Re: Are we "special"?

Thomas Clarke (
15 Dec 1996 04:13:17 GMT

In article <> (Paul Z. Myers) writes:
>In article <58rlrm$>, (Thomas
>Clarke) wrote:
- rest of attribution details deleted -

>> >Works by Charles Darwin:

The life forms mentioned in the titles cited are:
coralx, Cirripedia, Lepadidae, Balanidae/Verrucidae, climbing plants,
vegetable kingdom, orchids/insects, flowers, vegetable molds, and

Depending how you count a dozen or so.
So man makes Darwin's top 20. Puts us right up there with the corals.

One work dealt with domesticated animals, that should at least go partly
in the "human" tally since without humans there is no domestication.
Similarly for the work on emotions in man and animals.

I'm being a little silly, but in the original post I wanted to point
out that Darwin devoted more time to the species Homo sapiens that
would be expected were he randomly choosing subjects of study from the
array of typical species available.

>These ARE major works. Several of these are 2 or 3 volumes long, and went
>through several editions during Darwin's lifetime. If we started claiming
>that the only valid scientific works were books that the "average educated
>20th century person is likely to have read", then isn't that going to
>limit us to discussing some number of books vanishingly close to zero?
>Most people don't read much real science, I'm afraid.

I'm tempted to ask you for page totals but that would be as little
relevant as my species count above.

But seriously, isn't the only really valid claim for the science that
has an impact on our culture that part of science which is distilled down
into textbooks as supplemented by original source readings?
Far more reasearch is generated than can every be assimilated by anyone.
Of the millions of books published I will only be able to read a vanishingly
small proportion of them. Even in my field (math/physics) I do not
read all that I would like.

>> Perhaps the survival of the two works OoS and DoM says more about
>> the intellectual milequ of the last century than about Darwin
>> himself.

>And that you would say:

That the vast majority of the book reading public is interested in its
own species and doesn't much care about Cirripedia. Nothing sinister.

>on the basis of the titles of two books that I doubt you have read, and in
>complete ignorance of all of Darwin's other works, says something about
>the intellectual millieu in which you are operating.

That would be?

>> I still think man is unique among animals, though.

I have decided henceforth to use the word "unsual" for the concept I
am trying to convey. "Special" seems to be a red flag. I do not
mean "unique". "Unusual" is about right.

>Biologists won't disagree with that at all. They just have a significantly
>greater knowledge and appreciation of the uniqueness of animals other than
>man, as well.

As the church lady would say, "How special" :-)

Tom Clarke

>Paul Myers Department of Biology
> Temple University
> Philadelphia, PA 19122