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sexta-feira, 4 de março de 2011

Vanzolini, Garcia, Ripa, e a Acrochorda

Em "An anotated bibliography of land and fresh-water reptiles of South America (1758-1975), Volume I (1758-1900)", na página 173, Professor Vanzolini me lembra da existência do livro em que 'LA VERRUGOSA' - Lachesis acrochorda - foi descrita pela primeira vez, por Garcia, em 1896.


Hoge na década de 60, fez saber a alguns interlocutores seletos que conhecia uma Lachesis diferente em 'nosso quintal', nos vales inter andinos da Colômbia. Ripa em 2003 promoveu sua ressurreição da vala comum com muta muta.


Lendária como todas as outras Lachesis, "La verrugosa del Chocó" é bicho originalmente descrito por Garcia como capaz de ficar de pé na horizontal, de roncar alto e cacarejar como uma galinha, de dar botes altíssimos esticando o corpo todo, derrubando gente de cavalos...

Bicho grande, difícil de conservar 'no álcool' naquele período e por aquelas bandas, teve provavelmente a cabeça decepada e salgada, para a precisa ilustração descritiva original, acima.

Com relação à sistemática, Garcia segue Posada-Arango (1889), descrevendo como nova a espécie 'Bothrops acrochordus'.

Fiquem abaixo com a elegância inconfundível de Ripa, descrevendo um momento histórico para o Gênero Lachesis, a 'ressurreição' da Verrugosa del Choco...

DESCRIBING A "NEW SPECIES" can be a fairly commonplace business if its forms are new to science, or a deadly intellectual battle if those forms, familiar in name but overlooked in context, have brooded too long venerably in vats of other, better ichor than that poured by your own poor authority, and pickled by a better loved nomenclature, disguised by prudence. Brooding venerably on dust-thickened selves, installed by proxy, verified by Time, their meaning rigorously examined by esteemed predecessors who have looked at them just long enough to read their name tags, their preferred residence garbs them with a status they do not necessarily deserve, but which always gets what is loudest begged for. Though plain to see, the Emperor’s Clothes make infallible cover, for naked bones camouflaged partly by our fear to say, and partly from our complicity not to see them. Mute advocates of scientific inertia, these bottled sleepers promulgate a million unwitting disciples enjoying a like-rigor mortis of the mind, blowing phantom horns above the seance, haunting guide books and dissertations, deceitful juggernauts demanding offerings and clinging to the sleeves of fashion. And thus is it with man himself, in his longing to think himself a better ape than the population he just came from, and which, thank Darwin, had the decency to die off stage before he could become its victim, by association. To suggest that man himself, in his present incarnation, plagued morphological incongruities and vicariant geohistories, should abide by the same rules as "lesser organisms", is politically inadmissable at present, a task for other, less vested interests and successors—future taxa.
As with men, so with snakes. Whereas a whole new genus can be erected with a single specimen, to admit that even one sly interloper is masquerading among the honored corpses of an existing and well known genera, might require a huge sampling pool numbering dozens of specimens, accompanied by an entire evolutionary theory as a pedigree. And so a major taxa, the bushmaster (genus Lachesis Daudin, 1803) has waited almost until the very last to see its tombs cleaned. Some new papers published within the last ten years (Ripa, 1994; Zamudio and Greene, 1997; Ripa, 1999; 2000) offer the exciting prospect that these great vipers comprise three (and even four) distinct species rather than the long-standing polytype of four subspecies—mere races of a single interpopulous organism.
With all the problems attending such a pronouncement, there remained a bug in the machine. A controversial "middle" population of uncertain affinity needed to be explained in order to justify speciation in at least two of the populations that geographically interrupted it. Its identity might make or break a vicariance hypothesis in an Evolutionary Species Concept (ESC; sensu Wiley, 1978).
The population in question is endemic to the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of eastern Panamá and northwestern South America—often called the Chocó after its indigenous inhabitants. This is an area of great biological interest for its unique and often shared fauna with Central America. Historically, authorities have been divided as to which species the Chocó snake represents. The South American scientists (e.g., Hoge and Romano Hoge, 1981; 1978/79; Martinez and Bolanos, 1982) catalogued it with Daudin’s (1803)Lachesis mutus [muta] (acknowledging Taylor’s trinominal, Lachesis muta muta), presumably on the basis of its locality in South America. The North American scientists buried it in a different hole, with the American Cope’s (1875) Lachesis stenophrys (and the American Taylor’s subspecies Lachesis muta stenophrys). This is the grave cautiously allotted it by the American teams, Campbell and Lamar (1979), Zamudio and Greene (1997), and others.
Geographically, the Andean mountains seem to prevent its contact with the widespread Amazonian population on the east, Lachesis muta muta (e.g., Campbell and Lamar, 1979; Ripa 1994; Zamudio and Greene, 1997); while its northern and western limits seem continuous with the Central American, Lachesis stenophrys (e.g., Campbell and Lamar, 1979; Zamudio and Greene, 1997).
So which species?
In a monophyly such as Lachesis occupied for so many years, it little mattered at the time. The question was rather of "race" than species, and there being little incentive to split what were, after all, still never very clearly defined hairs, things just poked along and everybody was happy. Eventually, however, as biogeographic knowledge about the Chocó region grew (e.g., Dixon, 1979; Potts and Behrensmeyer, 1992; Coates and Obando, 1996, etc.,), it made more sense to separate these abstruse apples from the common oranges, in a way commensurate with other species. Whatever organisms had dispersed within the Chocó could be expected to follow the same pattern led by other radiations. With theory thus grasped firmly by the throat, the odd snake was awarded a comfortable birth with the Central American race, Lachesis muta stenophrys (e.g., Campbell and Lamar, 1979; Zamudio and Greene, 1997). It was logical, and there was no apparent disjuncture between the two populations to contradict it.
That there was indeed a disjuncture, although an overlooked one, would have been apparent only to one who had spent time hunting for bushmasters in that part of the world. And that a morphological disjuncture existed as well, became more apparent as I studied the specimens. Rereading Zamudio and Greene’s (1997) paper, I felt they were "wrong" in their basic conclusion (that the rise of the Andean barrier had shaped the evolution of the Central American bushmaster in particular), but essentially right in another way, one that the authors themselves were unaware of.
In light of my own new findings, I revised their idea (as well as Campbell and Lamar’s [1979] range map for bushmasters), showing that the Andean Barrier had indeed shaped at least one bushmaster, but not the species they thought. I reported (in Ripa 1999) that the Chocoan snake was neither one nor the other of the two species in question (Lachesis muta muta or L. stenophrys), but an entirely novel form, one with its own status and meaning. The Chocoan bushmaster was, in my vocabulary, allopatric and distinct. A "new" species.
I stopped short of giving my new child a Latin name. I meant to leave this final stroke for a forthcoming paper (cited as "Ripa, in prep." in Ripa, 1999; 2000). In the meantime I freely evoked an English name instead, calling the reptile "Darien Bushmaster" in those two publications until I could christen it properly. And then I waited for my readers to share their own ideas, ad hoc, whether as critics or supporters.

