[Taxacom] teleology example

Michael Heads m.j.heads at gmail.com
Mon Mar 11 05:14:52 CDT 2013

Yes it is the pattern I'm interested in, the overall structure, trends and
series. In biology there will always be outliers, but it is the averages
and the statistical trends that count.

As a hypothetical example, imagine a hypothetical animal species with a
sucker 2 cm wide, perfectly suited for catching its prey which are 2 cm
long. By focusing only on that point in the series (as an ecologist or
functional morphologist) it seems like a 'wonder of nature', due to the
great powers of natural selection that have driven it towards the best
possible size. But if you look at the animal's genus (as a systematist), a
typical arrangement might be something like five different species, with
suckers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 cm wide, respectively. In this perspective,
looking at the species as a point on a trajectory rather than a thing in
itself, it appears much less striking that one would have suckers 2 cm
wide. (Given the presence of prey 2 cm long, the predator survived,
otherwise it might have gone extinct).

Michael Heads

On Mon, Mar 11, 2013 at 5:14 PM, Curtis Clark <lists at curtisclark.org> wrote:

> On 2013-03-10 2:26 PM, Michael Heads wrote:
> > It's been suggested that the argument about teleology is only about
> words -
> > it's just 'sloppy writing' etc. - but it's really about fundamental,
> > underlying concepts.
> I was going to write that this is only generally true, and that you
> can't surmise that any given scientist is a teleologer only by a single
> data point. But then I realized that you are a panbiogeographer, and
> that you are interested in the patterns more than the individuals. If we
> have a pattern of people using teleological language, that tells us
> something, even if any given individual may not think teleologically
> despite sloppy use of language. And so that individual's mental
> processes are unimportant (just as where an *individual* lives is
> perhaps not important in panbiogeography), the overall pattern being the
> thing of interest.
> But then I got to thinking, what if *every individual* that used
> teleological language was in fact just a sloppy writer, and not a sloppy
> thinker. Would the pattern be as important? At what point does pattern
> analysis become garbage in, garbage out?
> --
> Curtis Clark        http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark
> Biological Sciences                   +1 909 869 4140
> Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona CA 91768
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