Systematics And Evolution

Prior to the establishment of what we consider the Linnean System, groupings and classifications of organisms were not based on their evolutionary relationships to one another. Folk taxonomy, or common names, dominated the world. Although this type of naming had great local practicality, the difficulties with such systems were that most species did not have a name (e.g., most insects lack common names). Thus, names were applied only to the most commonly encountered organisms, or ones most useful to know about. Moreover, the names varied greatly with region and were therefore only locally applicable. As a result, a village could adopt a new name at any time, and its meaning was lost to other villages. The classification was derived from tradition and sometimes included few actual attributes of the biological world; in fact, fanciful creatures such as unicorns and basilisks were classified alongside flies and horses. Lastly, all languages were naturally included (e.g., bee versus pchel [nHE^B]!); there was no standardization. To bring together the knowledge of all humanity, it required a polyglot. Thus was born the need for a formal and universal taxonomy, or development of scientific names. Such a system was advantageous in that it would be universally applicable to all organisms and useful in all countries and cultures. It would abide by a standardized set of pragmatic rules (nomenclature) and empirical evidence to ensure its stability. The system would recognize only natural groups of organisms; mythical beasts and illogical groupings would be abandoned. The now extinct languages of Latin or ancient Greek were adopted so as to avoid the pitfalls of any nationalism, and early on these classical languages were the communication of academic scholarship. However, a formalized system did not appear overnight. There is a long history of the development of taxonomy, nomenclature, and system-atics, for which we provide only a brief outline.

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