Darwin-L Message Log 6:21 (February 1994)

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.

<6:21>From ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu  Sat Feb  5 11:50:25 1994

Date: Sat, 5 Feb 1994 12:52:26 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu (Jeremy Creighton Ahouse)
Subject: Re: quinarianism (and Smith)

>The title of G. A. Miller's article in Psychol. Rev. 63: 81-97. 1956
>says it all:  "The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our
>capacity for processing information."
>There is also a very interesting paper by E. W. Holman, "Statistical
>properties of large published classifications," J. Classific. 9: 187-210. 1992
>that show such small numbers as being a recurring and pervasive feature of
>well-worked out biological classifications.

        A similar thing may be happening in "sturctural biology" right now.
It has become painfully (to some) obvious that the protein folding problem
is not going to have a strictly algorithmic solution.  Rather a hybrid
approach between the "dictionary" and "algorithm" approaches is being
suggested.  So a handful of major classes is being suggested for basic
protein motif building blocks and then refinement on those with dynamic
molecular simulations will bridge the gap to structure prediction.  I have
heard structural biologists comment on how amazing it is that there are
just this "handful" of basic structures, and I wonder to myself if this
isn't in large part due to the demand of having a usable classification in
the first place.

        - Jeremy

        Jeremy Creighton Ahouse (ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu)
        Biology Dept.
        Brandeis University
        Waltham, MA 02254-9110
        (617) 736-4954

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