I have just returned from a fantastically stimulating week in Hannover, Germany, where I had the honor of presenting the keynote lecture at a symposium on “Labels, Catalogues, and Architectures: The Art and Science of Modern Systematics.” The event was held at the rebuilt Schloss Herrenhausen on the grounds of one of the grand European formal gardens.
Participants were remarkably diverse in their backgrounds, including taxon experts from major museums of several countries, historians of science, philosophers of science, sociologists, and artists. From species concepts to implications of naming nature, novel ways of visualizing macroevolution, and searching for common structural patterns in nature, each talk challenged participants to look at the world through a radically different lens.
It was a chance to renew several old friendships with colleagues from Germany, Spain, the U.K. and U.S., and to create several new ones. The intellectual stimulation at the intersection of such different fields was off the charts. At times I was grappling to defend a previously held view and at others adopting an entirely new way of looking at an issue. Both ways, it was a mind-stretching experience and fascinating social experiment.
Blurring traditional boundaries between disciplines sparks new and creative ways of viewing problems and just the kind of innovation we shall need to overcome complex environmental challenges. Just as hybrid vigor emerges from novel gene combinations in a plant breeding experiment, new ideas are spawned in the fertile intellectual hybrid zones found only in the overlapping outer regions of disciplines. Such creative exchanges of ideas hold great hope for problem solving.