A Cornerstone of Civilization

Is the list.

“Think of a tiger, which science describes as a predator. How would a mother describe a tiger to her child? Probably by using a list of characteristics: The tiger is big, a cat, yellow, striped and strong. Only a chemist would refer to water as H2O. But I say that it’s liquid and transparent, that we drink it and that we can wash ourselves with it. Now you can finally see what I’m talking about. The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list.”

We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die” says Umberto Eco, in an interview conducted by Susanne Beyer and Lothar Gorris at Spiegel Online.

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