Traits and/or states

Kirk Fitzhugh kfitzhug at NHM.ORG
Thu Oct 30 10:29:53 CST 2003

At 09:05 AM 10/30/03 -0600, you wrote:
>At 04:36 PM 10/30/03 +0200, Matt Buys wrote:
>>Is there a difference between states and traits and if so, what would
>>that be?
>A "trait" (character) is a feature of an organism in general, e.g., flower
>color.  A state is the specific expression of that character in a given
>individual, e.g., red, yellow, or white.

 From an epistemological standpoint, the distinctions between "character"
and "state," or "states" and "traits" are not correct. All objects are
perceived by way of their properties. To conceptualize or communicate
perceptions, we infer subject-predicate relations, such as "The petals of
this flower are red." But, there is no generic "character" such as "petal
color" to which we assign a "state." It is senseless (no pun intended) to
demarcate a "character" as something separate from what is called a "state"
of that "character." If I say I observe a flower with red petals, then I
have mentioned, in the form of a predicate, a property/character/trait,
etc., of petals, which is the subject. In the parlance of cladistics, for
instance, a data matrix is not composed of columns as "characters" and
cells as "states." Rather, each cell summarizes observed subject-predicate
relations among a group of individuals; the columns simply indicate the
different subjects for which these relations have been observed.

I have a slide show at the url listed below which discusses character coding.



J. Kirk Fitzhugh, Ph.D.
Associate Curator of Polychaetes
Invertebrate Zoology Section
Research & Collections Branch
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
900 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90007

Phone:   213-763-3233
FAX:     213-746-2999
e-mail:  kfitzhug at

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