On classification and belief

Classification, and thereby also language, is ultimately inconsistent, actually paradoxically contradictory, which Bertrand Russell also demonstrated with his paradox.

We can, however, make classification consistent by arranging it orthogonally, as we do with measuring systems, like time and length. It means that we first define a standard unit, like second and meter, and then group such units in some kind of orthogonal units of them, like minutes and centimeters.

This is exactly what Carl von LinnĂ© did with the biological diversity. He first defined the standard units as “species” and then grouped them into the orthogonal units “genus”, “family”, “order”, and so on.

At this point, it is important to keep in mind that the standard units in such a system do not exist in an existential sense (ie, can’t be found), but are just a starting points.

However, if we turn classification into belief by believing that the starting points DO exist, like Charles Darwin did with “species”, then we just return to the ultimately inconsistent classification, like the Nazi biologist Willi Hennig did with his approach that today is called “cladistics”, which thus has no consistent solution (per definition).

In a finite world, like ours, we can only turn matters orthogonally up-side-down. We have no possibility to find an ultimate truth, but can just choose between being contradictory (believing) or ambiguous (being skeptical). There simply isn’t any end in the world (and thus neither any beginning). The world isn’t a story.

 

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