Are species real?

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Tue Apr 11 14:23:03 CDT 2006

Try referring to Ernst Mayr's work in New Guinea on birds.  The locals
there recognized (not sure of the number, but it was something like
139 species) recognized 139 species, Mayr recognized 140 species.
Two more diverse cultures one cannot find: New Guinean and
Robin Leech

----- Original Message -----
From: "Karl Magnacca" <kmagnacca at WESLEYAN.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 1:47 PM
Subject: Re: Are species real?

>> The only "test" I can see for examining whether species might be
>> natural, as opposed to artificial, is whether two separate human
>> cultures,
>> with no interaction between them, come up with congurent nomenclature to
>> describe the organisms in their environments. If species are "natural"
>> one
>> would expect a high degree of congruence.  But this test is weak, because
>> different cultures have different levels of technology and biological
>> insight, and the biological nomenclature is often biased towards cultural
>> interactions with various organisms.
> Part of that bias being that most cultures are not interested in defining
> species as they are in nature (assuming that they are real), and part
> being lack of technology necessary.  I doubt, for example, that many
> people outside the current "culture of science" tried to separate the
> species of scolytid beetles.
>> So in this sense, it's easy to think of species as natural and
>> "real". But if you look at it from a broader perspective -- unconstrained
>> by any particular moment in time -- and consider all antecedents of every
>> living organism on Earth, would it be equally unambiguous for all
>> individual organisms as to whether or not they were, or were not, Homo
>> sapiens?  In this case, I'd wager not.
> Ah, but that's changing the rules of the game.  Species are real at any
> one point in time (fortunately, evolutionary-scale time works for the most
> part); beyond that, as you say, things get sketchy.  Is the common
> ancestor of two current species the same as one or the other?  If not,
> where did it change?  That doesn't work in any kind of objective way.  And
> it gets at why we are condemned to have legions of paleontologists who
> think phylogenetic nomenclature is the greatest invention since the rock
> hammer, and why we have to listen to endless arguments by ego-driven
> paleoanthropologists about whether the latest human-lineage discovery was
> "human".
> Karl Magnacca

More information about the Taxacom mailing list