What is a character?

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Wed Jul 10 08:56:23 CDT 2002


I believe that the following "characters", without assessment of character
state, work across widely different taxa:

"Character 1" - 4-chambered heart
"Character 2" - body hair
"Character 3" - warm blood
"Character 4" - vertebrae
"Character 5" - mammary glands

If you add more "characters", (at this point without assessment of character
state), the focus is narrowed, as I shall show below:

"Character 6" - canine and cutting teeth
"Character 7" - predator

Or, to change directions:

"Character 6a" - canine and grinding teeth
"Character 7a" - omnivore

Or, to change directions again:

"Character 6b" - large, chizel-like incisors and grinding teeth
"Character 7b" - herbivore

Thus, the particular herbivore, omnivore or predator, had to have all of the
characters 1-5, but from 6 onward, there is a change in the kinds of teeth
and the nature of the food eaten.

Thus, what you have done in "...a very narrow focus..." is to use
subconsciously, and not state, all the characters such as those given above
in 1-5.  You have started at character sets similar to those in 6 and 7 (or
perhaps even higher!), and you may have gone farther up to say 19 and 20,
but, the base set is still there, just not acknowledged or seen in your

No meaning has been lost, as these are the base characters.  Because the use
and mention of them each time will clutter our discussion, we do not bring
them forward.  We deal with "...a very narrow focus...".

Robin Leech

----- Original Message -----
From: "Phil Bunch" <pbunch at CTS.COM>
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2002 7:27 AM
Subject: Re: What is a character?

> I think this would be interesting but would a definition of
> "character" work across widely different taxa? It could become so
> general as to lose meaning. Since I have a very narrow focus I have
> not though much about the wide applicability of such a definition.
> Phil Bunch
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: <Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU>
> Sent: Tuesday, July 09, 2002 21:19
> Subject: What is a character?
> > Personally, I believe that insistence on precise definitions is
> often
> > unhelpful and at base illusory; but a common set of agreed terms (or
> an
> > understanding of the other chap's usage) is no doubt important. If
> someone's
> > starting a thread on the term "character", I recommend a glance at
> my own
> > discussion of the matter - Sys. Zool. 34:229-233, 1985 - that is, if
> your
> > library goes back to the Dark Ages!
> >
> > Don Colless,
> > CSIRO Div of Entomology,
> > Canberra.
> > email don.colless at csiro.au
> > tel. (02)62464270
> > tuz le munz est miens envirun
> >

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