Form and matter—the shape of a thing and the material that it’s made of—are inseparable companions. Everything that physically exists has both form and matter. Even a “formless” mass has some kind of form, like a cloud or a heap, and form devoid of matter is a mere ghost or apparition. So why do we, in language and thought, persistently treat form and matter as if it were possible to separate them? This is a question that has troubled philosophers for thousands of years. For Plato, the distinction between form and matter was connected with thinking itself. One place that form might exist without matter is in the human mind. When we think of a cat or a tree, we “form” these objects in our mind and perhaps we even see them with the ...

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