Concepts of Systematic Biology from Linnaeus to the Present (1707-2007): Three Hundred Years of Progressive Change
Reid, Gordon McGregor .
The natural science of Linnaeus and its relationship to modern biology.
The taxonomic paradigm forged by Linnaeus in the 18th century came from his original approach to understanding the natural world - but was also a product of the environmental, social, cultural, theological, political and economic influences of that period. Linnaeus lived when conditions were harsh and demanding. Any failure to successfully engage with nature could have dire consequences. Hence the recognition, naming and classification of different ‘kinds’ of animals, plants and rocks often had practical as well as theoretical dimensions. Linnaeus clearly demonstrates the ‘scientific approach’ and high value is placed on careful information gathering (notably through travel and exploration, dissection and empiricism) and on accurate observations and published descriptions. There is an inspirational use of morphological characters in comparative diagnosis (as in his sexual system in botanical classification); a requirement for material evidence to support hypotheses (including ‘type’ specimens); and the systematic and hierarchical organization of knowledge.
Linnaeus did not always distinguish between mythological versus real creatures and incredible versus credible hypotheses. His understanding of ‘cause and effect’ was circumscribed by prevailing theology and mechanistic philosophy and did not extend to classification and treatment of diseases such as ague (malaria). Techniques for specimen preservation and analysis were limited and sample sizes too small to statistically characterize populations – thus bequeathing ‘typological’ more than biological concepts. Ideas of individuals, species, geÂ¬nera and taxonomic hierarchies were not ‘organic’ in that he applied the same classificatory scheme to geological samples.
Linnaeus was a working physician, agriculturalist and land surveyor as much as a taxonomist. Indeed, contemporary economic biology and biotechnology are anticipated in his animal and plant breeding and pearl culturing experiments. However, in the great body of Linnaeus’ letters and books are discernable foundations for later disciplines including biomechanics, ecology, genetics, biodiversity, conservation, biogeography, ethnography, anthropology, Darwinian evolution and phylogenetic systematics.
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1 - North of England Zoological Society, Directorate, Cedar House, Caughall Road, Upton-by-Chester, Chester, CH2 1LH, United Kingdom
Presentation Type: Symposium or Colloquium Presentation
Location: Stevens 1/Hilton
Date: Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
Time: 8:00 AM