Saturday, October 2, 2010


Spot the real squirrel. I'll give you a clue, it is not the one, and I quote geekyboy here, 'holding his own tiny nuts"

In the post Genome world they probably don't teach "classification" in biology classes. The process of defining which class, genus and species a living organism belongs to, classical classification involved a complex key, a long branching list of 'yes or no' questions that narrowed down the identify of the fish or fowl in question.

Does it have a backbone? If yes, then does it have fur? If no, then does it have scales? And on and on, down to the most minute anatomical details. It wasn't one of the most interesting exercises in biology class, I have to say, and now that we have rapid DNA sequencing and algorithms to tell us exactly how related everything is to everything else it is redundant.

It is a powerful part of our human brain, though. Even very young children can tell us that chihuahuas, mastiffs and huskies are dogs, despite their disparate appearances. There is something fundamentally 'dog' that the brain subconciously perceives and classifies.

I was reminded of the concept this morning. My children have developed a new obsession with the odd but distinctive looking "littlest pet shop" animals and their stupidly minuscule accessories. As I stirred from sleep this is what I overheard.

"Geekyboy, that is not a littlest pet shop animal. Does it have a ginormous wobbly head? No? Then it isn't a littlest petshop animal."

Maybe we can develop a key for classification of toys as guide for parents. If so, it should start with the question "does it come with a ridiculous number of tiny plastic parts, keeping track of which defeats even the most fastidious housekeeper? (well I assume. I am not known for fastidiousness).

What is the latest toy obsession in your house?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone because my daughter has commandeered my laptop