Darwin-L Message Log 8:12 (April 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.

<8:12>From jrc@anbg.gov.au  Wed Apr  6 15:46:45 1994

From: jrc@anbg.gov.au (Jim Croft)
Subject: Re: "Cladistics" and "typology"
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Thu, 7 Apr 1994 07:46:26 +1000 (EST)

Geez - what a depressing post to read first thing in the morning...
All my life I have had severe doubts about the worth and merit of
getting out of bed each day and now these are confirmed...

Peter Cannell wrote:

> In response to Sally Thomoson's note:
> Sally, just as you hope to learn about systematics from the obscure
> cladistic discussions here, perhaps we systematists can learn about
> linguistic analysis by reading those various responses - so keep 'em
> coming.

Funny - I thought it was the linguistic posts that were obscure...  But
yes, the parallels(?) are very interesting to follow...

> One problem with reconstructing phylogeny of various organisms has been
> the fear that convergences, reversals, etc. may have swept clean the trail
> of phylogeny.  We optimistically assume parsimony, but as eminent a soul
> as Dave Swofford has cast doubt on our actually ability to reconstruct
> phylogeny from what we know now.

Now, this is real wrist-slashing stuff!  Like most biologists, I have
girded loins to face each day in the belief, beaten into us with the
tablets of stone they are engraved on, that a) phylogeny and
phylogenetic relationships are important for some reason, and
b) reconstructon of a believable chain of events is ultimately
possible.  Thus we are able to suppress the overwhelming desire to
put all the reds ones in one heap and blue ones in another and divide
each heap into big ones and little ones just because such a
classification easy to understand...

> Isn't this trail even more dubious
> in language and other cultural or behavioral studies?  I don't mean
> to discourage striving.  But do linguists feel nervous about the
> prospects of ever succeeding?

But how do you know if you have succeeded?  Is convincing a few others
to believe our hair-brained stories sufficient?  Will that remove the
possibility that nature/language may not have been parsimonious?

> Secondly, what actually is a language "family."  Is it analogous to so-called
> "subspecies" in zoology - a fuzzy non-monophyletic, varying concept?

I do not know about your subspecies, but mine are immutable, god-given
evidence of singular truth in the cosmos.

Gotta go now - there is a bus coming by in a few minutes that needs to
be fallen under...

-- jim                    URL=
Jim Croft         [Herbarium CANB & CBG]          internet: jrc@anbg.gov.au
Australian National Herbarium &                      voice:  +61-6-2509 490
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