Friday, March 20, 2015

Family resemblance

i) Some monkeys have humanoid faces. Round flat faces. I'm sure the family resemblance contributes to the persuasiveness of human evolution. Seems like a distant relative is looking back at you. So what are we to make of that?

ii) To begin with, although some monkeys, like the lesula, have humanoid faces, other monkeys, like the (male) white-faced saki, do not have humanoid faces. So it's arbitrary to pick out the monkeys with humanoid faces which disregarding the others. That's a circular procedure. 

Because the lesula has a humanoid face, we are conditioned to project human pensiveness onto that expression. But there's no objective reason to think what lies behind the eyes of a lesula compares with what a human is thinking.

iii) This goes to the question of how we classify things. Do we classify items based on natural relations, or is our taxonomy an artifact of our selection-critera?

For instance, suppose I were to dump a set of Tiffany Provence silverware into a box, then dump a set of Tiffany Hampton silverware into the same box, shake it up, then ask someone to sort the silverware. There are two logical ways he could sort it:

a) He could group the knives together, forks together, spoons together.

b) He could group it according to style. The Provence knives would go with Provence forks, the Hampton knives would go with Hampton forks, and so on.

These would both be logical ways to sort the silverware. It would be arbitrary to say one is more correct or natural than another. For there's more than one way the silverware is naturally interrelated.

a) It can be related by style, viz. Provence, Hampton.

b) It can be related by function, viz. knives, forks, spoons.

c) It can be related by appearance: forks resemble forks.

Even though a Hampton fork is in the same style as a Hampton knife, a Hampton fork more closely resembles a Provence fork.

By the same token, two forks are more alike in terms of function, even if they are dissimilar in terms of style. 

When a Darwinian classifies fauna, how much of that is given in nature, and how much of that is imposed on nature by the Darwinian's preferred selection criteria? 

iv) For instance, we group baboons with monkeys rather than Cape Hunting dogs, yet in significant ways, baboons seem more canine than simian. For instance:

a) Front-facing eyes.

b) Snouts.

c) Fangs (or canines).

d) Travel in packs.

e) Spend most of their time on the ground, walking on all fours.

f) Are carnivorous when they have an opportunity capture fresh meat. 

In principle, why not group baboons with dogs rather than monkeys? Or view them as something in-between? Are they doglike monkeys or monkeylike dogs? 

Are they derived from simian ancestors? Possibly. According to creationism, God make natural kinds–which are subject to microevolution. 

But maybe their not derived from anything. Maybe that's how God made them–as is. Perhaps they were created separately. Perhaps their origin is independent of monkeys. 

Conventional taxonomies condition us to think that certain animals are related to other animals. But is that a sound assumption?

When you stare at the dogfaced visage of a baboon, does it seem like a distant relative is staring back at you? Not unless you're a werewolf.