12 April 2015

Horologium Florae

Morning Glory - Dog Rose - Catmint - Chicory - Dandelion - Marigold -
Osteospermum - Gentian - Evening Primrose - Nicotiana

I noticed in the weekend papers that there is a new book out, 'The World Beyond Your Head',  in which the author, Matthew Crawford, warns against the constant distraction of the modern media-driven world. The tagline for the article is 'distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind'.

Being someone who is definitely a 'mind' person, always thinking, reading, and googling, that line made me think. Have I got a fat head? A lardy, cellulite dimpled mind? I think, upon reflection, I probably do. Owning an Ipad is lethal. It's like smoking - very hard to give up.

Do you remember the time before the internet? However did we discover stuff? I think we found it by roaming the aisles of bookshops and libraries. It must have taken up dedicated time to search out books, and patience enough to plough through them or their bibliographies to discover that final gem of information. Serendipity played a major part.

It is hard to tell which method is most rewarding. Now all I have to do is ask a question and the net can provide the answer without me having to leave the house, or put on shoes. The majority of this blog's content comes from such a method. I don't actually know this stuff here, I hope you realise that!

And here's the nub of the conundrum - is all this easily accessed, interesting, mildly exciting information true 'knowing'?

Let me demonstrate: after reading the papers I picked up the Ipad and looked at Twitter. On that feed I followed a link to an article by a feminist magazine that cited a New York Times article about an idea Carl Linneaus had in 1751. Wow, isn't the modern world amazing? From political London, to New York, to eighteenth century Sweden. Fantastic. My obese mind quivered with joy.

His idea was so intriguing I thought I'd research it more and tell you all about it. And yes, I've perused pdfs from the Linnean Society and with the help of Google Books looked at a few pages of a book originally published in 1824. Incredible. But none of this was ultimately useful in getting to grips with Linneaus' idea.

Through his own observations of plants he found the flowers of different species open and close at fixed times of day, independent of external stimuli like the sun or heat. He postulated that it is possible to tell the time by which flowers were open. Hence, his Horologium Florae, or Flower Clock.

I was going to give you a list of the plants, mostly weeds, that open at say 10 in the morning and close at 2 in the afternoon. It would be fun to spot a weed when out walking, guess the time, then check your watch (phone), and give a little chuckle when you realise all is well in the world and the Great Clockmaker himself is taking care of things.

There is a problem however. And it's not that Linneaus was wrong. Some plants do have internal (endogenous) clocks, and flowers do have their own time keeper separate from their leaves. It's just that Linneaus lived very near the arctic circle, where plants flower in short seasons of short days. You may see the same species growing out of the pavement here but they behave differently.

To create a list of time measuring flowers that would be useful to you, you would have to spend time looking at flowers.

And then you would KNOW

At last I get to my point.

OK, admittedly we have watches and phones and don't actually need to consult flowers to know if it's time to go home, or if The One Show is about to start, but those devices are of the manmade world, they are separate from the natural world. They are a distraction from what is really happening; from the real time.

The over consumption of words (I may be labouring the point here) insulates us from the natural flow of Time.  A clock we will all succumb to one day.