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The brain is an organ of immense complexity. Next-generation RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is becoming increasingly popular in the deconstruction of this complexity into distinct classes of 'cell types'. Notably, in addition to revealing the organization of this distinct cell-type landscape, the technology has also begun to illustrate that continuous variation can be found within narrowly defined cell types. Here we summarize the evidence for graded transcriptomic heterogeneity being present, widespread, and functionally relevant in the nervous system. We explain how these graded differences can map onto higher-order organizational features and how they may reframe existing interpretations of higher-order heterogeneity. Ultimately, a multimodal approach incorporating continuously variable cell types will facilitate an accurate reductionist interpretation of the nervous system.