10
Sep
09

Falsehoods: “The Great Chain of Being”

I know, I know, this isn’t really a falsehood, it’s just plain false, so it will be short. You would be surprised, however, with how much it permeates our language. The notions of “higher” and “lower” organisms or “more evolved” and “less evolved” somehow work their way into the brains and statements of many people without them even thinking it does (myself all too often included). Think of this not as a rebuke, but more drawing attention to what is often so easily overlooked.

“The Great Chain of Being” can be considered as one of those bad tastes which doesn’t seem to go away even after brushing with sandpaper and rinsing with vodka. It just seems to come back, somehow, over and over (that metallic taste may be blood). Organisms are often compared as in terms of “how advanced” their traits are. The legs of a tetrapod are “more advanced” than the fins of lobe-finned fishes. The idea of a trait being “advanced” or “primitive” implies some ultimate directionality in that the “primitive trait” will somehow become the “advanced trait.” My rhetorical question is this: in a system devoid of any developmental teleological conclusion, how can any trait be considered closer to the teleological goal?

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Falsehoods: “The Great Chain of Being””


  1. 1 Pliny-the-in-Between
    September 10, 2009 at 11:16 am

    This is such a hold over from our theological historical perspective of our self-described special place in nature. Any organism that shares traits closer to us is therefore more advanced. It scares people to be responsible for the hard work of creating their own purpose in life.

    Plus the falsehood of thinking that evolution has any goal in mind. Since it has neither goals nor a mind that is a bit of a problem.

    This is a great series by the way.

  2. 2 jaredcormier
    September 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Humans are notorious for trying to classify things based upon arbitrary characteristics. “square peg; square hole” when, in reality, it is a cube (or rectangle) which fits only based upon a certain cross section. A cylindrical peg could be made to fit nicely through the square hole. We love to classify and categorize animals based upon some vague property which causes considerable confusion in some instances: “birds are warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrates characterized by feathers and forelimbs modified as wings”–well, what about ratites whose “wings” are vestigial at best and all but absent in Kiwi; “snakes are limbless scaly elongate reptiles”–must I mention glass lizards; “an amphibian is a cold-blooded vertebrate typically living on land but breeding in water”–but what about the amphibians which are not “typical” such as aquatic salamanders and exclusively terrestrial anurans? Genetic phylogeny allows an objective categorization based upon ancestry. Where exactly the line between one clade and another actually is demarcated is still subjective, but the relationship is known. We’ve traded one set of problems for a new one.

    “Plus the falsehood of thinking that evolution has any goal in mind. Since it has neither goals nor a mind that is a bit of a problem.”
    Well put.

  3. September 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Rather apparent that the idea of life as a crap shoot is not particularly appealing.

    The nature of language and the impact of the history of language on how we think and express ourselves creates difficulties in clearly expressing ourselves in a lot of contexts.

    For example, people believing in absolute determinism still use words and phrases that represent the ideas of luck or some degree of freedom in decision making.

    It is this complexity of language, imbedded with implied philosophies and orders of thinking, that often prevents us from real communication. Add to that the fact that not every human actively communicating is seeking to advance truth and knowledge, but is advancing some other agenda, and it is amazing that we can communicate at all.

    Mike


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Join the best atheist themed blogroll!

RSS Adventures in Ethics and Science

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Blag Hag

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS denialism blog

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS ERV

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Greg Laden’s Blog

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Laelaps

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Lawful Good Wonk

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Pharyngula

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Tetrapod Zoology

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS White Coat underground

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Older stuff

wordpress stats

%d bloggers like this: