Darwin-L Message Log 3:77 (November 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.

<3:77>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Fri Nov 19 22:15:46 1993

Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1993 23:23:43 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Momentum and other physical metaphors in history
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

I thought William Kimler's question about the notion of "momentum" in
history and the historical sciences was a fascinating one, and I regret
that I don't have anything to contribute in answer to it.  I hope others
will, and maybe William would consider posting some notes on early ideas
of phylogenetic "inertia."

The only vaguely related notion I could think of (another application of
a semi-physical concept to natural history) was the notion of historical
"polarity" advocated by the early Victorian naturalist Edward Forbes (1815-
1854).  What little I know of this idea comes from Janet Browne's book
_The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography_ (Yale University
Press, 1983).  According to Browne, Forbes believed that taxa replaced one
another through time, such that when one was on the wane another was rising
to take its place:

  "Because this sequence of events described a maximum-minimum-maximum
  story, Forbes argued that the development of life proceeded in two
  divergent directions: 'The relation between the Palaeozoic and Neozoic
  life-assemblages is one of development in opposite directions, in other
  words, of Polarity.'"  (Browne, p. 153)

Browne reproduces some circular and hour-glass shaped diagrams Forbes used
to illustrate this notion of polarity.

I hope some other people may be able to follow this thread on the application
of physical ideas/terms/metaphors to the historical sciences.  Are there any
example in linguistics of concepts like force, polarity, or momentum?

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.

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