RE: Taxonomy and speciation

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed Nov 21 2001 - 14:33:23 GMT

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Taxonomy and speciation
    Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 14:33:23 -0000
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            <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?>
            Where's Joe Dees when he's needed!

            I'll try and offer a rudimentary, and non-jargonistic explanation.

            Basically, in texts, this refers to the difference between the
    meaning in a particular moment or scene, compared to meaning across a number
    of scenes (or indeed the entire text). So, in a detective thriller, for
    example, at any one point in the story the information may suggest a
    particular person to be the killer, suggest a particular motive and so on,
    but over the story as a whole (as usually happens in detective thrillers)
    the eventual conclusion reveals the real killer and motive.

            Meaning in the moment or scene, as it were, is referred to as
    paradigmatic, and meaning over time, or across an entire text say, is
    syntagmatic. (very roughly).

            Normally what one notices, especially in a text like a detective
    thriller, is that syntagmatic meaning will change (first you think it's one
    person, then another etc. etc.), whilst the meaning in any particular scene
    is more fixed (although not necessarily absolutely fixed).

            I'll try another example, just to confuse you further. Take a
    superhero like Batman, who's been around for over 60 years. At different
    points in Batman's history, the character has taken many different forms
    (e.g. the 1960s camp TV show character, the 1990s Hollywood movie character
    etc.). Over time some elements have remained the same, and some have
    changed, but each of those particular images of Batman are internally
    consistent. So if you say to someone 'what is Batman like?' they may offer
    a number of different images, but if you say 'what was the 1960s TV Batman
    like?' you'll probably get a much more consistent set of descriptions...

            So, the analogy I'm drawing here is between the overall reality that
    in the grand scheme of evolutionary time maybe the concept of species isn't
    fixed (as organisms are always evolving) but at any particular moment in
    time, like the current period, one can legitimately talk about particular
    species. I think someone mentioned, for example, whales today are all
    marine mammals with flippers instead of legs, whereas 40 million years or so
    ago, 'whales' (as in the organisms whales evolved from) did have legs and
    walked on land. Of course what this raises is the question of how we
    classify and designate species, a process in our heads as you argue, but
    whatever the characteristics we use they are valid at the current time.

            Hence, the debate about human ancestors may get reduced to the
    capacity of early hominids to walk upright, not just because it was very
    important as you say, but because many of the other characterisitcs we
    describe ourselves as posessing don't fossilise (like brain complexity,
    language, and level and kind of social interaction), and thus we can't draw
    simple discrete lines of ancestry.

            I don't know if that adds, detracts, or does nothing but waste
    bandwidth, but there you go!


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