From the parts to the whole or from the whole to the parts.

Alan doesn’t believe that there are any other proposed explanations to rival ‘evolutionary theory’. At least none that so effectively account for the facts.

It is often said that there is no single theory of evolution, there are a group of mutually consistent theories. Be that as it may, I think we all understand the point Alan is making.

Evolution is a process whereby life has somehow emerged from a lifeless physical world and there is no overall teleology involved in its diversification. The reproductive processes produce a natural variety of forms which can take advantage of previously unoccupied niches. The basic sequence of events from primal to present are: lifeless minerals, water systems and gaseous atmosphere, followed by the arrival of simple prokaryote life forms, followed by multicellular organisms. Life is solely the product of physical and chemical processes acting on lifeless matter.

In this view life is nothing special, it just occurred because physical matter chanced to arrange itself in a particular way. And consciousness is just a by product of life.

But I suggest that there is an alternative way in which life as we perceive it could have come about.

Arthur Zajonc in the book Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind

Goethe was right. Try though we may to split light into fundamental atomic pieces, it remains whole to the end. Our very notion of what it means to be elementary is challenged. Until now we have equated smallest with most fundamental. Perhaps for light, at least, the most fundamental feature is not to be found in smallness, but rather in wholeness, its incorrigible capacity to be one and many, particle and wave, a single thing with the universe inside.

In the same way that in the above quote light is understood in its wholeness, so can life be understood as a whole. The variety of earthly life forms that have existed through time and space are individual expressions of an ever present archetypical whole. Life is one and many.

Daniel Christian Wahl writes

Holistic science attempts to get closer to the mystery of the dynamical emergence of the diversity of living forms within the unity of the continuously manifesting whole.

An arithmetical analogy between orthodox accounts of evolution and evolution as the unfolding expression of archetypal forms could be that the former is akin to addition while the latter is akin to division. Novel forms are an extra addition to what came before or novel forms are divided off from what already existed in potential. From the parts to the whole or from the whole to the parts. Which is it? Sense perception points to the former while the mind’s eye, perceiving with the mind, points to the latter. And Goethe was an expert at perceiving with the mind.

Instead of life emerging out of matter in an extended version of the spontaneous generation of mice from mud, it could at least be regarded as a possibility that physical organic life is a condensation or hardening of form out of a more subtle general condition which contained all physical forms in potential. This is analogous to crystals emerging out of solution. The perception of salt in sea water is dependent on the senses of the perceiver. Some forms of life have not descended as completely as others and thus retained more plasticity and because of this they are more adaptable to changes in their surroundings.

Life is and always was everywhere but it is only when it coalesces into gross material forms that it is perceptible to our everyday senses.

Convergent evolution is explicable not just by occupation of similar niches but by similar forms coalescing.

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416 thoughts on “From the parts to the whole or from the whole to the parts.

  1. Allan Miller,

    One stumbled into a barbecue I was at before Covid (BC) and was convincing enough to cause panic. Managed to catch it in an empty glass and point out it was a fly not a hornet. I wasn’t believed. 😱

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  2. Corneel,

    It’s worse. This hover fly lays eggs in wasp nests and the larvae are parasites.

    ETA oops commensals not parasites

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  3. Alan Fox: ETA oops commensals not parasites

    Never heard of them, but I just read they may nibble the wasp brood, so parasite may be right.

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  4. Alan Fox: CharlieM: Petals, styles and stamens are variations on a theme in the same way that wings, legs and halteres are variations on a theme.

    And what is.that same way? Selected variation. Biologically speaking, what exceptions can you think of. What isn’t selected variation?

    Here I am talking about the comparison of individual development.

    In angiosperms the bud is a transition stage from the vegetative growth stage to the reproductive stage. The same holds for the pupa in holometabolous insects; the larva is concerned with vegetative growth and the adult insect with reproduction.

    Within both bud and pupa the individual organs of the emergent form take shape. The structures which emerge depend on the way that the developmental genes are manipulated. So although modern biologists might not consider these structures and processes homologous they do indeed mirror each other in their formation.

