Re: Taxonomy and speciation

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri Nov 23 2001 - 09:31:44 GMT

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

    Received: by id JAA06173 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Fri, 23 Nov 2001 09:36:46 GMT
    X-Originating-IP: []
    From: "Scott Chase" <>
    Subject: Re: Taxonomy and speciation
    Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 04:31:44 -0500
    Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed
    Message-ID: <>
    X-OriginalArrivalTime: 23 Nov 2001 09:31:44.0999 (UTC) FILETIME=[AAA7AF70:01C17401]
    Precedence: bulk

    >From: "Philip A.E. Jonkers" <>
    >Subject: Taxonomy and speciation
    >Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 17:06:20 -0800
    >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.
    >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.
    So...maybe Darwin should have titled his book _Origin of Name-Tags_?
    >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
    >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.
    Or _Origin of Name Tags Existing Solely in Our Heads_?
    >They actually are memes which were created through
    >our eagerness to conveniently label everything we encounter.
    Ironically isn't the "meme" concept just a convenient label for a notion you
    are applying to the problematic concept of species in biology? You seem to
    have no qualms using the term "meme", assuming that memes exist yet species
    are fictitious.
    >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
    >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
    >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.
    There may be tremendous difficulties in application of the concepts of
    species and speciation (and I humbly defer to Wilkins for his expertise in
    this matter), but your pragmatic hypernominalism may be misguided. Though
    essentialism may be equally misguided, there could realistically species out
    there, just very difficult to capture in our heads due to limitations.
    >In short, I contend that speciation occurs nowhere in nature but in our
    >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.
    There are many fuzzy edges in biology. Get used to it. Try looking at the
    evolution of individuality for instance. In some cases how would you ascribe
    individuality to loosely organized aggregates such as with slime molds? Are
    the cellular units themselves individuals or the collection when they form a

    You're not always gonna get the exacting clarity one strives for in physics.

    Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at

    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 : Fri Nov 23 2001 - 09:42:48 GMT