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Re: Archaeopteryx

On Mon, Jun 16, 2003 at 03:55:59PM +1000, Colin McHenry scripsit:
> The point is that, potentially, no matter how well you think you
> understand a taxon and its place in the tree of life, it is
> theoretically possible for even a well understoof organism to be
> shifted around the tree quite radically in the light of new fossils
> and/or analyses.  It's happened before, and it'll happen again.  If
> you think that, in 2003, we've finally got the right topology of the
> tree, I think you're in for a rude surprise.

The point isn't to label the tree in some unsurprising way, though; it's
to know how it grew, so well as we can.

> I think it's missing the point by such a large margin that it no
> longer has anything to do with traditional taxonomy.  Whoever first
> said that taxonomy had to equal phylogeny was a fool who didn't
> understand (a) taxonomy, (b) how the human brain perceives and
> recognises patterns, and (c) phylogenetics.

Linnean taxonomy is actively wrong, though; it's based on frankly
creationist assumptions.  (Could hardly have been otherwise, considering
when it got started.)

There isn't any way to get that structure, that pattern, to become
something which includes descent with modification; if taxonomy is going
to include that sheaf of ideas, it has to be *something* different.

> I doubt that Nature has any preference for following formulae that we
> might possibly be able to understand, at least in the context of this
> discussion.  As for 'opinion' and 'authority'?  Well, as I've argued
> before on this list, I think they count.  I think that humans are a
> much more sophisticated pattern recognition device than any algorithm
> that will be devised in our life times.

This is known to be false, for many types of pattern.  (Or people
wouldn't bet on horse races or play slot machines.)

We didn't evolve to spot patterns of descent in a sequence of fossils;
there's no particular reason to expect us to be good at it.  (Faces,
now, faces we are really really good at.)

And, well, yeah, things are unstable; things are always unstable for
awhile in a new branch of science, but having a way to approach taxonomy
that is at least plausibly independent of the contents of any one
person's head, and thereby at least plausibly science.  Stuff that isn't
independent of the contents of any one specific person's head can be
part of the process of science, but isn't itself sufficient to call a
conclusion scientific.

oak@uniserve.com | Uton we hycgan    hwaer we ham agen,
                 | ond thonne gedhencan    he we thider cumen.
                 |   -- The Seafarer, ll. 117-118.