Mindfulness, categories and Jorge Borges

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —May 8, 2006
Filed in Culture

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders points us to an interesting book called Mindfulness and makes reference to Jorge Borges’ (one of my favourite writers) famous list of 14 animal types (includes embalmed ones, stray dogs and those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush). Merlin points out that our ability to categorise and re-categorise is a fundamental skill.

Merlin’s post triggers a couple of thoughts. Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought illustrates that westerners view the world differently from Asians: westerners are taught as children to see the world as nouns (look Johnny, a truck); Asians are taught to view the world as verbs (look Emiko, clapping). Yes, we all categorise but we should be mindful that different cultures do it differently.

Mindfulness is a word used extensively by Karl Weick. The sensemaking process begins when something is noticed and mindfulness enables us to notice what’s happening.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Matt Moore says:

    Some more fuel to the fire. The Borges quote was made famous in Michel Foucault’s “The Order of Things” – a book all about the link between classification, history & what Foucault calls the Sciences of Man (Economics, Biology & Linguistics). Foucault’s later work looks at the relationship between classification, knowledge & power (drawing on Georges Canguilhem) – and a key place where these relationships work out are around people’s bodies.
    Mindfulness is a key concept in Buddhism. There are four categories from which mindfulness can be approached: the first of which is the body…

  2. Andrew Rixon says:

    It’s funny how there is the notion that Mind and Body are one yet so often it seems that cognition, psychology and mental awareness seem to be the focus for the west. In otherwords Mind > Body.
    Yet, as Matt has said, mindfulness of body is a big one in Buddhism. Also in sensemaking. Weick has said “We act our way into a belated understanding”. Ironically, I think there is even some research out of the cognitive science field that affirms this.
    Interestingly, in our recent reflective practice survey where we asked which is more important in facilitation, spoken language or body language. A considerable proportion have indicated the importance of body language over spoken language.
    So maybe Body > Mind?
    Whichever I think you can’t go to far wrong if you think about: “We act our way into a belated understanding”. 🙂

Comments are closed.