In fact few responses came in. One response, however, showed that in spite of all my efforts to be a good scholar I had fallen woefully short on an important account. The estimable Jonathan Campbell, whose knowledge of the names (and history of names) of reptiles is astronomical, provided me the unexpected news that, if indeed my species was "new" to modern science, it already had a name—one over a hundred years old!
In 1896 a book called Los Ofidios Venenosos del Cauca ("The Venomous Snakes of Cauca") appeared in Cali, Colombia. Its author was a certain El doctor Evaristo Garcia (thus commands his name on the overleaf), a practicing medical doctor with an interest in snakebite, and therefore, snakes as well. His book is basically a guide for recognizing the venomous snakes of the Cauca region, and offers, as the subtitle states, "practical methods for the prevention of accidents caused by reptile bite."
The text is an obscure one and survives in few libraries outside of Colombia. It is easy enough to overlook a work one can hardly find, but one has even less qualms about it when no other authority for the entirety of the last century seems to have given it the least credence.
Now Cauca, the setting of El doctor’s book, is one of the provinces of Colombia where my "new" bushmaster resides. Indeed, many of the specimens on which I based my studies originated from this province. In a guide portending to tell of Chocoan snakes and their bites, it is natural that the bushmaster should figure there. Doctor Garcia calls his serpent La Verrugosa del Chocó (the Wart Snake of the Chocó), and bestows on it the Latin name of:
Botrops acrochordus

