Saturday, August 15, 2009
Taxonomy and Adoption
Disclosure: I am a secret science geek. Every week, I look forward to the arrival of Tuesday for the sole reason that that is the day of the week when the New York Times "Science Times" section is published. I read it from cover to cover, which sometimes takes all week, if I'm particularly busy, but I carry it around in my purse, reading bits of it every chance I get. Ok, that's enough disclosure about my dorky habits for now.
Here's an article from the Science Times on Tuesday, August 11, 2009 that struck me as particularly pertinent to both adoption and poetry (another of my passions). Entitled "Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the Living World," the article argues that taxonomy is a dying practice. I must admit, I can't understand how it could possibly be a dying practice, because from my biased perspective as an adoptee and a poet, naming the world is central to existence.
Yet the article's author, Carol Kaesuk Yoon says that "we are, all of us abandoning taxonomy, the ordering and naming of life. We are...losing the ability to order and name and therefore losing a connection to and a place in the living world." Do you feel this is true? Please let me know what you think about her assertion.
But here's my thesis: naming the world leads to knowing the world, and knowing the world helps us know ourselves and our place in it. This is especially important for adoptees, who don't know their place in the world because of their displacement from one family into another, often at a very early, preverbal age. Naming is also important for the poetically inclined, because in my opinion, poetry is the act of renaming the world, and in naming it, we both renew it, and we come to understand it better as a shared, universal experience.
Carol Kesuk Yoon also mentions some recent scientific studies that have led "some researchers to hypothesize that there might be a specific part of the brain that is devoted to the doing of taxonomy." If this hypothesis is true, it would suggest that taxonomic tendencies are evolutionarily based, integral to our humanness. Conversely, she says, people whose brains are damaged in this taxonomic area are "completely at sea. Without the power to order and name life, a person simply does not know how to live in the world, howo to understand it..They are utterly lost, anchorless in a strange and confusing world. Because to order and name life is to have a sense of the world around, and as a result, what one's place is in it."
Sound familiar, adopted people? I would posit that this "anchorlessness" due to the inability to name the world is similar to the unmoored feelings some adoptees (including myself) have when they do not know their origins. What do you think?
I also think that this cellular need to know my origins, to understand my place in the world is what drove me to become a poet. It was a stopgap way to name the world, to name my life, until I could find my birth family.
As David Kirk, a social scientist who did research about losses in adoption, concluded the way we heal is understanding those losses. I believe that in order to understand those losses, we must first name them: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
Do any of you readers out there have a similar (or opposite) opinion or experience to share?
Give us a shout!