    An updating of Goethe’s ideas on plant morphology from 2005 can be found here

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  5. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Petals, styles and stamens are variations on a theme in the same way that wings, legs and halteres are variations on a theme.

    Though some species of fly are important pollinators.

    Indeed! The two groups of organisms are intimately connected in many ways.

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  6. Alan Fox:
    My favourite

    A year or two ago I was on a field trip with a couple of entomologists from the local university. One of them was a specialist on hover flies. He could catch them in mid flight between his finger and thumb without harming them. It was very impressive. The other one said that you can always tell the hover fly specialists because they are the ones with their heads inside their nets.

    I’ve never seen any as big as your example up here though. Although for the past couple of years they have appeared in massive numbers.

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  7. Allan Miller:
    Alan Fox,

    They stumbled into the Hornet Potentiation Field. It’s transformative.

    Hover flies don’t stumble anywhere. They have far to much control over their movements for that to happen 🙂

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  8. Corneel:

    CharlieM: I never said they were homologous in the same way that vertebrate limbs are homologous.

    As a matter of fact, you did:

    No. I said that a similarity could be observed. I explained to Alan above the way in which they are similar If we are to agree that they are in some way homologous then it is a homology of process and not of structure.

    In the image below comparing a crane fly and blossom it can be seen how similar the wings and halteres resemble the petals and stamens. This resemblance can be explained by the same archetypal form being used for different purposes in a similar way in which in vertebrates the archetypal limb can be used as a wing or a leg.

    Please don’t turn all Nonlin on me. You clearly stated that both types of resemblance were caused by the usage of the same archetypal form.

    There are different levels of archetype as there are different levels of homology.

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  9. Corneel:

    CharlieM: But the development of the parts of the adult insect out of the pupal form mirrors the development of the blossom out of the bud. Petals, styles and stamens are variations on a theme in the same way that wings, legs and halteres are variations on a theme.

    And similarities arise when they happen to draw from the same archetype. That is what you said. But there are homeotic mutations that turn halteres into wings and there are homeotic mutations that turn stamens into petals. Yet there are no mutations that allow a fly to shed pollen from its sides.

    They don’t draw from the same archetype as if it were some remote reservoir of forms. processes and forms are the archetype expressed in a limited way. The primal cell belongs as much to the archetype as the adult organism.

    Mutations do not turn one form into another. They are disruptions on the path.

    Insects produce sperm and blossoms produce pollen. That is the similarity.

    Why does that limitation exist? You already retreated to your “they are different tissue” claim, but why is that a limitation? Tissue differences are merely differences in cellular organization. So I will gleefully point out that this explanation is a score for the “materialist/physicalist” viewpoint you so despise, since it acknowledges that morphological development is limited by the inherent possibilities that the source material offers.

    I do not despise the materialist/physicalist viewpoint. I recognise it as necessary but limited.

    Being unable to produce pollen is not a limitation of flies, because they produce the cellular equivalent which has the same function.

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  10. Corneel:

    Alan Fox: My favourite

    Oh god, don’t let Charlie know about mimicry.

    Well I never! I didn’t know that you thought of Alan as ‘god’ 🙂

    I’ll let you into a secret. He’s not really God, it’s all mimicry. 😉

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  11. CharlieM: No. I said that a similarity could be observed. I explained to Alan above the way in which they are similar If we are to agree that they are in some way homologous then it is a homology of process and not of structure.

    And again you are using a word in your own idiosyncratic fashion. Your use of the word “homologous” corresponds neither to “being derived from the same ancestral structure” nor to “being derived from serially repeated primordia” (analogous to Goethes development of the concept).

    To most people, homologous does NOT mean “looks similar”. How do you expect people to understand what you are saying if you keep using your own private vocabulary?

    CharlieM: There are different levels of archetype as there are different levels of homology.

    Then next time you write an OP, list ALL of them and add a proper description for each one of them. You cannot expect people to know them beforehand. If you advance them during a discussion like you do now, it looks like you made that up on the spot.

    CharlieM: Mutations do not turn one form into another. They are disruptions on the path.

    Poppycock. Mutations are changes in a DNA sequence. Spiritualize that!

