15 May 2012

Hoverfly Buried Under Taxa

Humans have an innate desire to name things, to put them in their proper place. The world seems a safer place if you know what is in front you.

It is a basic animal instinct to categorise. Some animals may only need to know what is edible or not. Others have to distinguish between the thing that wants to eat me and the thing that wants to mate with me.

But humans have language. For us it is not enough to simple ‘know’, to have a visceral instinctive knowledge, we have to put words onto objects. A named object is then pinned down. We can now ask questions of it and judge and compare it to other similarly labelled objects. Our ‘superiority’ as an animal species lies on our ability to confer meaning onto something and then exploit it for our benefit.

Eastern philosophies however consider naming a dangerous activity. It not only traps the phenomena, but us, the labellers. The result is a fixed world where once something has been recognised and reduced to its name it is filed away with all similar things deep inside our subconscious.

“That is a daffodil. It is yellow.”

“That is a weed. It is ugly.”

“That is a slug. All slugs are slimy.”

But in so quickly dismissing the object in front of us we do not experience it as a unique and complex entity. We do not truly see it. Our whole world view is then in danger of becoming impoverished. Ask any artist, or person who spends time quietly meditating, what they gain from looking and looking again - a different world opens up, and yet it is same one that existed before we made the effort to take away the label.

And yet, although I believe this, and occasionally remember to take a better look, I can’t resist my humanity and have to find out from a book or Google (those palaces of words) the exact identification of whatever this thing is before me.

Thus I present today’s “What’s that?!”

It is a hover fly. I took this picture a few days (weeks?!) ago when it was sunny (remember then?). This guy was one of many flying insects sipping nectar (or eating pollen?) from the lime green Euphorbia. There were wasps, bees, flies, ladybirds, and a few of these lithe and stripy chaps.

Scrutinising a ‘All About Hover Flies' site I’m guessing my hoverfly is a Parasyrphus punctulatus (don’t quote me on it) ... what a long and esoteric classification ... wonder what that means ...

..... this tiny delicate hover fly is burdened with 22 labels!

Humans, in their anxiety to pin him down, have created 22 taxa (taxonomic units), which I’ve tried to delineate in the table below, to completely describe him.

Would he be the same without them? Is my world better for knowing them?

*faint whisper from far corner of psyche ...“ ’yis ”*

hoverfly taxa