Real-World Sorting

In the real world, by which I mean the physical world that is all around us, you can take a collection of objects in front of you and sort them in as many ways as your understanding will allow. This should also be the goal for sorting computer files.

Before getting into computer files, let’s think about sorting some simple objects from our ordinary lives.


Some rocks

Some rocks

Okay, let’s sort something. We’ll take a pile of rocks and try to sort it in different ways.

If you were given a pile of rocks, how many different useful ways could you think to sort them? Size, weight and color are obvious. But what about other ways to sort:

  • Volume
  • Density
  • Hardness
  • Texture
  • Method of formation
  • Whether or not it is my favorite
  • Usefulness for skipping
  • ???


Some rocks

Sorted by color value

Some rocks

Sorted by mass

Some rocks

Sorted by length

I took some real world objects (rocks) and sorted them in easy ways. I sorted them by color value, mass, and length, which are all things that area easy to observe.

What I think is interesting is that each sequence makes sense on its own. Each sequence has its own simple logic that is as valid as the other sequences. And each sequence tells a separate, interesting story about the objects.

Each sequence is like a separate axis of meaning for the object, and all the axes are equally important.