With the snake assigned to Botrops (Bothrops) rather than Lachesis, I soon saw why I had paid no mind to it—I wasn’t looking in the right place. The tomb hardest to find is the one that has been mismarked. Moreover, with nearly two-thirds of all pitvipers in the world having once done a stint as "Bothrops," and over a dozen names for bushmasters already in prior use before Garcia, my oversight was conceivable, if not reconcilable with fact. The best I could say for myself was that I had not added yet another synonym to that already rather crowded mausoleum of lost names. To Campbell I was then a little grateful, if disappointed. After all, I would not be able to name the animal myself, my contribution to taxonomy obscurely couched behind the name of Garcia, who had really done almost nothing but show up. Had he been alive I am sure he would have thanked me! But it wouldn’t have offset my hurt pride for having run the race for him, with him on my back, and then letting him accept the award and make the acceptance speech afterwards while I stood around panting for breath. Where had I gone wrong? I had most probably been leaning on the earlier Cope (1875), who had already named a bushmaster (as Lachesis stenophrys) from that part of the world some 20 years before Garcia. I had assumed, wrongly, that any more recent assignations should have been sunk into Cope’s (as Campbell and Lamar [ibid], had themselves done with Garcia when they called his snake L. stenophrys). I was also laboring under the delusion that once a name gets "sunk," it stays "sunk." Not the case at all. My claim for newness in the Chocoan snake had inadvertently raised the dead.
What’s in a name?
Not much, as you will soon discover in this text. We will be talking about names that lack any basic description to defend their object; rather like a birth certificate that gives no vital stats, completely useless for identifying the baby. Or like a theory where the scientist has neglected to define his terms; you don’t know quite what he is saying, and so you don’t know quite what he has proposed; and if you suspect he may be wrong then you are not quite sure of that either. He has elbow room to wiggle out from all sorts of things. Now here is a man who has just found a strange dog in his yard and called it "Rover." He does not tell you why his Rover should be different than other Rovers, or even that other Rovers exist. He seems unaware of "dogs" as species in general and believes his dog is a unique dog, and uniquely the one dog to which all other similar animals should answer—as a Rover. What he does not know is that his Rover is really only someone else’s "Spot." Sure enough, the true owner comes along and informs him of this fact; that the foundlimg is Spot and is not in any way Rover, and is not unique. Supporting his claim with prior legal papers, he carries "Spot" home. Poor Rover is dead.
The new man is of course Cope, whose claim of L. stenophrys, as of 1875, beats Garcia’s, of 1896, by two precious decades. In other courtrooms, however, it would be Daudin’s,L. muta, from 1803, that would be considered valid.
In Garcia’s short chapter we learn of the large and dangerous viper of the region, feared by many, and that reaches great size. It has a large mouth and large fangs, and a singularly "warty hide." Its color is described as pale with a series of irregular black blotches, with the dark line of an eyestripe. He has described a bushmaster as though seeing it for the first time, not knowing that many others have provided much the same description, some of them preceding him by more than a hundred years.
The name Verrugosa, meaning "wart skin," is suggestive of a bushmaster indeed; but the warty scale complex would not be confirming in itself, for a large, highly keeledBothrops or Crotalus could also answer such a description, having rather rough scales themselves. Yet the animal is emphatically a bushmaster, as we can see from a very good drawing of the snake’s head.
The drawing is of a severed head. This is revealing. Garcia evidently does not have a complete specimen, just the head portion. The snake’s body has not been preserved. This, he implies, is due to the great size of the animal ("el volumen considerable de la verrugosa"), and the shortage of alcohol to preserve it ("nos ha dificultado el conservar en la alcohol el animal entero"). We are in Colombia, and moreover, the Colombia of the 1890s. Alcohol, save for the drinkable kind, is hard to come by.
We do not wonder then of the emptiness of Doctor Garcia’s description. In vain we search for scale counts or other morphometrics, or any other physical trait, even that of color, that would show why this bushmaster is different from any other, and why it should be considered a novel rather than an old familiar form. Indeed, it seems a rather generic bushmaster head the artist has sketched, and from this alone it might be impossible to guess which of the three then recognized species it is meant to represent.
The author is obviously unaware that his predecessors Linnaeus (1776), Daudin (1803), Wagler (1824) and Cope (1875), etc., have already named these large vipers of the Americas—hence he does not borrow their nomenclature. He believes that his specimen is a Bothrops (he uses the less antique but eventually dropped name, Botrops) and while declining to go so far as to say that this Botrops (Bothrops) is new to science, he gives it a Latin name from lack of anything else. In truth, by 1896, the bushmaster had been named no less than 13 times by various other authorities, each time differently!
Garcia’s bushmaster is not uniquely Chocoan. Its "newness" seems to consist only in being the first bushmaster reported from western Colombia. Not that it was ever unexpected that bushmasters should be found there. They are endemic, after all, to most of the pluvial lowlands of Equatorial South and Central America. The earlier Cope (1875) has already told us, through collecting a specimen, that bushmasters range as far north as Nicaragua. Since allopatry in bushmasters had not been considered as of that time (evolutionary science was still then quite new), Garcia’s find was of no special significance.
On the other hand, Garcia’s snake might have been considered "new" even then if he had told us why he considered it so. He indicted only the granular character of its scales, the large head with the convex occipitals and small scales on the frontal—traits shared by all other bushmasters, and indeed, even the sympatric Bothrops. But Garcia, not knowing about the many other names for his "Rover," believes that the "warty hide, eye stripe and pale ground color with irregular blotches," are unique, and that he is describing a creature unknown to science. Factually, these traits of bushmasters were well known in the literature by this time, and Garcia had merely made another case for their existence.
This raises an interesting point. In order to answer our question—When is discovering a species and naming it different?—we must try to define more precisely the terms we employ. We can easily say what a name is—it is a sign or symbol standing for something else. But what is discovery, and more importantly, what are the qualifications of adescription?
There are no new names for species, only new descriptions of species
The ghost in the machine of scientific nomenture, and one that modern systematicists are working literally round the clock to tame, is that there is a greater abundance of names for species than there are descriptions to support them. And yet one does not name an organism; one names a description of an organism. This is essential to understand. The two are never the same, and never can be. A name does not carry a description within it, and contains no implicit instructions of its own, as to how it should be applied. A name is simply a handle, and this must take us back to a description first, and an organism second, if it aspires to be a means of identification. It cannot logically be otherwise in describing anything, whether a beast or a stone.
If we confuse the two, name and description, then we are led to the defensible but unsatisfying conclusion that an indigenous or folk name is as good as any other for scientific purposes. And if this is so—because names are chosen from precedence—it becomes suddenly harder, and perhaps even impossible, to honor any single individual for "discovering" any organism. If naming is the sole requisite of discovery, we should resort to the names given by indigenous people instead; and in the absence of indigenes in those regions, the names given by the first settlers landing there. Here is an example for the genus of bushmasters converted to this alternate system:

