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Naming is not only deeply personal to ourselves – to OUR own name. Naming is our way of making knowledge personal. This is not to say that we make up our own private language, as lovers might do with personal endearments. It is to say that “naming” is the way we create order in the conversational cognition of meaning making, as distinct from that of labelling. Naming is the distinctive conversation based activity (regardless of whether that conversation is audible or inaudible, interpersonal or just plain thinking) that carries the sense we have made, and are making, of our world.

Of course we need to have shared labels for things. This is the basis of “coordinating our coordinations” (Maturana). That is, I can coordinate myself enough to have a drink. But if I want to coordinate that capability with your capability to do the same – so that we end up having a drink together at the pub – we need to “coordinate our coordinations” – our biologically functioning needs to be aligned by the language we use.

Such coordinations using labels become very important when we want to convey the differences between plants to eat (Black Nightshade – Solanum nigram) and plants to avoid (Deadly nightshade – Atropa belladonna). But we can have many such distinctions without ever embracing them personally. Think for example of the vast bulk of your education – of the sheer volumes of distinctions you were required to recognise and label – but which meant nothing to you personally, and is perhaps mercifully seldom drawn upon…

We may learn the scientific name of a thing, but it may remain a “denotation”, until woven into life experience, it carries connotations for us. Two pieces of nomenclature that have significance to me are “Capsella bursa-pastoris” – the first botanical scientific name I ever learnt (for Shepherds Purse), and “Pseudomonas solanacearum Biotype II”, the plant pathogen that consumed my life for a year of research for my Science Honours. These names have extensive personal connotations – personal to me. If you want to see a list of labels that are NOT personal to me, see here http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/22

What is personal to me is the mental model formations, attributions of meaning and value, associations and memories, all of which guide my reactions and interactions. These are far from stable labels, precise attributions that are only as broad as the number of lenses in the vertical array of the trilobite species eye….(Richard Fortey: Dry Store Room #1 p77). On the contrary, they have a diversity, flexibility , breadth and looseness that lets me proceed somewhat peaceably – or at least largely without psychopathology – in the the “blooming, buzzing confusion” (William James description of a baby’s first experience of the world). Undifferentiated life is a complex place. Stamp collections are not.

“As complexity increases, precision and meaningfulness become incompatible. While precision thrives on stable (fixed) meanings, the fuzzy meanings are unstable – they can simultaneously relate to several attractors and express specific types of meaning-generating crises. Instability of the fuzzy meanings make them flexible for interpretation and open for evolution and transformation. And these are precious qualities necessary for understanding social complexity.“ Vladimir Dimitrov, Strange Attractors of Meaning, 2000

Naming is also our way of keeping knowledge personal. We continue to live with and work with attributions that are not precise, not defined, not Latin binary labels, because it matters to the way our conversational cognition performs. “Attributions about what an artefact “is” and what agents “do” matter. The meaning that agents give to themselves, their products, their competitors, their customers, and all the relevant others in their world determine their space of possible actions–and, to a large extent, how they act. In particular, the meaning that agents construct for themselves constitute their identity: what they do, how they do it, with and to whom.” (Strategy Under Complexity: Fostering Generative Relationships D. Lane and R. Maxfield Long Range Planning, 29:215-231 April, 1996, pp.215-231.)