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Naming Nature

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For a fantastic read about the history of taxonomy and the ways we use language to try to divide up and impose order on the world, check out Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (Bookshop|Amazon) by science writer Carol Kaesuk Yoon. This graceful, engaging book explains the concept of umwelt (literally, “the world around” in German) which means “the environment as it’s perceived by various animals according to their sensory abilities and cognitive powers.” A honeybee with its compound eyes has a very different umwelt from that a dog, which understands so much of the world through smell. Recent advances in evolutionary and molecular biology demonstrate that the so-called “Father of Modern Taxonomy,” Carl Linnaeus, was limited by his own umwelt, and those discoveries now raise profound and surprising questions about the connections between and among various organisms. This is part of a complete episode.

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