What’s in a Name: Beetleness and Daffodility

6 09 2009

and whatever it is humans are made of, too.

Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World,
adapted from “Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science” by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, 2009

Taxonomy is dying. But it is by classifying nature that we come to know it in all its beetleness and daffodility.
. . .The past few decades have seen a stream of studies that show that sorting and naming the natural world is a universal, deep-seated and fundamental human activity, one we cannot afford to lose because it is essential to understanding the living world, and our place in it.

THIS PROFUSION OF HUMMINGBIRDS is from the book “Kunstformen der Natur,” by Ernst Haeckel, 1900. The names of the birds, like Topaza pella, or crimson topaz (third from top), and Sparganura sappho, or red-tailed comet (with forked tail), seem as lush and elaborate as their coloration.

THIS PROFUSION OF HUMMINGBIRDS is from the book “Kunstformen der Natur,” by Ernst Haeckel, 1900. The names of the birds, like Topaza pella, or crimson topaz (third from top), and Sparganura sappho, or red-tailed comet (with forked tail), seem as lush and elaborate as their coloration.

I read this NYT Science Times out somewhere waiting for a child, the dentist’s office I think, having grabbed my Tuesday newspaper from the driveway as we hustled to be on time, then left to my own thoughts in an artificially hushed and lighted and cooled faux-living room way-station in which life is in fact suspended, not lived, which I therefore couldn’t quite categorize according to established taxonomy. 😉

But I had good quiet-time fun trying, particularly because on some level the piece is also about how artificial human systems screw up natural human systems and language is both natural and contrived, how in the end even naming itself is complicated by naming itself! Given the time and inclination to let yourself play around, such ideas connect in expanding-universe style and draw you in ever-deeper, like some M. C. Escher Hogwarts-staircase world . .

relativity poster by M. C. Escher

relativity poster by M. C. Escher

So I brought the Science Times home for blogging this “what’s in a name?” power of story punch on different levels and connecting it explicitly to a bunch more. I wanted to fully enjoy it, do it justice in my own mind and yours. But since then, real life has intervened repeatedly. Read the rest of this entry »

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