Re: Taxonomy and speciation

From: Philip A.E. Jonkers (
Date: Wed Nov 21 2001 - 23:48:45 GMT

  • Next message: Robin Faichney: "Re: Study shows brain can learn without really trying"

    Received: by id AAA03695 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Thu, 22 Nov 2001 00:49:20 GMT
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
    From: "Philip A.E. Jonkers" <>
    Organization: UC Berkeley
    Subject: Re: Taxonomy and speciation
    Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 15:48:45 -0800
    X-Mailer: KMail [version 1.2]
    References: <>
    In-Reply-To: <>
    Message-Id: <>
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
    Precedence: bulk

    > > 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!

    Speaking of which, where the hey is he anyway?

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

    Hi Vincent,

    and much obliged already...

    > 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).

    I know paradigm is just another word for (scientific) model. Paradigmatic:
    a model (set of meanings or conceptions) of a certain phenomenon
    at a certain time? Syntagmatic: a raw sketch of the phenomenon at hand
    rather constant in time?

    > 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'm confused alright. Didn't syntagmatic meaning stay rather fixed over time?

    > 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...
    > probably.

    So the syntagmatic meaning gives you the universal characteristics of
    Batman. The paradigmatic meaning a more detailed description that wears
    off relatively soon like a fashion. Getting warm?

    > 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.

    I do believe however that the concept of species has all the syntagmatic
    benefits it deserves. Using species as name labels have universal advantages
    as long as there is need to communicate over. With the act of speciation
    happening as a gradual process I have more problems with (as I tried to
    specify with the previous mails). In the context just learned, I think the
    term speciation should have never been invented and causes a lot of
    needless when-where-how confusion. I contend we should stick to the
    convenient and discrete species-concept instead.

    > 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 guess the anatomical cues of walking upright are important alright,
    but there are others that can fossilise such as most notably the skull volume.


    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)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Nov 22 2001 - 00:55:09 GMT