Saturday, May 05, 2007

With progeny, it's hodge-podgenee

Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That's why I love vegetables;
You know what you're about!
We were talking last evening about the next generations -- our four children, the six grandchildren -- their likenesses and differences. The family resemblances are uncanny, but every member of the family is unique. You would recognize any one of them if you met him or her anywhere in the world.

Six-and-a-half billion individually recognizable human beings.

Which made me wonder: Why so much variability among the human species? Every robin looks (to me) like every other robin. Every Canada goose like every other Canada goose. Jane Goodall notwithstanding, every chimp looks like every other chimp. Dogs are bred into a bewildering variety of breeds, but within a breed -- well, I couldn't tell one collie from another.

Perhaps some of this is psychological. It used to be a cliche among Westerners that "all Orientals look alike," and I wouldn't doubt that Orientals said the same thing about Westerners. Dian Fossey claims to have recognized every gorilla among her subjects, so familiarity may be a big part of it.

And among humans, variations of grooming, makeup and clothing contribute to individual uniqueness.

But still, it seems to me that our species is exceptionally variable, which is what makes possible the art of caricature, and why People and Us magazines are so popular. Has anyone discussed this scientifically? Does consciousness drive selection of surficial diversity? Why don't we look as much alike as a flock of geese?

Whether or not we are more individually diverse than other species, and whatever the explanation, we revel in the utter uniqueness of each child and grandchild. We're glad we're not vegetables. Plant a radish, get a radish, but...
...with children,
It's bewilderin'.
You don't know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you've sown.