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30 December 2003

Naming isn't knowing

…so it ended up that the other fathers had to take their children for walks the next weekend, and the next Monday when they were all back to work, all the kids were playing in the field and one kid said to me, “See that bird, what kind of bird is that?” And I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush,” or something, “Your father doesn’t tell you anything.” But it was the opposite: my father had taught me. Looking at a bird he says, “Do you know what that bird is? It’s a brown-throated thrush; but in Portuguese it’s a … in Italian a …,” he says “in Chinese it’s a …, in Japanese a…,” etcetera. “Now,” he says, “you know in all the languages you want to know what the name of that bird is and when you’re finished with all of that,” he says, “you’ll know absolutely nothing about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now,” he says, “let’s look at the bird.”

From Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (read to me by Matt)

Posted at 08:14 PM in Naming | Permalink


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