Nature Blog Network

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On the Failure of Names

There is so much I could say about Karen's latest post, but I will defer to her and Mr. Prosek. Here are a few quotes I like:

"I began to understand that species were less static than the fathers of modern taxonomy—those like Carl Linnaeus—once believed. That nature was static and classifiable was an idea perpetuated by the natural history museum (repository for dead nature), the zoo (repository for living nature), and the book (repository for thoughts and images related to nature). These mediums were all distillations of nature, what individuals of authority deemed an appropriate cross section to present to the public. None had adequately represented Nature—at once chaotic, multifarious, and interconnected."

"Naming gives us the illusion that nature is fixed, but it is as fluid as the language used to describe it."

"I was conflicted—I loved the names that had first led me to recognize the existence of diversity (golden trout, Oncorhynchus aguabonita; blueback
trout, Salvelinus oquassa), but as I learned more I wanted to throw away the names, step beyond those constraints, in order to preserve a sense of wonder that I had felt from an early age."
Needless to say I will be putting in an order. While I am at it, I may just buy a few of his other beautiful books for my son and I to read!


  1. p.s. I think we should invite James Prosek to accompany us on the new Beagle.

  2. Because human longevity and ability to keep long term records is minute, to be generous, I think we can consider nature as static, for the sake of argument. In other words, I don't think the human society as we know it will last long enough (or our records) to see most of the changes happen.

  3. romunov, though I agree that human longevity (both as individuals and as a species) limits our ability to witness very long-term changes, we can nevertheless witness speciation as it happens, and we can also witness the blurred interspecific boundaries that are the result of ongoing speciation. For some examples with references, start here.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.