Tuesday, January 18, 2011


While watching priceless information about the world leaders being declassified in a phew by Wikileaks, I wondered about a different interpretation of classification aka taxonomy.

As a kid, we learnt to classify - clearly and rigorously. That is the secret of science. The word taxonomy itself originated from Greek, which is the cradle of modern western civilization. The spirit of science embeds classification in such a deep way that, it is actually hard for us to think without classification. Like, gravitation is a study of physics and anatomy is a study of medicine. Taxonomy is also a major foundation of logical reasoning. For example, computer is a machine, elevator is a machine. If machine requires manufacturing then, both computer and elevator requires manufacturing.

Without having a proper classification, our thought process finds it difficult, perhaps, to store and retrieve the information. This is as much as we dislike to be uncertain. This classification continues in fields beyond science so that a scientific approach can be adopted for things like emotion and spirituality. To put it mildly, the approach of classification fares poorly there.

The picture is not always rosy for science either. For example when well-known physicist Ernest Rutherford says "Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting." Then, he is just referring to the huge amount of taxonomic burden applied to biology (species) or chemistry (periodic table, elements). The irony of his statement could not be more apparent when, he won Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1908. Perhaps it never occurred to Rutherford that he is using the same principles as any chemist or any biologist studying nature namely, observe, postulate, experiment, validate.

The greatness in science or otherwise, is attributed to the people who could connect the distant islands of knowledge and see the general picture. Two examples will be put.

When working on the famous Fermat's Last Theorem, Andrew Wiles had to bridge distant ideas of latest mathematics and even sometimes build new tools to do that. He succeeded, where nearly 4 centuries of mathematical brilliance surrendered, including Euler.

In his Paper on Hinduism, a lecture delivered at Chicago, Swami Vivekananda notes - "Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus Chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all other could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all others are but manifestations." Is not that exactly what the modern science is always after ?

Unfortunately, our untrained minds often fail to grasp the power of declassification. Classification and declassification are both important tools in understanding nature whereas, the first is acquired in the formal education and the second is left upto us to nurture.

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