Re: Taxonomy and speciation

From: Philip A.E. Jonkers (
Date: Wed Nov 21 2001 - 02:43:26 GMT

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    From: "Philip A.E. Jonkers" <>
    Organization: UC Berkeley
    Subject: Re: Taxonomy and speciation
    Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 18:43:26 -0800
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    On Tuesday 20 November 2001 10:49 am, you wrote:
    > Avoiding the biological issues here, perhaps I could briefly offer some
    > comments coming broadly from a linguistic field (not mine but closer to
    > what I do than the biology side of your argument).
    > Your allusion to the term 'dog' reminds me of Wittgenstein's stuff, and
    > subsequently about the kinds of concerns in semiotics about the non-fixed
    > nature of meaning.
    > Now it strikes me that the concept of species fits into the kind of
    > distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic meaning. In other words,
    > the concept of species is, in absolute terms, as you say in our heads in
    > that syntagmatically- or over time- one species is always seguing into the
    > next and the line is not necessarily clear (I saw a TV show last night
    > about the recent finds of a bipedal hominid from 6 million years ago,
    > putting human ancestry back much further than previously thought, for
    > example [as an aside to the debate about selves and consciousness, I noted
    > one of the experts on that programme actually said that bipedalism was
    > arguably the most important differentiation from human ancestors and other
    > primate ancestors- when you go back a long way, anyway]).

    When humans freed two limbs by standing upwards a literally
    a world of manipulative possibilities opened up. With an intrinsic and
    unrivaled manual dexterity memetic evolution kicked off.
    I don't think it's an understatement that that is like the invention of the
    wheel in human evolution.

    Semiotics, syntagmatic? I'm sorry I left my Webster's back in Holland
    (it was too dorned heavy) and I can't find those words in Cambridge's. So
    please enlighten me Vincent, what do you mean?

    > On the other hand, paradigmatically- at any particular point in time, one
    > can surely see the existence of species- a distinct group of organisms that
    > share characteristics, both physiological and behavioural etc. etc.
    > In other words perhaps what's reflected in the concept of species is our
    > chronological bias to now- what's happening now, but in the sense of
    > helping to classify things around us, the idea of species is useful?
    > If this all sounds weird, or silly, please ignore, I'm writing after a long
    > day's teaching- that hasn't finished yet as I'm teaching a evening degree
    > class for the next couple of hours.
    > Vincent
    > > ----------
    > > From: Philip A.E. Jonkers
    > > Reply To:
    > > Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2001 1:06 am
    > > To:
    > > Subject: Taxonomy and speciation
    > >
    > > Dear all,
    > >
    > > Since we are so fond of biological evolution too, I thought it might be
    > > worth-while to inform you on the next matter.
    > > As I'm reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea, I've come with the following
    > > interpretation on speciation, i.e. the birth of a new species. I sent
    > > an email to Dennett himself in which I layed out my ideas. Here is the
    > > part of that email that captures the essentials.
    > >
    > > Please read and see what you make of it, if you are interested I can
    > > give you Dennett's reply too. But I don't want to bias you so I'll do
    > > that after your responses.
    > >
    > > Philip.
    > >
    > > ....
    > >
    > > Before elaborating on speciation let's consider taxonomy in general
    > > first. We humans have derived great practical use in attributing names to
    > > whatever
    > > phenomenon we have encountered over history. These name-tags function as
    > > short-hand syntactic pointers to the semantics of the items they are
    > > meant to signify. For example, when someone talks about a "dog" to me,
    > > I automatically imagine a small carnivorous lively mammal making
    > > excellent
    > >
    > > companions and warning systems by their serving nature and their
    > > innately present high degree of vigilance, etc...
    > > These tags, once accepted by the masses, facilitate rapid and easier
    > > communication by making superfluous the use of elaborate and
    > > time-consuming
    > > descriptions. Small wonder we humans became quite adapt in universally
    > > applying this necessary rather than merely convenient tool of labeling.
    > >
    > > This process of tagging we indiscriminately applied also to the living
    > > nature. If we would be at ease with the faulty preconception
    > > that, for religious reasons, species are to be considered being
    > > immutable,
    > >
    > > no problems emerge: attributing fixed names to presumed fixed species
    > > goes without problems. However, as Darwin competently made plausible in
    > > his
    > > `Origin' this is of course not how nature really works. Every living
    > > being in
    > > nature evolves, organisms incessantly change.
    > > Thus our tradition of taxonomy, though being well-designed for labeling
    > > fixed entities, falls somewhat short when trying to label dynamically
    > > evolving entities. To put it boldly, species do not exist anywhere but
    > > in our own heads. They actually are memes which were created through
    > > our eagerness to conveniently label everything we encounter.
    > > Speciation does not occur in nature in an intrinsic manner (that is,
    > > independent of observers). Being no real part of nature it comes as no
    > > surprise
    > > that it is quite impossible to determine when exactly a case of
    > > speciation
    > >
    > > occurred. We have decided to tag creatures with such and such names,
    > > based on the historical and religious assumption that they were fixed.
    > > When found that they were evolving instead we ran into trouble because
    > > it is practically impossible to determinable when exactly a case of
    > > speciation occurred. The notion of speciation as actually occurring in
    > > nature
    > > is a fallacious artifact due to a forced attempt to mend our view of
    > > nature
    > > by incorporating evolution-theory into the traditional worldview of
    > > taxonomy that is based on the idea of fixed species. If the concept of
    > > speciation is to bear any sense in the contemporary evolutionary
    > > conception of nature it can do so only if it were to be used
    > > with a very casual and loose definition.
    > >
    > > In short, I contend that speciation occurs nowhere in nature but in our
    > > heads
    > > and actually is an artifact of a somewhat misplaced application
    > > of our deeply ingrained tradition of taxonomy to organize the presumed
    > > non-evolving realm of organisms.
    > >
    > > Philip.
    > >
    > > ===============================================================
    > > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > > see:
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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