They called him “Diogenes the Cynic,” because “cynic” meant “dog-like,” and he had a habit of basking naked on the lawn while his fellow philosophers talked on the porch. While they debated the mysteries of the cosmos, Diogenes preferred to soak up some rays – some have called him the Jimmy Buffettof ancient Greece.
Anyway, one morning, the great philosopher Plato had a stroke of insight. He caught everyone’s attention, gathered a crowd around him, and announced his deduction: “Man is defined as a hairless, featherless, two-legged animal!” Whereupon Diogenes abruptly leaped up from the lawn, dashed off to the marketplace, and burst back onto the porch carrying a plucked chicken – which he held aloft and shouted, “Behold: I give you… Man!”
I’m sure Plato was less than thrilled at this stunt, but the story reminds us that these early philosophers were still hammering out the most basic tenets of the science we now know as taxonomy: The grouping of objects from the world into abstract categories. This technique of chopping up reality wasn’t invented in ancient Greece, though. In fact, as a recent study shows, it’s fundamental to the way our brains work.