    CharlieM: Being unable to produce pollen is not a limitation of flies, because they produce the cellular equivalent which has the same function.

    Flies being unable to produce pollen is a limitation of your theory, which cannot account for preservation of heritable differences. The equivalent function of different types of gamete has been preserved from the common ancestor of vascular plants and metazoans. That is the modern evolutionary interpretation of the Goethean archetype. So far, you have presented zero reason for me to consider your alternative.

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  12. CharlieM: Being unable to produce pollen is not a limitation of flies, because they produce the cellular equivalent which has the same function.

    Er, cells get pollinated? what?

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  13. Corneel: Never heard of them, but I just read they may nibble the wasp brood, so parasite may be right.

    I guess simple commensal behaviour could be displaced by out-and-out parasitism if sufficiently beneficial. Watch this space – evolution in action!

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  14. Corneel:

    CharlieM: No. I said that a similarity could be observed. I explained to Alan above the way in which they are similar If we are to agree that they are in some way homologous then it is a homology of process and not of structure.

    And again you are using a word in your own idiosyncratic fashion. Your use of the word “homologous” corresponds neither to “being derived from the same ancestral structure” nor to “being derived from serially repeated primordia” (analogous to Goethes development of the concept).

    When I use the word ‘homologous’ I mean a comparison of things that follow the same logic.Even in the conventional use of the word it can mean different things depending on context.

    Goethe did not look to the antecedent as the cause of what comes later, he looked to the archetype which encompassed all the developing forms.

    To most people, homologous does NOT mean “looks similar”. How do you expect people to understand what you are saying if you keep using your own private vocabulary?

    Through further discussion.

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  15. CharlieM: So although modern biologists might not consider these structures and processes homologous they do indeed mirror each other in their formation.

    Makes little sense to me, Charlie.

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  16. CharlieM: When I use the word ‘homologous’ I mean a comparison of things that follow the same logic.

    You need a different word for “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.” Also you could explain what you mean when you say “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.”

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  17. Corneel:

    CharlieM: There are different levels of archetype as there are different levels of homology.

    Then next time you write an OP, list ALL of them and add a proper description for each one of them. You cannot expect people to know them beforehand. If you advance them during a discussion like you do now, it looks like you made that up on the spot.

    I prefer the OP to lay down basic ideas which can stimulate further discussion, open up new questions, and meander in all directions.

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  18. Alan Fox: You need a different word for “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.”

    Might I suggest “analogous” would be less subject to mis-interpretation.

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  19. Corneel:

    CharlieM: Mutations do not turn one form into another. They are disruptions on the path.

    Poppycock. Mutations are changes in a DNA sequence. Spiritualize that!

    So do you think of recombination as mutations?

    CharlieM: Being unable to produce pollen is not a limitation of flies, because they produce the cellular equivalent which has the same function.

    Flies being unable to produce pollen is a limitation of your theory, which cannot account for preservation of heritable differences.

    Flies produce eggs which contain a unique genomic arrangement. The fertilised egg is the product of material inherited from the parents. None of this contradicts the form expressing the archetype.

    The equivalent function of different types of gamete has been preserved from the common ancestor of vascular plants and metazoans. That is the modern evolutionary interpretation of the Goethean archetype. So far, you have presented zero reason for me to consider your alternative.

    It’s not an alternative. That which is needed to provide the material to build and maintain the organism as appropriate is inherited. I believe that the daughter organism takes in and organises the material required to build itself up and it forms itself in accordance with its etheric/life principle. The physical organism is a result of a combination of material forces from ‘below’ and etheric forces from ‘above’. I believe there is a polarity where materialists recognise only one pole, the material pole.

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  20. OMagain: CharlieM: Being unable to produce pollen is not a limitation of flies, because they produce the cellular equivalent which has the same function.

    Er, cells get pollinated? what?

    Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

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  21. Corneel:

    CharlieM: He’s not really God, it’s all mimicry. 😉

    But he has a beard, right?

    Has he? Is it a long flowing white beard?

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  22. CharlieM,

    Does he take sugar?

