[Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Sat Sep 11 13:59:17 CDT 2010


Stephen:

 

You are not describing what you see through your eye without a context.
Blotches of color and dots and lines? The phrase you used "individual
organisms out in the field (have you been there lately?) which have
differing morphologies to each other, and the same basic morphologies
seem to crop up again and again" is lumbered with assumptions and
hard-won classifications and methodologies. Why do you describe two or
more organisms as one taxon? Where do you mark the distinction between
one taxon and another? By simply describing them? Description is not the
same as distinction. The criteria for distinction need to be
established, followed and justified for a new taxon, and only then do we
describe what we see. 

 

What does "the same basic morphologies crop up again and again" mean?
"Basic"? What's basic? Which traits do you use? random selection or a
standard set for the group? Why the standard set?

 

I submit that we taxonomists unconsciously use a set of rules of thumb,
handed down from old geezer to eager beavers, and developed throughout a
career.  These need formalization.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * 
Richard H. Zander 
Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA 
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/ and
http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm
Modern Evolutionary Systematics Web site:
http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/21EvSy.htm

________________________________

From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz] 
Sent: Friday, September 10, 2010 5:48 PM
To: Richard Zander; Bob Mesibov; TAXACOM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

 

Richard, 

 

surely you are trying to wind me up???

 

>I'm working up a publication demonstrating that taxonomy is not a
descriptive science. The "description" part is a myth. What are we
describing? Something intuitive? instinctual? communicated to us by
radio waves from another planet? 

Um ... er ... we are describing what we observe through our eyes! Lets
just consider morphology for now. There are individual organisms out in
the field (have you been there lately?) which have differing
morphologies to each other, and the same basic morphologies seem to crop
up again and again. This is what taxonomists describe! Taxonomists also
classify these morphologies (and that bit isn't descriptive, but for
traditional taxonomy, as opposed to systematics, it is just a data
organisation task)

 

Stephen

 

________________________________

From: Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; Bob Mesibov
<mesibov at southcom.com.au>; TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Sat, 11 September, 2010 4:39:47 AM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Serious questions about taxonomy/ontology

I'm working up a publication demonstrating that taxonomy is not a
descriptive science. The "description" part is a myth. What are we
describing? Something intuitive? instinctual? communicated to us by
radio waves from another planet? 

A taxonomic description is a set of answers to the application of a
series of Rules of Thumb. Since there are many rules of thumb
(heuristics, genetic algorithms, see Gigerenzer "Gut Feelings") for each
taxon, "descriptions" when even based on very small samples are
phenomenally accurate in prediction of distinctiveness of a taxon and
its at least local evolutionary relationships. 

Taxonomic rules of thumb need formalizing so we can stop knuckling our
foreheads when panjandrums of phylogenetics pass us by on the road to
glory. 

Regarding this variant of "ontology" and its apparent structuralist
absolutism and hyperprecision, check out this quote from Jaynes:

"These scientisms, as I shall call them, are clusters of scientific
ideas which come together and almost surprise themselves into creeds of
belief, scientific mythologies.... And they share with religions many of
their most obvious characteristics: a rational splendor that explains
everything, a charismatic leader or succession of leaders who are highly
visible and beyond criticism, certain gestures of idea and rituals of
interpretation, and a requirement of total commitment. In return the
adherent receives what the religions had once given him more
universally: a world view, a hierarchy of importances, and an auguring
place where he may find out what to do and think, in short, a total
explanation of man. And this totality is obtained not by actually
explaining everything, but by an encasement of its activity, a severe
and absolute restriction of attention, such that everything that is not
explained is not in view."
-Jaynes, J., The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind, Mariner Books, p. 441.


* * * * * * * * * * * * 
Richard H. Zander 
Missouri Botanical Garden, PO Box 299, St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA 
Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/ and
http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm
Modern Evolutionary Systematics Web site:
http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/21EvSy.htm


 




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