An expression of cultural beliefs. Or at least, that’s the impression one gets.
The British Museum is currently featuring an exhibit that, among other things, explores the various attempts to represent the tree of life. But is it in any meaningful sense a tree?
It started out as a Great Chain of Being, where everything had its place in a hierarchical order.
Darwin and his followers got rid of that guy at the top and re-imaged it as a tree of “just naturally occurring” ascending complexity of evolution:
And new approaches are emerging. As the article on the Exhibit says,
And, indeed here we are dealing with such vast amounts of information that one might begin to wonder whether there were any way in which we could meaningfully depict all of life on Earth on an A4 sheet of paper. There have been some attempts—but Imperial College London researcher James Rosindell has come up with an ingenious solution. One Zoom Tree, an interactive tree of life, allows viewers to zoom into the tree of life and explore the evolutionary relationships between tens of thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Then there’s the prokaryotic forest of life.
On wonders what will be hot at the shows a decade from now.
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