Surucucu (Tupi-Guarani tribe, circa 500 A.D.)
I have no clue as to whether or not the Guarani tribe or some antecedent first came up with the name surucucu, or in what era it could be presumed to have arisen. And if my "Guarani" is not appropriate, then a new breed of ethnologic taxonomists could find a name that was. As a paper trail for future historians to verify the official christening, the ethnologist’s own name and the date of his study could be appended to the species name, as is done presently in the Linnaean system (e.g., Lachesis Daudin, 1803).
Workable or not, is a worldwide change toward such a nomenclature farfetched? Perhaps not. Forced, say, by new attitudes of political correctness to abandon ethnocentric snobbery and bring biology "to the people," such a thing could happen—stranger things have in our increasing "socialist" climate. Supporters could argue that the scientific fundamentals really haven’t changed. The Linnaean structure is preserved—only the geopolitical right to name has been altered, away from what might be called the exclusionary practices of European science. The guidelines for precedence have shifted away from the scientists who merely visit the region where the organism lives, to the people who actually live there, and are thus more appropriate to name the plants and animals they live among. Moreover, the method is more factual, more scientific since it attempts (even if it must fail at), restoring true historicity to names and puts naming totally in the hands of name-specialists rather than in the hands of biologists.*
The obvious protests among scientists would be that changing our system this late in the game is madness, that we have enough problems of this sort already, and that a name should be traced to a source on paper, not a fluctuating indigenous tongue. But this view has its own inconsistencies.
For if setting a name on paper is the only requisite to discovery, even a newspaper account can accomplish that (so much the better if it has a photograph); many already have. Various native names for bushmasters (as for other organisms) exist in old published accounts (especially when these animals have brought themselves attention by taking human life), and it only remains to find these articles, citing them for the needed localities. There are plenty of examples; and since accuracy of description was never requisite to establishing the early scientific names (science has appreciated such qualifications only in retrospect), neither should we impose this rule upon our friends in the press. The Internet is already turning up its own problems in this regard. It is now possible for anyone to name anything, and self-publish it at the touch of a button. This name will then, as though instantly, proliferate itself geometrically throughout the world with every new reference to it. It is ironic that some of these names (good Latin names, many of them) are already supplanting some reviewed work and being quoted in many publications. Pop-culture science has already supplanted the standard reference book—the old way was too slow—while the Media and Internet have created a new breed of folktale (e.g., Global Warming). The Tower of Babel has fallen and men speak their own choice of tongues.
Scientists may argue that the simple publication of a name (e.g., in the newspaper or Internet) is not an essentially scientific statement. The name and its description should be published in a scientific journal, preferably one that has been peer-reviewed, for it to be honored. This flaccid argument has been bandied about for a hundred years even among academicians, to no avail. The majority of scientific names on the books—at least those from the 18th-19th Century—are not "descriptions" in any modern sense of the word; nor did they first appear in peer-reviewed journals. Rather, these names simply showed up in museum inventories, as tags on bottles, with many others published ad hoc. Scientists themselves admit that peer-reviewed journals do not necessarily publish "better science" than their more expedient juniors (e.g., regional herp bulletins). Science is only "scientific" when it is proved right; and the fact that new scientific communications are continually arising, correcting the errors of previous communications and "disproving" them, all within a peer reviewed context, makes us realize how little agreement there really is in science; how, in fact, there is no actual science per se, only greater degrees of consensual scientificity among scientific work as greater agreement is reached. In this regard, a peer-reviewed journal provides no greater guarantee of accuracy than any other, for all are subject to the same test of time.
Nor are large-scale publishing engines essential to publicize a scientist’s findings. Herpetology has a limited readership, and certain specialized articles may be of interest only to a few people. Self-publishing or non-reviewed publishing can bring those few minds together as effectively as any other method, and because waiting on a peer-review before publishing can take a great deal of time, one cannot blame the scientist having certain time-sensitive material for wanting to get his message out in advance of competition, avoiding a year or more delay while waiting on his "peers" to give him the green light (if his work is extremely specialized, he may not have any actual "peers", but all science is similar enough that most scientists can at least recognize whether or not the proper formulas have been followed, even if they cannot repeat and test the experiments themselves).
In some ways this is what Garcia himself did; he published his work without European/American academic consent. Had he submitted his work to one of the prominent zoological journals of his age, it is likely that somebody (perhaps even his predecessor, Cope), would have caught his error. Garcia would have resorted to one of the 13 existing names for bushmasters, and [Botropsacrochordus would never have been born. He would have discovered a range extension for an existing species, rather than a new large Crotalid. The more experienced scientists of his day would have quickly recognized his snake as Lachesis, the bushmaster, instead of adopting yet another unnecessary synonym. A synonym that, quite rightly, had been ignored by nearly every scientist since his work’s publication.
But one can never second-guess the future life of a name.
When landing in a New World, name everything in sight, you can’t go wrong

