[Taxacom] Intuition in taxonomy

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed Mar 4 21:26:33 CST 2009

Hi, Richard.

My good wife's been following this discussion second-hand and says that
taxonomical intuition is pattern-matching. That's an unconscious human
skill and involves not only looking for similarities and differences,
but also evaluating both to identify repeating patterns.

Once the 'intuited' pattern slips out of our deeply buried processing
centres, we can test it further with new character evidence, re-jig it,
submit it to peer criticism and what have you. The (still fluid)
biological classifications we use today are the product of all those

A few days ago you wrote:

"Here is my argument, after some digging in a dictionary: Intuition is
the direct
perception of truth, without inference, perhaps by some inate template
identifying reality. It is a leap of understanding, and although such
leaps do
contribute to science, alpha taxonomy in my opinion largely does not
this way. (It would be a lot less work, otherwise.)"

If we disagree at all, it's about your use of the word 'largely'. I just
don't *know* how big a role is played in taxonomy by unconscious
pattern-matching, and I don't know how you'd find out. However, I
suspect that non-inferential leaps are just as important in taxonomy as
everywhere else in science. They're nothing to be ashamed of, and have
nothing to do with *scientific* operations in taxonomy, which get going
after or in parallel with intuitions.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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