venn pillows, Venn vases, and Venn glasses. A Venn table in the dining room—the dining room itself being in the intersection of the living room and the kitchen—holds a Venn bowl full of fruits and/or vegetables, as well as a Venn cup of tea with milk and/or sugar, complete with Venn spoon.
It was in the kitchen that things got interesting, because a kitchen is designed to hold a fairly standardized set of tools in easy reach. If Lakoff and Johnson’s conjecture in “Philosophy in the Flesh” is correct, then it’s places like kitchens—with their useful drawers and cabinets of categorized objects—that teaches our bodies/brains the very idea of a category.
How might we augment our intuition for complex categories if we weren’t so limited in the kinds of containers our bodies interact with?
In a real kitchen, each drawer is a separate category. You can be either in, or out, and an object can only be in one drawer at a time. Real-life physics limits us from having Venn drawers, where an object can be placed in the overlap between the silverware drawer and the cooking-utensil drawer (a place where I’d like to put the serving spoon that matches my silverware set, rather than always opening the wrong drawer for it).
If our real experiences with real drawers contributes to our understanding of categories, our boring physical kitchens might help explain why humans so easily sort other people/things/ideas into exactly one category with no complexity or overlap. Our body’s intuition for politics, for example, might tell us that there’s a single category of Republicans, and a separate single category of Democrats. But if we grew up putting our cups/mugs/glasses in Venn cabinets, and cooking peach/apple Venn pieagrams in our oVenns, maybe it would seem quite natural to us that Republicans and Democrats have more in common than different.
Plenty of objects in the house are merely cute functionless Venn design, but through quick iterations I’m getting to some compelling ideas I can’t quite articulate yet. I’m dreaming Venn categories. I’m also starting to categorize kinds of Venn categorization. Besides the strictly logical or metaphorical idea of categories, there’s also a mixable sense of category. For example a Rosé, in one sense, is a red wine and white wine, though it isn’t a red wine or a white wine.
You can visit the Venn Diagram House for real (or for virtual, but the embodiment is real) if you have a Vive and Anyland (Search “areas” for “Venn Diagrams”). There’s a pile of Venn logic toys to interact with too, which I’ll talk more about next time.
P.S. There now exists a followup post on the interactive Venn Diagram Museum of geometry, topology, and algebra.