Researching Creation

May 05, 2010

Biological Change / The Cognitum, Pt. 1

JB

The "cognitum" is a concept in creation taxonomy that groups animals according to the perceptions that humans have about those creatures.  I have been a fan of the idea of the cognitum since I first heard about it from Sanders and Wise's paper at ICC.  The goal is to develop a standard of taxonomy based specifically on human perception, and not at all on other standards such as genetic data or morphology.

I found this idea extremely intuitive.  There is obviously the Biblical reason that Adam was given to naming each kind that God created.  Therefore, perhaps God gave Adam (and by extension the rest of us) the power to discern important relationships.  It is interesting, for instance, that even children can usually tell, from a simple drawing, the difference between a cat and a dog, despite their relatively similar morphology, combined with the simpleness of the drawing.  The same child can, at least by Sanders and Wise's paper, look at a more bizarre representative of the cat family and still identify it as a cat. 

But, I think there is another point worth looking at.  When there is a debate about the phylogeny of a species on whether it should be grouped according to its morphology vs. its DNA sequences, how is such a decision decided (or for that matter, when any two trees are in conflict)?  I think few people think about how tough a question this is.  No one saw the type of animals who were the current animals' ancestor.  Therefore, we must lean on secondary evidence.  But if the secondary evidence is in conflict, there seems to be some sort of a faculty in the human mind that makes such discernments.  It is neither perfect nor consistent, but nonetheless it is there.

Sanders and Wise's paper has a whole host of interesting points:

  • Most taxonomies (scientific or folk) have animals which are at a "fuzzy boundary" - that is, they "kind of" belong to one or more other groups, but have features that separate them quite significantly.  Paleoherbs, for instance, have a mixture of features from the two main groups of flowering plants - monocots and dicots, and so are in the fuzzy boundary
  • The idea of the fuzzy boundary allows us to apply fuzzy-set theory to biosystematics
  • Classification is an important part of human experience
  • Most lay people can recognize multiple species as belonging to the same general type, even in somewhat more difficult cases
  • Most societies employ four or five hierarchical levels of taxonomy, utilize only the outermost levels for their naming, and reserve the fifth level of taxonomy for minor variants.  This is interesting if one considers the true distinct "kinds" to exist at these levels of naming, and not at the higher ones.
  • The cat family, for instance, seems to be a holobaramin, yet certain other animals (meercats and hyaenas) elicit a distinct "felid" response from humans.  Why is that?
  • Species probably expanded to fill a pre-defined biological character space, which is one way God communicates His design to humans
  • The adaptive radiation and refilling of the earth after the flood to fill biological character space probably produced some overlap from different groups
  • As part of understanding God's design, we should examine how far the parts of God's design can be modified without disrupting the "gestalt" pattern that is recognizable.
  • We can compare the underlying functions associated with an organism's "gestalt" with the variation of functions present within a cognitum
  • The cognitum concept lies in continuity with the platonic view of biology which predominated the pre-Darwinian era.  Creationists should revisit many of these taxonomical concepts to see which ones we need to incorporate into the modern Creation viewpoint.
  • With the cognitum concept in mind, we should evaluate the genetic basis of different patterns and identify the genomic constraints that restrict the distribution of patterns
  • How and why are larger cognita chained together by a fuzzy boundary?
  • Is there some line after which fuzzy boundaries give way to clear-cut phylogeny?  Might this help draw the line for baramins?
  • Hopefully, as the cognitum concept is studied we will learn to differentiate homoplasy (cross-line similarity) due to separate origins from homoplasy from genetic recombination within the same cognitum.
  • We need to look into the cognitive neuroscience of gestalt formation in the human mind
  • Is there a relationship between human memory capacity and the structure of the biological world (i.e. so that humans can comprehend it)
  • Cognita could be used to identify basic baramins and inclusions for baramins before we have a good breeding/morphological/genetic analysis

Anyway, as you can see, there were a lot of things that jumped out at me. 

I also had a thought - I wonder if the "fuzzy boundary" organisms might have originated in locations with a low diversity of species.  So, basically, an organism "sensed" the lack of biological character space, and then morphed to fill it.

It is interesting to compare this notion of taxonomy with a study on <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1635482/?tool=pubmed">adaptive radiations in cichlid fish</a>.  I have not read it in detail (a commenter on UD pointed me to it), but the abstract says, "The evidence suggests that speciation rate declines through time as niches get filled up during adaptive radiation: young radiations and early stages of old radiations are characterized by high rates of speciation, whereas at least 0.5Myr into a radiation speciation becomes a lot less frequent."

But even more interesting is this statement -- "The available data suggest that the propensity to undergo adaptive radiation in lakes evolved sequentially along one branch in the phylogenetic tree of African cichlids, but is completely absent in other lineages."

This indicates that there might be a "basal-type" species which is presumably more similar to ark-based species than others, from whom adaptive radiations tend to take place.  This would be super-awesome if it is true.

Sanders also has a newer paper out on the application of the cognitum, but I haven't had time to read it yet.  Wood has a basic overview for those interested.  A quote from Wood quoting Sanders:

What is most striking from the results compiled in Appendix A is the high level of support by the molecular data for the circumscription of the core groups of most of the primary cognita identified. ... This suggests that the core groups of primary cognita are units that are generally internally consistent morphologically, as well as genomically. ... The decoupling of molecular similarities from morphological similarities just above the family/order level suggests that the circumscribed core groups of cognita at this level or the subfamily/family level may closely reflect the constitution of holobaramins represented by them. In fact, more precise methods of documenting both the decoupling of morphological and molecular characters and mosaic recombination of these characters, so easily depicted in a cognitum system, may eventually prove to serve as a criterion in delimiting holobaramins.