Categories vs. Experiences

We all simplify the world around us. We have to–given the amount of information each of us is exposed to daily, the alternative to dumbing down is overload-induced catatonia.

One of the main ways we simplify is by categorizing things. By attaching a simple name to a rough set of associated characteristics, we can reduce our mental overhead. Words like house and car convey a simplified but generally sufficient concept of a far more complex object.

But every once in a while, throw out your categories, and focus on experiencing the world in the moment.

Today, Nathan brought some Tartine Bakery cinnamon rolls into the office.

Now when I think of cinnamon rolls, I generally think of this:

But what Nathan brought in was this:

Normally, I don’t eat cinnamon rolls. I’m getting older, which means that cinnamon rolls make me fat. So in my mind’s list of Chris’ rules, I have one that says, “Don’t eat cinnamon rolls. They’re just not worth it.”

But clearly, while this rule applies in spades to Pillsbury’s refrigerator-case bricks, it doesn’t necessarily apply to Tartine’s rolls.

They were so tempting, that at lunchtime, I cut off a small piece and popped it in my mouth.


Flakey, crunchy, sweet, rich, buttery, with a fine citrus finish.


I ate half a massive roll before I could stop myself.

The experience of eating the Tartine roll was completely and utterly like that of any cinnamon roll I had eaten before. It utterly exploded my concept of what could fit into the category of cinnamon rolls.

The point (besides the fact that you should patronize Tartine if you ever get the chance) is that while categories are a useful streamlining tool, speed and minimizing effort aren’t the only things that matter.

Take the time to really experience the world around you. Those experiences may not fit into neat categories, but your life will be richer for them.

P.S. Nathan notes that what I ate was not a cinnamon roll. More strictly speaking, it was a Citrus Morning Bun. Whatever. I’m heading back to the kitchen after this for another serving.

2 thoughts on “Categories vs. Experiences

  1. This is why I don't believe in giving up on such things, but they should be had in moderation. And, since they are "experiential", you should go for the very best ones if/when you do have them.

    This is why I'll never eat low-fat ice cream or drink light beer; I have them rarely enough that I want good, memorable experiences.

  2. I have been thinking about efficient hedonism a bit lately. It seems to me that people don't get fat because they like good food but because they aren't paying attention. Eating unhealthy food without paying attention to it is just throwing away health with no benefit.

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