    It’s white but about 1cm. I might shave it off tomorrow. Desperate for a haircut though. It’s allowed but I’m still wary.

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  23. CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    It’s the evolutionary history eucaryotes share.

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  24. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: So although modern biologists might not consider these structures and processes homologous they do indeed mirror each other in their formation.

    Makes little sense to me, Charlie.

    Well a lot of observing and concentrating on these processes has helped me to see this connection. It’s particularly striking when comparing butterflies to flowering plants. life cycles, feeding habits of the various stages, physical appearances, sequence of development, sexual reproduction; all these things are indicators.

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  25. CharlieM:

    Makes little sense to me, Charlie.

    Well a lot of observing and concentrating on these processes has helped me to see this connection. It’s particularly striking when comparing butterflies to flowering plants. life cycles, feeding habits of the various stages, physical appearances, sequence of development, sexual reproduction; all these things are indicators.

    I agree on sex!

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  26. CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    Except of course for the members of the plant kingdom which don’t produce pollen and instead have motile sperm. How does that fit into your broad-brush painting of the subject matter?

    Been busy processing broiler chickens so I’ll have to read back through the thread to see your (Charlie’s) response to our previous ‘conversation’.

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  27. Alan Fox: CharlieM: When I use the word ‘homologous’ I mean a comparison of things that follow the same logic.

    You need a different word for “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.” Also you could explain what you mean when you say “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.”

    The formal definition of homologous from the Cambridge dictionary is, “having a similar position, structure, value, or purpose”.

    The root of the word comes from the joining of words meaning ‘the same’ and ‘ratio’ or ‘proportion’. So I don’t see any problem with the way I was using the word. The sequence of seed, vegetative part, bud, blossom follows the same logic as egg, growing caterpillar, pupa and adult butterfly and thus in this respect they are formally homologous if not strictly homologous in the biological sense.

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  28. CharlieM: The root of the word comes from the joining of words meaning ‘the same’ and ‘ratio’ or ‘proportion’.

    I know.

    Your on own link gives more definitions. Read the one relating to biology.

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  29. CharlieM: So do you think of recombination as mutations?

    No, I do not.

    CharlieM: It’s not an alternative. That which is needed to provide the material to build and maintain the organism as appropriate is inherited. I believe that the daughter organism takes in and organises the material required to build itself up and it forms itself in accordance with its etheric/life principle. The physical organism is a result of a combination of material forces from ‘below’ and etheric forces from ‘above’. I believe there is a polarity where materialists recognise only one pole, the material pole.

    That is because the physical account suffices as an explanation. I don’t see anything useful added by considering an “ethereal pole”. In the OP, you offered convergent evolution as an example where archetypes may provide a more parsimonious explanation than the mainstream evolutionary developmental explanation, but you failed to make your case. I see at least two major problems:

    1) You have a poor understanding of biology, so everytime you argue against a competing hypothesis, you fall flat on your face. Not very confidence inspiring.
    2) You lack a mechanistic account of how archetypes become phenotypically expressed, which withdraws your hypothesis from empirical verification. That will ring all the alarm bells of any researcher worth her salt.

    Alan Fox: Your [..] own link gives more definitions. Read the one relating to biology.

    For goodness sake, Charlie! How did you manage to miss that one?

    Second definition:

    biology specialized
    having the same origin although now having a different purpose or shape, usually as a result of evolution (= gradual change over millions of years):
    The wing of a bat and the arm of a man are homologous structures.
    A female’s paraurethral glands are homologous to the male prostate.
    Feathers are traditionally considered homologous with reptilian scales.

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  30. CharlieM: I prefer the OP to lay down basic ideas which can stimulate further discussion, open up new questions, and meander in all directions.

    That would be fine, were it not for the fact that your “basic ideas” are unsubstantiated claims, and the “new questions meandering” thing you making MORE unsubstantiated claims when retreating from your original ones.

    The discussion would be much more constructive if you committed to one well thought out topic, with careful explanation of the terms you are using and preferably including a worked out example.

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  31. CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    I think you’ll find that spermandeggs produce flies, while pollenandovules produce plants. Gametes are the archetype, not their somatic outgrowths.