How far removed is the modern search for species from the antique one! In the early days of naming, names themselves answered for descriptions, and every country’s species were likely to carry as many monikers as there were scientists working there.

In those good old days, naming a new species was not essentially different from a land grab. The boat has just docked and it is a naturalist’s Gold Rush . . . everything is "yours" if you can write names fast enough.
As in a land grab, you need to stake out your territory. You go to the Land Office, and fill out your claim, describing in a general way the dimensions of your new property. How "general" may depend on whether or not you have neighbors who have also visited the Land Office and made prior claims. If you have no neighbors, then expressions like "ten feet from Old Beech Tree and one hundred yards from Large Craggy Boulder facing the sun at dawn" may serve for your metes and bounds, since in the absence of other property holders more precise coordinates do not yet exist. If, however, neighbor Smith has already made a claim bordering your property then your claim becomes more complex. Precise delineations become required, taking Smith’s own mapped borderline into account rather than merely "Craggy Boulder." As time passes and more claims come in, more compasses will be brought out, and the outlines of your property must be more precisely drawn else others might try to lay claim to it.
It is thus with species, which become more precisely rendered as we begin to question their integrity. A species can never be fully described—it is continually being redescribed through generations as more and more data is acquired, as newer and greater perspectives on data are achieved. Such a new perspective was DNA analysis. Just as other measuring data (e.g., counting scales in reptiles) enlarged upon the shape and color descriptions of those earlier times, so mtDNA, which provided yet another kind of morphometrics, has proved quite revolutionary. We should not expect it to be the last such innovation. Analysis expands with technology, itself ever expanding.
But in the imprecise world of antique taxonomy we regress to a universe governed only by the most generalized borders. There may be little or no mets and bounds as we know them today, and often we are given only a name to answer for description. "Big Shady Acres" = "Large Black Forest Viper" (written in Latin, for its supposed universality, but more importantly because it is a dead lingo and not subject to change).
In those easier times in which nearly every species was something "new" to the small circle of European namers who took a leisurely interest in promoting them—a charmed era before scientific hurdles became so elevated that rigorous coordinates were required before "proving" one’s claims— simply plucking a name out a Latin grab bag and attaching it at random to an organism stood about as good a chance of finding a home as any other. This is practically what happened; and with such vehemence that the world is still reeling from the event, a sort of taxonomic Big Bang.
Imagine a super-computer launched to a living Mars and naming every strange organism it encounters on sight, without any program for distinguishing between them, and a blocked memory as to what had already been found, and you will have an idea of the effect of the Linnaean system of classification on 19th Century biology. The result was a veritable deluge of names; ultimately more names than there were species to support them.
Next, imagine a second expeditionary computer is sent to Mars. This one is more sophisticated, and knows how to do more than just name. Programmed by a biogeographer, a morphologist, and a genetic analyst, its mission is to identify the species named on the first expedition, describe them, file new data with respect to them, and name new species that were not encountered on the first expedition. But there is a constraint: none of the names given on the first expedition can be eliminated. The dilemma of the 20th Century classifiers was just this: how to cope with the exorbitant findings of the first expedition, right or wrong, and retain all of it without dismissing any of it.
The second mission soon finds itself bogged down with redundancies. It must get rid of the synonymies—all the other previous names for the same organisms. This sounds easy at first. Simply preserve the earliest names, eliminate the later ones that duplicate them. But consider this: every name has a special locality and if some new data in years to come reveals an important variation in samples from that particular locality, then that name becomes "valid" and will have to be resurrected as representative of all similar organisms within that locality. The result is, you can never get rid of any names.
Names are for keeps.
Thus the second expedition finds its time spent justifying the findings of the first; and so on the second and the fourth and the tenth, ad infinitum, no matter how spurious those findings. It is an expanding geometric puzzle, proliferating with the number of players. The bureaucratic aspect of science is satisfied, giving more and more people something to do.
The data has not been arrived at by a logical progression. The mission of the second expedition has been merely to validate the random designations generated by the first expedition, and so on. It has been a question of name first, describe second—quite the reverse of how thought is, or should be formed, when analyzing relationships. Korzybski (1933) calls this sort of thinking a "pathologically reversed order" and holds it responsible for the majority of mankind’s psychological ills.
A system should not beg evidence from a name; it should devise a more logical order for thought-processes and then assign accordingly. However, human beings are not strictly logical beings; practical beings, however, we do strive to be. The limitations of human memory have been considered by the system: We require an inventory, even the most dubious, in order to begin—otherwise the filing material cannot be relocated. Names are established first so that we can make a file.
