"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."-Wordsworth

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bananas and the Total Perspective Vortex

Let me begin my discussion of bananas with something seemingly unrelated. Please bear with me. I will connect back to the topic of bananas. I may skip around a lot because A) that is the current system my brain is running on and B)I've had too much coffee. If it gets annoying, just skip ahead to BANANA BIOLOGY, keeping in mind the basic idea of approaching all aspects of banana production.

I am currently reading Edward O. Wilson's "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" for my Natural Resources class. Wilson writes of how all disciplines of study- biology, the social sciences, ethics and environmental policy for example, really all intersect and should be utilized together. He calls this basic connection between all knowledge consilience. In one chapter he draws a figure to describe the intersection of these fields. I have re-created it in order to make my point clearer. Keep in mind this figure is a reproduction of his and I do not own it in any sense. (Currently I am trying to figure out how to put this picture up)

With a cross-shaped intersection between the four categories in the figure we see imposed divisions between the fields. If concentric circles are drawn in the middle of this cross we see how one could consider each field. As each circle gets smaller the problem between balancing the core of each issue increases.

I feel I have been struggling with consilience my whole life without being able to name it. It causes a certain feverish onset of chaotic thinking in which I jump around to different topics. I seem to be a bit of a non-linear thinker, but sometimes I connect seemingly unrelated issues together with non-linear thinking. Take something that happened to me recently: I was talking to a friend of mine who is a child-development major. She told me she wanted to rennovate a park near her house in order to make it kid-friendly. We both got excited about the project, talking about planting a little patch of native plants or making a community garden in addition to cleaning up the park. In that moment I felt the excitement of combining our two specialties together to synthesize something awesome! It would involve community organizing, a little work with policy, working with volunteers and working with our hands.

To me the process of consilience in thought reminds me of a torture machine in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. This machine, called the Total Perspective Vortex shows its victims everything in the universe and puts their small lives in perspective. In the book everyone died after exposure to the Total Perspective Vortex. I see consilience as cousin to this machine-though not deadly it can certainly be confusing and humbling. Making connections can lead in many different directions, just as this blog is heading in many directions.

I have always felt a passion about many topics of study and see no reason why integration between branches of learning cannot and should not occur. Therefore
in approaching the subject of bananas I want to address all of these fields- what production of bananas is doing to the environment and how environmental policy is involved, the ethics behind the industry, how this affects people and the basic biology of bananas.

And so, thank you for your patience as I waxed a little poetic on the topic of consilience. On to bananas! I will update this post as I obtain more information.

Bananas are interesting plants because they appear to be trees, but are actually large herbaceous plants. The reason it is called herbaceous is because after a banana plant fruits the above-ground portion dies back. Bananas produce many roots, rather than one big taproot like a carrot does. When harvest is over on a banana plantation the above-ground portion of the plants are often cut down.

The flowering portion of a banana plant, or the inflorescence, is composed of "male" pollen-bearing flowers at the base which are fully enclosed in a bell of bracts. Above that is an area of hermaphroditic flowers, then above that are the female flowers. Formation of the inflorescence begins in an upward direction, then as the inflorescence elongates it turns downward.

The main kind of banana grown for economic purposes is Musa acuminata. This is used as a "dessert banana," versus others that are used mainly in cooking. Of this banana there are different breeds. The bananas we eat from the store are greatly larger than wild breeds, due to our choice of breeding to make the bananas larger and longer. Wild bananas are generally finger length and full of seeds. The dessert bananas we eat today do not require any pollination- they just produce an edible pulp. The number of seeds in our bananas has also been reduced via breeding.

Soon to come:

The name 'Banana' comes from the Arabic 'elbanan' for 'finger' because wild bananas were the length of a finger.

BANANA SOCIOLOGY- Currently I am having difficulties determining what is fact and fiction when it comes to this and the following topics. I will continue to add on as I find more resources.






This is a link to the first Chiquita banana commercial. I claim no rights to it, just pointing it out. It took on the task of explaining bananas to people who didn't know how to eat them or ripen them.
Chiquita Commercial

Banana History


(1) Robinson, J., and C.A.B. International. Bananas and plantains. CABI, 1996. Print. 

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