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  32. Allan Miller: pollenandovules produce plants

    Sometimes the haploid not-pollenandovules become plants themselves and then produce spermandeggs by mitosis.

    Those archetypes are flexible things 😃

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  33. DNA_Jock to Alan Fox:

    Alan Fox: You need a different word for “a comparison of things that follow the same logic.”

    Might I suggest “analogous” would be less subject to mis-interpretation.

    Yes they could be seen as analogous. But the point I am trying to make is that these are not just coincidentally similar processes. It is the same general process used by insects and plants, but at different levels and so varying in the details.

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  34. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,

    Does he take sugar?

    It’s white but about 1cm. I might shave it off tomorrow. Desperate for a haircut though. It’s allowed but I’m still wary.

    Our beard’s are homologous 🙂 Only I like to trim mine back to a No2 every so often.

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  35. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    It’s the evolutionary history eucaryotes share.

    Yes speaking as a eukaryote, our shared history has a lot to do with it.

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  36. Alan Fox:

    Well a lot of observing and concentrating on these processes has helped me to see this connection. It’s particularly striking when comparing butterflies to flowering plants. life cycles, feeding habits of the various stages, physical appearances, sequence of development, sexual reproduction; all these things are indicators.

    I agree on sex!

    After emerging from the seed/egg, the energy of the organism is directed towards vegetative growth. After this there is a period of transformation and from this transformation there emerges the completed form of the blossom/adult insect. At this point the plant puts its energy into preparing for the next generation. The fly goes one stage further. It puts its energy into preparing for the next generation but at the same time it has developed a high level of sentience. It is full of nervous energy.

    The fly goes through the same general processes of the flowering plant but at a higher level. It follows the same pattern but adds to it.

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  37. PeterP: CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    Except of course for the members of the plant kingdom which don’t produce pollen and instead have motile sperm. How does that fit into your broad-brush painting of the subject matter?

    Been busy processing broiler chickens so I’ll have to read back through the thread to see your (Charlie’s) response to our previous ‘conversation’

    I was wondering where you had got to. Welcome back.

    I was concentrating on the close relationship between flies and flowering plants. And the richness and variety of life provides many other avenues of investigation. There are two poles, the vegetative and the sentient, and all life forms have their place between these poles so it would be interesting to see where all plants fit in, not just the pollen producing plants.

    I’ll need to take a closer look at sperm motility in plants. Although pollen does actively move the sperm. It creates a tube to transport the sperm to the egg.

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  38. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: The root of the word comes from the joining of words meaning ‘the same’ and ‘ratio’ or ‘proportion’.

    I know.

    Your on own link gives more definitions. Read the one relating to biology.

    I already have.

    It says:

    Having the same origin although now having a different purpose or shape, usually as a result of evolution (= gradual change over millions of years)

    In the abstract to, On the Independence of Systematics, Ron Brady writes:

    Before the publication of On the Origin of Species the standing patterns of natural history — common plan, homology, ontogenetic parallelism, and the hierarchy of groups – were taken as indications of a biological order that had not yet been understood. Darwin covered all of these in chapter 13 of the Origin, arguing that his theory was the first to provide a reasonable explanation for the existence of such patterns. Since Darwin took these relations to be established by previous biology, and used them as evidence for the explanatory power of his theory, he was clearly of the opinion that they were independent of that theory. Although several modern figures have argued to the contrary, it seems that Darwin was right. The patterns listed above are recoverable from observation without reference to evolutionary theory, which theory may then be applied to provide an account of the processes by which they may have come about. That aspect of systematics concerned with the identification of the empirical patterns evidently constitutes a study prior to and independent of theories of process.

    Homologies were recognised prior to the theory of evolution proposed by Darwin. The definition given above ties homology to the theory. In fact it is an observation which should remain distinct from any theory as to why it appears.

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  39. Corneel:

    CharlieM: So do you think of recombination as mutations?

    No, I do not.

    Good. So changes to the genome can be through organisational processes or by external disruption. When speculating about past changes how do you distinguish which is organisational and which is accidental? The theory demands that all past changes must be accidental and so that has got to be the case!