A wiser secretary might simply eliminate all the excess files from the first expedition and start over, but the rules of the system (i.e., zoological nomenclature) prevent that. We labor within a system, and often, against the system, believing that it can be made workable.
Workable or not, it is a system harboring a virus—a hereditary virus. Our first Martian extravaganza has generated a great deal of taxonomic debris, and the second, third and fourth expeditions will find most of their time taken up with casting it off. How much time? So far, the entire 20th Century has not been enough. We are still dealing with it. Moreover, the debris is cumulative, growing as naming expands, each new name offering the possibility of a new redundancy. It will never end.
Garcia was a participant in the "first expedition," a phenomenon unique to the 19th Century: the rampant naming of every living thing. The Linnaean bomb exploded upon an innocent age when organisms were previously identified only by folk names. The new taxonomy spread rapidly amongst scientists, but it did so unequally, localized by the European roots of education. Publications were scarce and uncataloged; distances were large and carriers moved very slowly between continents. Traveling to the major education centers where this information was stored was not always feasible (how much larger the Atlantic ocean in 1896!). Communication was limited to letter writing, a response from the tropics taking many months. There was no central database for the names of species (no ICZN to be consulted electronically). The study, for study’s sake, of "loathsome snakes and other vermin" was considered beneath the dignity of most universities, who saw these animals only as objects of medical curiosity. Consequently, it is in a medically oriented book that we learn about Garcia’s acrochordus. But what we learn primarily is of its dangerousness, not its morphology, and nothing whatever of its aspect as "species."
Given the distances of travel, and the isolated concentrations of literature in a few major learning centers in Northern countries, the scientist living in a remote outpost had little choice but to do as Garcia did. Easier to walk out in your backyard, pick a random flower and give it a name than to travel to Paris or London to hunt up an obscure pamphlet by an obscure practitioner of the Linnaean discipline. Name first, question later. And this is exactly what the 19th Century naturalists did—thousands of them, all over the globe. The result was hundreds of thousands of "new species" named (though hardly described), the majority of them synonymous with names already erected by previous explorers.
Very few of these names included "descriptions" in the modern sense. They were just Latinized handles. Some were names attached to preserved specimens, or even a fragment of a specimen (e.g., Cope’s L. stenophrys is just a preserved portion of a bushmaster’s tail; as with Garcia (ibid) he provides no means of differentiating his snake from Linnaeus’L. mutus); others were names attached only to a picture, not always very good or descriptive (e.g., Garcia’s), accompanied by terse, vague explanations like "green and black lizard found on Teak tree at dusk." This was often quite enough to demonstrate the presence of genus-type in a particular region, but were useless for comparing examples from other regions. The names were seldom defended against each other; it wasn’t necessary. Classification was in its infancy. In that epoch, it was genuses that were being argued, not species.
The 19th Century was free-range country for namers. Taxonomy had not yet been "internationalized"—there was no uniform standard of expectation. Least uniform was the vast museology of the tropics. Decades behind the North, its practitioners were regional, and lacked contact from abroad. Their work did not rely on European or American consensus to be worthwhile on the local level. A name for a species such as Garcia’s could be meaningful in his country and have practical value. It could be used by his students or successors at school, or have local medical importance, etc. Descriptions did not demand universal acceptance or approval to be locally useful. The "naturalistas de Europa" (as Garcia calls them reverently in reference to another genus, Thanatophis, which was then emerging from "Botrops") are forever ahead of the game anyway, an event-horizon the worker in a remote outpost can hardly hope to keep up with. He cannot be aware of all the names that already exist in other inventories; new ones are coming in all the time and these have yet to be catalogued. He has advantages though, being in direct contact with the profuse outpourings of an almost brand new world. He knows that if he writes enough new names for these, at least some of them will get through the scholarly nets of Europe and survive the winnowing process. But if out of reticence or fear of rebuttal he does not write any names—then he can only lose out when the final role is called.
So, using such skills as he possesses, El Doctor plunges ahead and reports the existence of a certain viper in his province and gives it a new Latin moniker. He does not beg European science to confirm his claim. Oddly, this will prove to his favor at the end of the next century when his "dead species" will be resuscitated by another worker, Ripa (1999), who provides the first real evidence of life within the corpse.
The rampant designations of the Golden Age of Naming were only interrupted by the increased availability of books during the early 20th Century, when the industrial age brought unprecedented travel between continents. Suddenly the works of Boulenger, Wagler and the like, are turning up in exotic libraries, and special claims like Garcia’s are no longer possible, even in his own country. The advancements of modern taxonomy are the direct result of these increased means of communication. Descriptions are suddenly "better" because the new internationalism demands it. Classification becomes a competition for the validity of names, not merely a race to invent them. This is the age of the second Martian expedition—its purpose: to confirm the findings of the first.
El Doctor Garcia is one of the last of the line of that breed of regionalists who cannot be expected to be aware of the European climates of thought.

