Modality-Independent Evolution

iffr762 at iffr762 at
Fri Jan 29 19:15:16 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

On Fri, 29 Jan 1999 X99Lynx at wrote:

>In a message dated 1/29/99 3:42:35 AM, DLW wrote:

><<A language is not some sort of abstract system that develops in the ethereal
> realm, free from functional considerations. >>

> And the physical world is not an abstract system, but physics is.

	So is any model.  I do not think we are disagreeing about anythng

><<Language is constrained and influenced by external forces, such as
> the need for clear perception and for "ease of articulation".>>

> That's just a small start.

	Yes.  As opposed to a big start?

> Once one travels beyond the methodology of linguistics, the variables one
> ought to consider honestly become very large in number.

	Yes.  The same is true for biology, weather prediction ...

> <<Biological evolution is fundamentally conservative, as it must be.>>

> Just read some new work coming out of the fact that there are 10million to
> 100million viruses in a single teaspoon of ocean water,

	That is a result of the very large time (and size of the system)
involved.  But the process of reproduction remains fundamentally
conservative, despite specific mechanisms designed (in effect) to make it
less absolulely so, permitting progress/change, which is what I was
working up to, if I may be spared having to respond to obstructionistic
sniping along the way.  Trust me, I am not a complete idiot (only a
partial idiot) and do have something to say.

> The number one consequence of evolution is biological diversity. The
> mechanism of genetics attempts to conserve forms from one generation to the
> next.  Over the long run, it has been no match for evolution.  Or we'd all be
> unicellular microbes right now.  That was the point of Origin of the Species.

	Yes.  I am well aware of that.  As, usual, it seems we are not in
fact disagreeing about anything.  I would urge a more careful reading, so
that we do not waste everybody's time re-stating the obvious to an already
impatient audience.

><<...but fundamentally the basis for any new entity is the old entity,
> biological or linguistic.>>

> That is somewhat true, but the mechanisms are entirely different.

	Of course they are different.  The question is to what extent
there are "abstract" modality-independent similarities in the general
patterns that result.

> In between the old and new - there is much more that goes on in biology.  A
> word, not being an entity or a species, does not have to go through natural
> selection to emerge differently.

	I was not talking about words, I was talking about languages.

><<Using Darwian rather than Lamarckian ways of thinking does not help at all
> in the difficult business of sorting out which traits are archaisms and which
> are innovations.>>

> But it does.  Culture is Lamarckian.  Traits can be passed on in less than a
> lifetime and can be the result of intention.

	What we have here is failure to communicate.

> There is no intention in natural selection, only a continuous output of
> diversity.  Innovations and "archaisms" are all the same to evolution there
> is no sorting out between them.

	That is true of any species or language, judged synchronically.

><<They just had no way of knowing that the trait in question was an
> archaism.>>

> I don't know the study.  But recorded cases of stripes showing up in horses
> are called "avatars" and have to do with generations-skipping recessive
> traits in genes.  If the stripes are archaic, it would probably mean they
> came from a common ancestor, but may have skipped many generations (in horses
> or zebra ancestors.)  Its either that or parallel development - e.g., bats
> and birds both have wings, but their common ancestor did not.  Wings
> developed independently in both.  One or the other.  Nothing more.

	Theoretically the stripes could be a convergence.  This is
roughly equivalent to functional considerations in language leading to
similarities thay may be mistaken as indicating common descent.

><<It was DNA studies that led to the conclusion that "there is no such
> thing as zebras"...>> > >

> Quite to the contrary, there are still zebras.

I meant zebras as a sub-group within equids, as I believe was quite clear.

	<<"the intergrade problem">>

> This is a taxonomic problem.  It doesn't affect the analysis
> of descent.

	It is result of the process of descent.

> The comparison of biological evolution to language studies probably has much
> validity,


> but its hard to see how it directly affects linguistics,

	Yes.  (Especially if one is trying hard not to.)  Sometimes in
order to tell whether a road is a dead-end, you have to go down it.  My
main point is that there is (potentially) more here than "all that
Schleicher stuff".  The Ringge (sp?) thing, I note in closing, could with
appropriate modifications be just as applicable to biology as to


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