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"Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World"

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An article on taxonomy and our deep desire to name things by Carol Kaesuk Yoon
1 review about "Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World"

Naming Nature: A Very Human Activity

  • Aug 12, 2009
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Carol Kaesuk Yoon In Tuesday’s New York Times Science section gives us a little meditation on taxonomy, or the naming and classifying of plants and animals.  It sounds dry and as stuffy as a store room of museum specimens, but she makes it fascinating. 

People all over the world name and classify, and in many respects are remarkably consistent in how they do it, she writes. “Cecil Brown, an anthropologist at Northern Illinois University who has studied folk taxonomies in 188 languages, has found that people recognize the same basic categories repeatedly, including fish, birds, snakes, mammals, “wugs” (meaning worms and insects, or what we might call creepy-crawlies), trees, vines, herbs and bushes.”

The ability to do this seems hard-wired into our brains, Yoon says, citing a case where a young man with a brain injury could not identify inanimate objects, but could still remember living ones. 

To study and classify is a way to make contact with nature, she adds.  “We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction... entirely unaware that anything is happening.” But to meditate on an organism’s  “ beetle-ness, its daffodility” and then name it  is to change everything, including yourself because then “you can’t help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you.”

Yes indeed.  Makes you think of  the second chapter of Genesis proves  (verses 19 and 20):

“ And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

“ And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field...”

Old unbelievers like me will argue against divine inspiration, but sometimes we have to recognize a psychological truth.

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