Resurrection through addition . . . When in doubt about the identity of a corpse, give it a middle name
Although named as 14 species (with Garcia’s) during the 18th and 19th Centuries, by the dawning of the 20th Century the bushmaster had drowned within a single nominate,Lachesis muta. Herpetology had moved on without Garcia, his "new" name out-selected almost as soon as it had appeared. It was Lachesis muta that the American Ditmars (1910) referred to when describing his visits to Panama and Costa Rica, not the Lachesis stenophrys of a previous American visitor, Cope (1875), whose name for the specimen he found, never justified by description, was summarily dropped from the contemporary record. Like Garcia, Cope had given no real reason for his designation in the first place, and left not even a type-specimen (unless you consider a tail fragment a type-specimen). Likewise Beebe, Amaral, and other writers of the era made no reference to Garcia’s snake, nor to any other of those wanton assignations of the past. The bushmaster had withdrawn into a single taxonomic unit.
By the middle of the next century a new fad, trinominalism, kept taxonomists busy splitting species, like so many unprotesting hairs, into races or subspecies. A less demanding designation than species, all that was necessary was to find certain morphological consistencies within a population, and to draw geographic lines around that population, showing where one morphology departed and another began, and instantly a new name could be added to the books. With this new license at hand, suddenly a means of differentiation was acknowledged between at least four of the 14 bushmaster synonyms. Integradation being an inherent part of the trinominal rank, no Evolutionary Theory had to be called down from on high to aid in this labor; it was enough that the snakes existed now, in a particular geography, not where they had been before, or having what fate later. Not a very convincing distinction to all authorities, for indeed, the bushmaster’s "amazing homogeneity of form" was being remarked as late as 1967 by Vial and Jimenez-Porras. Nevertheless, the formerly calm waters had been disturbed, and herpetology had created new work for itself by invoking a new means of analysis. Now, morphological variations of every kind were being taken as evidence of genetic differences in every kind of plant and animal. It was free-range country once again, and the zoological journals become a fairground of trinominal exhibitions.
El Doctor’s snake would not be included in this extravaganza. Hoge (1978/79, 1981) sank Botrops acrochordus into Taylor’s (1951) Lachesis muta muta, expanding the latter’s range to include the pacific slopes of Ecuador and Colombia. Later, Campbell and Lamar (1989) will contradict this view and remark its "geographic affinities" with Lachesis muta stenophrys. This is not surprising, since Taylor (1951) has appeared, stenophrys is already turning up in the catalogues of various American museums, inventoried accordingly as though by some tacit consensus with Cope (1875). Since its first appearance, Garcia’s Botrops acrochordus seems to know no other life outside of his own paper, an old discarded name given token mention on lists as part of the historical development of the genera.
Tri-naming offered the antique designations for bushmasters the first chance to prove themselves independently. The comparatively recent departures of the 1950-60’s reflected the 14 earlier binominals of Linnaeus (1776), Wied (1824), Wagler (1824), and Cope (1875), etc., (excepting Lachesis [mutamelanocephala [1989], alone among the bushmasters for beginning its life as a subspecies). The bushmaster shed these multiple synonymies like an old skin to emerge within four relatively stable subunits, fragments of a single taxon.
For the namer it had been only a matter of adding locality to precedence, and birthing a third name from that union. Nothing is lost in taxonomy; where a prior name exists, it simply slithers into appropriate first place. Justifications are not required. So, the tri-names emerged as representations of their original designations, whatever their meaning, or lack of it. Later, when Zamudio and Greene (1997) supported Ripa’s (1994) model of bushmaster speciation with mtDNA, the original designations were restored—but Garcia was left out once again.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word cenotaph as "an empty tomb erected in honor of some deceased person who has been buried elsewhere." The history of the bushmaster is the history of such a cenotaph, however, one representing many different deceased individuals, some actual and distinct personalities, others only aliases. It is like a circle of 14 actors for which there are only 4 parts in the play, who switch places as they become useful to a changing story. Daudin, burying bushmasters under Lachesis in 1803, is only trying to manage Linnaeus’s Crotalus mutus (1766) sensibly. The rattle-less Lachesis simply doesn’t fit in the box with Crotalus, but he has got to put it somewhere and he had got to keep mutus. So Daudin (1803), whose name now graces the monument to that formerly dead designation, invents Lachesis to hold the body; but he no more discovered (or described) his bushmaster than any other of Linnaeus’s juniors. He simply dumped it out of Crotalus and into a new plot where it has since had the luck to stay. But names "attract" names as new manila files attract papers and labels. The recognition of Lachesis as a worthy dump site for odd-ball pitvipers attracted so many other obviously unrelated species (even Bothrops [now Bothriechisschlegelli had been assigned briefly to Lachesis in 1859) that eventually this genus too had to be tidied up by others later on. Probably the bushmaster remained where it was only through being the oddest duck. But when "Bothrops" came along the fad shifted for a while and the bushmaster bivouacked there for nearly half a century.
The taxonomic history of the bushmaster can be likened to the formation of gelatin from a liquid substance; a gradual shrinking process in which specific islands of inertia have solidified through the draining exertions of surrounding liquidity. Species appear as "clumps" of matter that cannot be reconciled with the whole. Beware: they are subject to dissolve unexpectedly.
What has caused the taxa to "gel" into the three (or four) species it now occupies? Simply because of the 14 names, at least three proved to be disjunctively distributed, and had enough physical distinction to warrant it. Considering the immensity of bushmaster distribution, it would have been a miracle if some of them did not. Hence their present assignment has nothing to do with their original erection as "species," nor to the original namers themselves (the vast majority of which gave us no good reason for having done so). Their present day solidification into congruent units is mere happenstance—the result of a subsequently developed biogeography working in an almost accidental concord. Thus the actual case for bushmasters "as species" was made later, by other authorities. It was these later authorities that really discovered them as "species." They found them hidden under the old, uncertain monuments of antiquity, in mismarked graves.
Locality does not a species make—every organism has one. Given a large enough range of sampling, it is a near certainty that at least some examples will prove allopatrically distributed. If this segregation is ancient enough, morphological variance is sure to follow. A good species description should reflect this pattern of morphology, distribution, and, if possible, genetic evolution. But a description that does not achieve even one of these things is no better than a folk name. Thus Garcia’s acrochordus proved no more useful to science than the verrugosa of indigenous folk people, and was tossed out.
The era of tri-naming brought more clarity to the picture than existed before, since taxonomic changes must be justified, even if the original christenings aren’t. It was Taylor (1951) who resurrected Lachesis stenophrys (as L. muta stenophrys) thus granting Cope’s "synonym" a subspecific relationship. Hoge (1966), who made the same oversight with Weid (1824) that I had with Garcia, saw his Lachesis muta noctivaga sink into Wied’s (1824) Lachesis [mutarhombeata, simply because of a precedent in locality. But it was Hoge (1966) who really described rhombeata for the first time, not Weid (1824), although Weid invented the name in current usage.

