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Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's TreeThe Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order$
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J. Archibald

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164122

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164122.001.0001

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Competing Visual Metaphors

Competing Visual Metaphors

Chapter:
(p.53) Chapter Three Competing Visual Metaphors
Source:
Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree
Author(s):

J. David Archibald

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231164122.003.0003

This chapter examines the rise of the tree as a prominent visual metaphor. Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, European scientists struggled to keep pace with the work of classifying organisms brought back in great batches from overseas expansionary expeditions. Especially in the first half of the nineteenth century, a hodgepodge of competing ways emerged to illustrate and organize nature's order. The tree imagery would triumph as the visual metaphor for nature's order, thanks to the influence of powerful individuals. This chapter discusses the different perceptions of the natural world in the late eighteenth century and earlier part of the nineteenth century, as evidenced by all manner of schemes which attempted to simultaneously understand the richness and the obvious order in nature, such as elaborate geometric shapes purporting to show some underlying mathematical principle in biology. It also traces the origins of the idea of arranging life in a tree-like form and considers Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's bifurcating diagram—the earliest known evolutionary tree—as well as Edward Hitchcock's “Paleontological Chart” showing geologically based, nonevolutionary trees for plants and animals.

Keywords:   visual metaphor, nature, imagery, natural world, biology, life, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, evolution, Edward Hitchcock, trees

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