Reading the World

By nature, humans generally like to share what they know – at least, they like to share parts of what they know. The very form and manner we choose to visualize what we know in a way that can be shared with others says a lot about how we see the world.

Tree of Knowledge
Tree of Knowledge

For example, one of my ongoing favorite phylogenetic trees, OneZoom, chooses fractal swirls, branches on the tree of life that rotate into ever smaller tendrils, ever closer detail. To me, this reflects our modern ability to see creatures, objects, energies, that are ever smaller. There’s no end to how small we can go.

But visualizing knowledge in the form of branching plant limbs and trees is nothing new.

The Petroleum Tree (1957), an illustration of petroleum uses. Via: Slate
The Petroleum Tree (1957), an illustration of petroleum uses.
Via: Slate

There’s a beautiful book out, The Book Of Trees by Manuel Lima, that takes a look at the roots of all these trees.

We pick other illustrations, other approaches, but the tree is an old beloved standard. It’s like we’re hardwired to depict knowledge, any kind of knowledge, in some kind of plant or tree-like form.

Given our roots, and given how important trees are to human life, I suppose it’s only natural. What would our visualisations of knowledge look like if we’d only ever seen desert, or rocks, or shallow pools of water?

Tree of virtues and vices (1121) Via: Papress
Tree of virtues and vices (1121)
Via: Papress