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Darwin-L Message Log 1:65 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:65>From msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu  Wed Sep  8 06:50:31 1993

Date: Wed, 8 Sep 1993 06:53:13 -0600 (CDT)
From: Morris Simon <msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu>
Subject: re: Tom Clark's statement on ordered change
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

On Tue, 7 Sep 1993, BROWNH@CCSUA.CTSTATEU.EDU wrote:
....... <omitted material>
>
> My second post is that cosmic increase in entropy means that directed
> change is inherent in all things.  A century ago we had vitalistic
> theories that deservedly received subsequent criticism.  But when we
> define things in a way that places them in a causal relation with
> their environment, then we are defining them as processes.  No vitalism
> as all.  And since the universal process is increasing entropy, we have
> a universal measure of direction, just as we do of time, which is either
> increasing or decreasing entropy.  No subjective judgement here in the
> sense above.
>
> My third point is that an important school of scientific philosophy
> urges that we start with the world of experience and devise terms that
> enable us to understand that world, rather than start with metaphysical
> categories and then struggle to reconcile the world with those categor-
> ies.

The borrowing of entropy theory from thermodynamics and its application
to organic sciences is not a new idea - Freud and other behavioral scientists
often resorted to entropy as a 'direction' when they needed to inject some
focussed order into their theories. Freud's 'death wish' grew from his
importation of entropy from the physical sciences.

My concern here is that the implied use of entropy at a "cosmic" level to
supply evolutionary "direction" can amount (for some theoreticians) to a new
form of orthogenetic "grand scale" interpretations of much more mundane
events. Natural selection occurs within very limited ecological niches, and
it seems to me that entropy theory only clouds a much more straightforward
relationship between organisms and their environment.

As for the process of categorization itself, empiricism is a relatively new
but _sine qua non_ epistemological basis for all western sciences. In
fact, empiricism defines western science to such an extent that all
classifications tend to be either empirical or "unscientific." The trend in
evolutionary sciences has been to inject systematic processes into the
skeletal models provided by Linneaus and others at the dawn of empirical
classification. While the early systematists may have been biassed toward
the grand Scala Naturae of churchmen, the increasing systematization of
the original "Chain of Being" has hopefully eliminated the implicit
"progressiveness" of that model. "Systematics" is a much better term than
"classification" since it implies an empirical concern with how things
work rather than merely what they look like.

Morris Simon <msimon7@ua1ix.ua.edu>
Stillman College

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