Dr C.J. van Putten (Kees)
Associate researcher - History of Philosophy
6525 HT NIJMEGEN
6500 HD NIJMEGEN
Ever since the Greeks, the supposition prevailed that the diversity of nature is the reflection of some immanent natural system, which defines the coherence between all different organisms. It is not by chance that biologists who are concerned with classifying organisms have later become known as systematists. These systematists aim to track down this natural system, by comparing organisms in order to establish the degree of their resemblance, that is, in biological jargon, their affinity. From the very beginning of biological systematics, it was clear that metaphors, whether visualized or not, were indispensable to imagine the natural system. It is striking that the three greatest naturalists – Aristotle, Linnaeus and Darwin – all suggested their own specific way of visualizing the natural system as a complex of affinities between organisms. While Aristotle suggested that living things should be arranged in a ladder-like, graded scale, Linnaeus proposed an arrangement of affinities between plants on a map and Darwin finally introduced the genealogical tree.
Historians of biology have extensively studied these and less current types of images of the natural system, such as cylinders and networks, but they did not pay attention to their visual logic and the increase of their dimensionality over time. Since the quantity of known species comprised in the natural system increased, so did the dimensionality of the images of it. This might explain why Aristotle’s ladder is one-dimensional, Linnaeus’s map is two-dimensional and Darwin’s tree is at first sight a two-dimensional image, but on second sight appears to be a projection on paper of a three-dimensional figure.
My aim is to publish four separate articles which, compiled in my dissertation, will tell a brief history of the visual logic and the dimensionality of images of the natural system.
Supervisors: Prof. Carla Rita Palmerino and Prof. Christoph Lüthy.
- Three Eighteenth-century Attempts to Map the Natural Order: Herrmann – Würtz – Giseke (Early Science and Medicine 24 (2019) 33-89. https://doi.org/10.1163/15733823-00241P02
- Trees, Coral, and seaweed: an interpretation of sketches found in Darwin's papers (Journal of the History of Biology (2020) 53: 5–44. https:/doi.org/10.1007/s10739-019-09591-4
- Three‐Dimensional Phylogeny in Two Dimensions:How Darwin and Other Nineteenth‐Century Naturalists Created Three‐Dimensional Figures of the Natural System by Combining Trees of Life and Maps of Affinity (Journal of the History of Biology) https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-021-09662-5