Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme"

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Wed 01 Jun 2005 - 01:47:24 GMT

  • Next message: John Wilkins: "Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme""

    --- John Wilkins <> wrote:

    > On 01/06/2005, at 11:09 AM, Scott Chase wrote:
    > > Plus the word "bat" itself can be punned from its
    > > usage in baseball to its usage in mammalogy. Then
    > we
    > > have a concept that can range from Dracula's
    > favorite
    > > way of getting around (with all its Gothic
    > > representations) to a cute little pipistrelle.
    > When we
    > > verge into categorization of living things, we are
    > in
    > > Dr. John Wilkins's neck of the woods (species
    > > concepts). Yet there are toy bats that kids could
    > > dangle from the ceiling at Halloween, so we're
    > still
    > > straddling between the natural and contrived (like
    > > with wooden and plastic sticks). In the
    > naturalistic
    > > arena, for species concepts, there are some issues
    > of
    > > nominalism too, like is it something that really
    > > exists as we think it is or are we just defining
    > it
    > > with our label and lending it a degree of
    > > artificiality with our conceptualization of it and
    > the
    > > way we represent it in our noggins? Maybe our
    > label
    > > affixed to the species is contrived in a similar
    > > manner as the rubbery child's toy. That ought to
    > get
    > > John foaming at the mouth if he's reading this :-)
    > Fortunately I'm not. But while not reading this, let
    > me not make this
    > point: The view you are referring to is basically
    > that of the
    > nominalists (all general terms are flatus vocus -
    > breath of the
    > voice), or conventionalism, a view that arises, so
    > far as I can tell,
    > with Locke.
    > In modern biological taxonomy, this is what I call
    > species denial. A
    > species is just some handy tag we assign to
    > organisms to help
    > communication between scientists. I have some
    > sympathy for it,
    > although I reject it.
    Likewise, essentialism has its allure too, but can be taken too far. We have Owen's vertebrate and Goethe's leaf, but each must be historicized, via homology and the common ancestor. There are phylum level conceptualizations in evo-devo that I remember like the phylotypic stage of pharyngula (doesn't somebody have a website named after this one?). These phylum level distinctions would give most nominalists a severe case of wheezing and hives. Essentialism and nominalism represent a tension of opposites.

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