The urge to label

Adam and Eve: Tree of Knowledge

I know I have written about this before but I am often struck by the consequences of our inclination to label the things in the world around us.

As I was doing my walk yesterday through beautiful autumnal trees I was realised again that I have no real clue what kind of trees they are. I have read so many books on flora and fauna over the years but none of it has stuck. Apart from beech trees, which are everywhere around here, the others remain a mystery to me.

And that was the point. I realised that in some ways I appreciate them more as a mystery. Otherwise there is a risk of walking around going “Oh, that’s an oak, that’s a chestnut, that’s an elder” and as a result not really seeing them. Even the label “tree” creates a sense of separation and isolation.

In reality, like ourselves, the tree is an undifferentiated part of the nature around it. Finding hard edges for where the tree stops and starts is infinitely complex. By labelling things we over simplify the world and separate ourselves from it at a fundamental level. This is the biblical story of the fall and and the consequence eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

We are still paying a really high price for that fall.

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