(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘taxonomy

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in”*…

 

In European societies, knowledge is often pictured as a tree: a single trunk – the core – with branches splaying outwards towards distant peripheries. The imagery of this tree is so deeply embedded in European thought-patterns that every form of institution has been marshalled into a ‘centre-periphery’ pattern. In philosophy, for example, there are certain ‘core’ subjects and other more marginal, peripheral, and implicitly expendable, ones. Likewise, a persistent, and demonstrably false, picture of science has it as consisting of a ‘stem’ of pure science (namely fundamental physics) with secondary domains of special sciences at varying degrees of remove: branches growing from, and dependent upon, the foundational trunk.

Knowledge should indeed be thought of as a tree – just not this kind of tree. Rather than the European fruiter with its single trunk, knowledge should be pictured as a banyan tree, in which a multiplicity of aerial roots sustains a centreless organic system. The tree of knowledge has a plurality of roots, and structures of knowledge are multiply grounded in the earth: the body of knowledge is a single organic whole, no part of which is more or less dispensable than any other…

As Krishna observed in the in the Bhagavad-Gītā, “stands an undying banyan tree.”  Explore it at “The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan.”

* Isaac Asimov

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As we celebrate diversity, we might spare a thought for Douglas Carl Engelbart; he died on this date in 2013.  An engineer and inventor who was a computing and internet pioneer, Doug is best remembered for his seminal work on human-computer interface issues, and for “the Mother of All Demos” in 1968, at which he demonstrated for the first time the computer mouse, hypertext, networked computers, and the earliest versions of graphical user interfaces… that’s to say, computing as we know it.

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July 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If man thinks about his physical or moral state he usually discovers that he is ill”*…

 

As we consider revising our New Year’s resolutions…

The term wellness was popularized in the late 1950s by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, the so-called father of the movement. Writing in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 1959, Dunn defined “high-level wellness,” the organizing principle behind his work, as “a condition of change in which the individual moves forward, climbing toward a higher potential of functioning.” Dunn drew a distinction between good health—the absence of illness, or the passive state of homeostasis—and wellness as an active, ongoing pursuit. While good health is objective, dictated by the cold, hard truths of modern medicine, Dunn’s wellness is subjective, based on perception and “the uniqueness of the individual.” Dunn’s ideas have gained a steady following, approaching near-ubiquity in the 21st century—in 2015, the global wellness industry was valued at $3.7 trillion.

But without the emergence of Europe’s middle classes, without the wealth and leisure afforded by the Industrial Revolution, today’s wellness culture wouldn’t exist…

The full– and fascinating– story at “The False Promises of Wellness Culture.”

* Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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As we reconsider that cleanse, we might spare a thought for Swedish botanist Carl Linné, better known as Carolus Linnaeus, “the Father of Taxonomy,” born this date in 1707.  Historians suggest that the academically-challenged among us can take heart from his story: at the University of Lund, where he studied medicine, he was “less known for his knowledge of natural history than for his ignorance of everything else.” Still, he made is way from Lund to Uppsala, where he began his famous system of plant and animal classification– still in use today.

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January 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Taxonomy is described sometimes as a science and sometimes as an art, but really it’s a battleground”*…

 

Taxonomy, the art and science of classifying life, really should be a civilized pursuit. It encourages solitude, concentration, care. It rewards a meticulous attention to detail. And while it might occasionally receive some good-natured ribbing from the popular culture—think of all those butterfly collectors stumbling around in Far Side cartoons—it continues to play a vital role at the foundations of modern biology.

It can come as a bit of a surprise, then, when that veneer of civilization cracks, and the field reveals itself to be one of the more contentious arenas in science, a place where arguments over names and classifications rage through the literature for decades. This is both a strength, as challenges to current classification keep the field dynamic and relevant, and an expression of its hardwired vulnerabilities…

More at “Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?

* Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

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As we contemplate classification, we might send carefully-spelled birthday greetings to Alfred Mosher Butts; he was born on this date in 1899.  An architect, artist, photographer, and inventor, Butts found himself at loose ends in the early 1930s, and set out to design a board game, settling on one that utilized both chance and skill by combining elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles.  He carefully analyzed how often each letter is used (thus determining how many of each letter to include and how many points each one would earn), then drew a board and glued letters on some balsa tiles.  He first called his creation “Lexiko”, but later changed the name to “Criss Cross Words.”  In 1948, he sold his game to James Brunot, who made a few minor adjustments to the design and renamed the game “Scrabble.”  Today it is sold in 121 countries and is available in 29 languages; approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide.  Roughly one-third of American and half of British homes have a Scrabble set, and there are over 4,000 Scrabble clubs worldwide.

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April 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

What’s in a name? Taxonomy humor…

Ba humbugi

If you’re going to be responsible for determining scientific classification, you may as well have fun with it. From BuzzFeed, some of the strangest and most amusing binomial names (Genus species) in all of taxonomy…

Fifteen more humorous handles at “17 Awesome, Nerdy Examples Of Taxonomy Humor.”

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As we wonder what’s in a name, we might spare a taxonomical thought for Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson CB FRS FRSE; he died on this date in 1948. The Scottish biologist, mathematician, and classics scholar was the father of mathematical biologist.  Starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way,” Thompson wrote On Growth and Form (1917)– a profound meditation the shapes of living things that has been called by Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar “the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue.”

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June 21, 2012 at 1:01 am

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