DarwinOnTaxonomy

In The Origin of Species, Chapter XIII ("Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs"), Charles Darwin explains the counter-intuitive importance of unimportant organs in discovering relationships among creatures:

Let us now consider the rules followed in classification, and the difficulties which are encountered on the view that classification either gives some unknown plan of creation, or is simply a scheme for enunciating general propositions and of placing together the forms most like each other. It might have been thought (and was in ancient times thought) that those parts of the structure which determined the habits of life, and the general place of each being in the economy of nature, would be of very high importance in classification. Nothing can be more false. No one regards the external similarity of a mouse to a shrew, of a dugong to a whale, of a whale to a fish, as of any importance. These resemblances, though so intimately connected with the whole life of the being, are ranked as merely "adaptive or analogical characters;" but to the consideration of these resemblances we shall have to recur. It may even be given as a general rule, that the less any part of the organisation is concerned with special habits, the more important it becomes for classification. As an instance: Owen, in speaking of the dugong, says, "The generative organs being those which are most remotely related to the habits and food of an animal, I have always regarded as affording very clear indications of its true affinities. We are least likely in the modifications of these organs to mistake a merely adaptive for an essential character." So with plants, how remarkable it is that the organs of vegetation, on which their whole life depends, are of little signification, excepting in the first main divisions; whereas the organs of reproduction, with their product the seed, are of paramount importance!


TopicScience - TopicLiterature - Datetag20061205



(correlates: DarwinOnRudimentaryOrgans, BeingObjective, NamingNames, ...)