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Darwin-L Message Log 1:86 (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.


<1:86>From mayerg@cs.uwp.edu  Fri Sep 10 08:10:21 1993

Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1993 07:34:40 -0500 (CDT)
From: Gregory Mayer <mayerg@cs.uwp.edu>
Subject: Introduction
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

	Greetings to members of the Darwin-L list from

		Gregory C. Mayer
		mayerg@cs.uwp.edu
		Dept. of Biological Sciences
		University of Wisconsin-Parkside
		Kenosha, WI 53141-2000

	I have been a subscriber since near the very beginning of
Darwin-L, but have been lurking for the last few days.  I am an
evolutionary biologist at UW-Parkside, a small branch of the UW System
near the shore of Lake Michigan between Chicago and Milwaukee.  My
interests are in the origin and maintenance of species-rich ecological
communities, and my research has focused on the ecology, evolution and
biogeography of West Indian lizards.  Within evolutionary biology, I have
been struck by the distinction between reconstructing evolutionary history
(what our list owner, Bob O'Hara, has called "the ideal evolutionary
chronicle" in his 1988 paper in _Syst. Zool._), which is the primary goal
of systematics, and the study of evolutionary mechanisms.  This
distinction is _not_ the same as the facile and, I believe, largely
misguided, "pattern-process" dichotomy about which some authors have
commented; rather it is the distinction between the historical and
mechanistic aspects of a science.  This distinction applies to other
disciplines as well.  In physics, for example, Newton's mechanics are the
mechanistic principles by which bodies move, but if we wanted to know how
a particular set of bodies acquired the arrangement and velocities they
currently exhibit, we would be asking an historical question.  Physicists
are generally not interested in these historical aspects, but the
distinction, and interest in the historical aspect, should be readily
apparent to all in astronomy and geology.  I have been thinking for
awhile about which principles of scientific inference are most appropriate
for the two aspects, and am currently exploring analogies with modes of
statistical inference.  Darwin-L is of great interest to me since it will
provide a forum for interchange among workers in the historical aspect of
a variety of disciplines, and I have been impressed by similarities in the
modes of reasoning used in such apparently disparate subjects as
linguistics and biology.  I look forward to much interesting discussion.

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