What is a Bed?


"Ceci n'est pas une pipe."
(This is not a pipe.)
-
René Magritte

Today's post is extremely simple. No, the title was not a metaphor; that really is what this post is about. What is a bed? Like I said, it's very simple. After all, you probably already know what a bed is. This is more of a post for preschoolers, you know? I mean, I have to expand my audience. So if you don't know what a bed is, raise your hand. Everyone else, you can go.
Well, not right away, I suppose. I mean, we can't have you pretending that you know what a bed is just to get out of reading this post. So before you go, prove your knowledge to me with a simple test, and tell me- what is a bed?

Of course, I know that you won't just say, "it's where you sleep." After all, we all know that simply sleeping someplace doesn't transform its nature. If I sleep on the floor, the floor is still a floor, not a bed. If I sleep on the roof, the roof does not change in its nature to become a bed for my sake; of course, I could sleep on the floor, and refer to it as my bed, but that would be in the sense of, "this is where I consistently bed down for the night." That would not change the floor's nature- merely what I use it for. Similarly, if I jump on a bed, it does not become a trampoline, even if that's how I decide to treat it.

Similarly, I know that you will not say, "it's an object intended to be slept on." As you certainly know, somebody can intend for an object to be used in one way, without it being actually used in that manner. For example, if I am a carpenter-in-training, I may set out to craft a bed. And yet, in my inexperience, I come up instead with a pile of broken wood. Certainly, I intended for this to be slept on, and yet, it is clearly not a bed. You might say that I intended for it to be slept on, because I intended for it to be a bed. But alas, though I meant to make a bed, I failed. So we can see that intent does not necessitate a particular essence.

Next, one might clarify that it's an object that was not only intended to be slept on, but was designed correctly. Of course, I know that this isn't what you will say, because while I may intend to make something to be slept on, and while I may build the object correctly, I may also have rather poor ideas as to what a bed is. I may, for example, make  guitar instead. I designed for it to be slept on, and I made it according to my blueprints, but my initial idea was off. Even if I lay it on the floor and sleep on it, it doesn't make it a bed. I'm just sleeping on a guitar.
"[A] piece of furniture upon which or within which a person sleeps, rests, or stays when not well."
-Dictionary.com
Well, yes, of course that's what the word means. But that's all the dictionary describes- the meaning of the word. What we're looking for is the very concept- that is to say, if you take a bed and you take away one piece at a time, at what point does it cease to be a bed? Or, what if you take it away one molecule at a time? At what point then is it no longer a bed? Where is the specific set of traits that we can look at to determine whether something is a bed or not? And how many traits can be missing before we cease to call it a flawed bed and start to say that it is no longer a bed at all?

The value in a word is to point to a particular concept. The word and the concept are not the same, but the word points to a concept so that I can tell you what it is that I'm thinking about. Defining a word is significantly easier than defining a concept. To define a word, all you have to do is point to a particular concept and say "that's the concept that I'm talking about." But in order to define the idea itself, we have to come up with boundaries, which is much more difficult. At what point is a bed "strange" or "broken," and at what point does it cease to belong to the same idea?

As it turns out, this can also apply to abstract concepts. At what point is something in the circle, and at what point is something outside of the circle? At what point does somebody fit into a certain category? As humans, I don't think we can know for certain where the boundaries are on certain concepts, which is why we should be careful when choosing our words. For example, let's take the word Whovian. One person says that all Whovians are annoying and will obsess about the show and let it run their lives. (Seeing as how some Whovians not only act in this manner, but are proud of it, even somebody who calls themselves a Whovian may use this definition.) However, I also refer to myself as a Whovian, because I find the show to be entertaining. I do not, as it turns out, obsess about it, let it run my life, or make my friends feel bad if they don't happen to like the show. Thus, people define the same concept with different borders. Does this mean that the concept is different for different people? No, it just means that different people see the concept as starting and ending in different places, and we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about how somebody else uses their terminology.
"Boundaries aren't all bad. That's why there are walls around mental institutions."
-Peggy Noonan

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