I love taxonomies !
Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. It is an important tool to expand knowledge.
Strengths of Taxonomies
- Help wrestle with data, with the world
- Help to see patterns that before escaped your eye
- Is a tool of science to build models and deepen understanding
Weaknesses of Taxonomies
- Views only a small part of the things being classified (reductionistic)
- Imply deeper understanding than actually present
- Ignore or overlook deeper complex relationships
- Hold loosely: The trick with taxonomies is to hold them loosely, to realize their short comings, and to rejoice when evidence comes forth showing that a better taxonomy exists.
- Use several taxonomies to view something
- Test your taxonomies !
- Don’t let taxonomies be your only way of viewing reality
Interestingly, the word was coined by Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) who laid the foundations for how we name living organisms in science using the binomial nomenclature. The taxonomies of organisms has changed drastically over the centuries. We have progressed from Linnaean Taxonomy to Evolutionary Taxonomy and now to Cladistic Taxonomy.
One of my other favorite taxonomies is that of language families and their taxonomies have changed over the last 100 years. But early taxonomies, no matter how inaccurate were good starting points — initial hypotheses. Below is a fun illustration (here is the large version):
Linguistic Romp: Latin vs. Greek
- tax = taxare [L] “evaluate, estimate, assess, handle”
- taxi = short for “taximeter”= “charging (assess) meter” [L]
- taxidermy = “taxis”[Gk] = “arrangement” + dermis [Greek] = “skin”
- taxonomy = “taxis”[Gk] = “order, arrangement” + “Nomos ” = “law” or “science”
- ataxia = “a” [Gk] “not” + “taxis”=ordered. “Not-ordered” . Inability to walk correctly
- syntax = “syn”[Gk] together + “taxis”= arrange
See other “Word!” posts, here.