Naming the Naming Project: A Deep Look at Adam and the Human Project

With the Holidays behind us, we are back in the Garden of Eden with our annual rebooting of the Torah reading. It really feels like we are starting our year again from the beginning. We are again introduced to Adam.  I am struck every year how familiar and yet how completely other-ly his character seems.  Who was Adam?

Here in Beresheit, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

And God Almighty formed from the earth every beast of the field and every fowl of the heavens, and God brought [it] to man to see what he would call it, and whatever the man called each living thing, that was its name. And man named all the cattle and the fowl of the heavens and all the beasts of the field.: (Genesis 2:19-20)

Adam named all of God’s creatures. But is that who he is? It is clear that none of us can be minimized or limited to a job description. But this work is not simply giving names to things. In this work he needed to define his relationship with them ( Yevamot 63a). In giving them names he also had to determine their relationship to each other. What are categories of animal life? To name God’s creations he needed to create language and an entire taxonomy of creation. This means that for Adam to do his job he really needed to come to a deep understanding of the world around him.

It seems that our job and our identity as human beings is still to make sense of the world around us. It is interesting to realize that in so many ways we are still striving to create a language to make order of the chaos of our experience of the world.

In terms of Adam’s initial job he have maps that classifies the animal world.

Besides the incredible history of cartography of the world around us we are also running to map the world inside us in the Human Genome Project.


Similarly we strive to organize our understanding of the chemical world:


This Periodic Table inspired this Tiffany Shlain’s periodic table of character traits.


In tern this inspired my own Making Mensches Periodic Table, which eventually turned into this:

I like to think of this work as the genome project of the soul.

But we are just getting started. There are those who look to map our experience of flavor:


Figure 2

And even smell:

There has been similar work to understand music. This has been popularized by Pandora.  Similarly I recently discovered the Art Genome Project which is an amazing effort to classificy the characteristics that connect artists, artworks, architecture, and design objects across history. And there is Scott McCloud‘s brilliant categorization of comic art:

And even efforts of map out the history of philosophy:

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of all of our naming projects. It seems Adam’s job is hard-wired into who we are as human beings. We just need to name it that in a very deep way Adam is who we are striving to become.


1 Response to “Naming the Naming Project: A Deep Look at Adam and the Human Project”

  1. 1 Tom Rosenberg October 9, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Avi

    Very thoughtful blog as usual. Thank you. I imagine Adam was a person full of positive positive and negative capacities as with any human, but what was his soul like? As an idealist I want to believe that he was inclined to improve the world and himself as a leader.

    For me it seems like this is the time of year to reflect on “naming” who I aspire to be in the year ahead as a Jewish person. If I could create an aspirational recipe of chosen middot, intended actions and conscious soulful direction (goals), what would that all look like?

    I assume that Adam had a lot of options for his aspirational recipe given that he could name things as he saw them.

    We all have Adam’s opportunities inside of us. To categorize the world the way we see it and to set forth an aspirational recipe for the year ahead to guide us in our daily life.

    Shabbat Shalom.


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