Bridging the Gap Between Pattern and Process


Systematics, along with the other comparative biological sciences and certain astronomical disciplines, is much more concerned with form and organization than other biological and physical sciences, in which dynamics plays the central role. Within the biological sciences, Nelson (1970) characterizes disciplines that study diversity and patterns “comparative” and those that search for process and dynamics “general.” The goal of “general” science is to uncover the mechanisms that unify observed phenomena. Whether the physicist sees herself, like Newton (1953: 3-5), to be discovering fundamental causal explanations, or like Duhem (1962: 19-30), to be uncovering a natural classification, dynamical concepts referring to essentially hidden processes are indispensable. Much of comparative biology, in contrast, is primarily descriptive, with explanations taking a secondary role, at least until the diversity is described and comparisons made. Unlike the general sciences, in which elegance and quantitative analysis have long been major indicators of truth, the comparative sciences stress complexity, happenstance and qualitative analysis. In systematics in particular, theory and explanation are often thought to play a minimal role, if any at all1



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John Collier
University of KwaZulu-Natal

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Looking Beyond the Veil of Natural Selection.John Collier - 1997 - Biology and Philosophy 12 (1):89-99.

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