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  40. Corneel: In the OP, you offered convergent evolution as an example where archetypes may provide a more parsimonious explanation than the mainstream evolutionary developmental explanation, but you failed to make your case.

    Just for the fun of it, I started to look for examples of convergent evolution for all the types of organism I have mentioned in this thread. I might just post some of them. They can be found everywhere.

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  41. Corneel: 1) You have a poor understanding of biology, so everytime you argue against a competing hypothesis, you fall flat on your face. Not very confidence inspiring.

    I have a reasonable understanding of biology but its all relative. You’ll need to provide some details of where you think I’ve fallen on my face.

    2) You lack a mechanistic account of how archetypes become phenotypically expressed, which withdraws your hypothesis from empirical verification. That will ring all the alarm bells of any researcher worth her salt.

    Mechanistic accounts and hypotheses aren’t required when things can be observed directly.

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  42. Corneel:

    Alan Fox: Your [..] own link gives more definitions. Read the one relating to biology.

    For goodness sake, Charlie! How did you manage to miss that one?

    I didn’t. I prefer to use the definition which was solely dependent on observation and not one dependent on a theory.

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  43. Corneel:

    CharlieM: I prefer the OP to lay down basic ideas which can stimulate further discussion, open up new questions, and meander in all directions.

    That would be fine, were it not for the fact that your “basic ideas” are unsubstantiated claims, and the “new questions meandering” thing you making MORE unsubstantiated claims when retreating from your original ones.

    The discussion would be much more constructive if you committed to one well thought out topic, with careful explanation of the terms you are using and preferably including a worked out example

    From my point of view the discussion is constructive and informative. Learning about the natural world is an open-ended process.

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  44. Allan Miller:

    CharlieM: Flies produce sperm which are sex cells and plants produce pollen which are in essence the sex cells of plants. They are just individualised ways of achieving the same ends.

    I think you’ll find that spermandeggs produce flies, while pollenandovules produce plants. Gametes are the archetype, not their somatic outgrowths

    I presumed that would be taken as read. I began by talking about stamens and so using the male portion as a specific example. Are you just looking for something to criticise for the sake of it?

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  45. Corneel

    Allan Miller: pollenandovules produce plants

    Sometimes the haploid not-pollenandovules become plants themselves and then produce spermandeggs by mitosis.

    Plants are close to the vegetative pole and this shows in their ability grow and regenerate. Lower animals such as certain worm have amazing powers of regeneration. But as life moves towards the sentient pole powers of regeneration decrease. Lizards and salamanders have a fair amount of regenerative abilities, higher animals not so much. Their energies are directed more towards the sentient pole at the expense of regeneration.

    Those archetypes are flexible things 😃

    Very true 🙂

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  46. Corneel::

    CharlieM: If researchers induce a mutation that produces wings in the third thoracic segment where the halteres should form this severely hinders the fly’s viability. Do you agree?

    Researchers induced nothing, Charlie.

    Do you have any evidence of any four-winged fruit flies occurring spontaneously? I know that Edward B. Lewis, 1918–2004 induced flies to develop four wings.

    Lewis drew the connection between his mutant flies and the body plans of evolutionary ancestors, even in the early years when the mutant transformations were quite incomplete (Lewis 1955). The analogy became more credible when Ed was able to produce mutant flies with four wings (Lewis 1963), resembling a dragonfly.

    The achievement of producing this fly took a lot of work. But even then they didn’t have the necessary muscles to be of any use.

    Lewis’s greatest impact on biology is embodied in his four-winged fly (Figure 2). It demonstrated that mutations can cause logically simple changes in the body plan. Although “homeotic” mutations were discovered before Ed’s birth (Lewis 1994), the four-winged fly made the point more dramatically than ever before or since. Ed worked hard to perfect that transformation, most notably by constructing a triple-mutant chromosome (anterobithorax, bithorax, postbithorax) that gave a more complete duplication of the anterior edge of the thorax. Even this transformation was not perfect; the duplicated thorax had only rudimentary flight muscles, and Ed investigated many genotypes to try to enhance the muscle transformation.

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