Monday, July 20, 2015

WWII but a significant 'blip' in the eternal war between natural historians and natural philosophers

From their lofty olympian heights in front of their chalkboards and computer screens, or up in their labs, the coin of the realm for the natural philosopher is always plenticide .

These scientists secure their fame within their tribe by reducing the plentitude of say the 150,000 very diverse species of beetles (God's favourite being) down to a few neat columns in a textbook.

So the tiger beetle : Domain Eukarya. Kingdom Animalia. Phylum Arthropoda. Class Insecta. Order Coleoptera. Family Carabidae. Genus Cicindela. Species tranquebarica.

The natural historian out in the field or down on the ward floor as a frontline clinician has their own coin of the realm, their own passport to fame within their tribe.

But it is the directly opposite objective.

Fame comes to them when they bring home a new and highly unusual beetle specimen that seems to burst through these rigid categories and fit exactly no pigeonhole : something that only adds to, rather than diminishes Nature's plentitude.

To the reductionist oriented theoretical or lab scientist, in some very real sense, the one billion Chinese literally do look "all alike".

While to the ever more plentitude seeking naturalist, even their own children all look and act totally different.

It would be very nice to report that the natural philosopher, as a result of their tendency to see the commonalities in diverse beings, are leaders in seeing the common humanity in all nations of the world.

But on the evidence, that doesn't seem to have been the case very often.

They put everything on separate boxes - and then too easily chose to arrange those boxes in a vertical and unequal hierarchy of worthiness.

On the evidence, the natural historian's tendency to see the diversity of life has had a better record at seeing the hidden qualities in beings too often overlooked in a vertical hierarchy of life.

"Love your neighbour - no matter how scary or slimy or smelly - as you love yourself" - the naturalists' credo

During WWII, too many scientists saw all life as but consisting of nothing more than a common collection of a handful of elements that civilized man hoped to make and re-make artificially in his own labs, far above and away from the rest of Nature.

Very few WWII scientists were like Dr Martin Henry Dawson, who was always popping up from the eyepiece of his microscope to tell his bored colleagues about newly discovered amazing and under-appreciated qualities he had just found in the easily overlooked tiny microbes.

They were probably just as bored when he returned from his rounds as the Goldwater Hospital for the chronically ill poor of New York, to report much the same about these overlooked and under-appreciated segments of our common humanity.

I don't think his colleagues ever really 'got it', but later in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as postwar "Penicillium Kids", my fellow boomers and I fully got it ....

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