You can’t go home again

If naming everything in sight was the standard practice of the 19th Century, the 20th Century scientist devised new tricks for attaching his name to things. As in a courtroom where one can plea bargain (pleading guilty to a lesser charge), it is easier to beg acceptance of a tri-name than a bi-name for your species "discovery." The demands are not as high, but the rewards are nearly as good. One gets to see one’s name on the files.
Thus, the 20th Century concocted as many, if not more names than the previous, as it became possible to "split" species regionally, accordingly. Better still, all these variations could bleed over into each other without challenging the terms, for intergradation is an expected part of the trinominal rank.
Now the filing cabinets really overflowed! And what was wrong with that? It was descriptive, it was useful, it was meaningful.
Plea bargaining for Garcia, we could ask the taxonomic court to view the Chocoan bushmaster as the junior of one or the other of the two close-lying species. One has only to decide which of the two species it most favors, and justify the connection. But, in fact, this connection could not be justified geographically. Among dissimilar species, tri-names cannot be defended where intergradation cannot be shown, and direct genetic contact with the greater populations, save for possible peripatric overspills, had not occurred for millions of years. A description of living (as opposed to extinct) species should reflect as much as possible the geography of present time, for this alone is testable. In this case, however, we had some pretty good historical effects to go with it, all suggesting a limited, and at best, episodic contact with other groups. Solorzano’s and Cerdas (1989) described L. melanocephala as a subspecies simply because, I think, it was the expected thing to do during that era. They did this despite a very distinctive phenotype, and a certain reproductive isolation. In those days, as now, it was simply easier to publish your discovery as a subspecies than as a species. Easier to ask for less than for more. In the world of publish or perish, subspecies proliferated.
The tri-names for bushmasters persisted for many years until Ripa (1994) begged that they were not defensible. Morphologically distinctive snakes from disjunct localities are "good" Evolutionary Species (e.g., Wiley, 1978). Of the four bushmasters, only one of these, Lachesis muta rhombeata, could be defended as a subspecies, due to its poor differentiation from the nominate (Ripa, 1994; but see Chapter 1) and an only very recent geographic disjuncture (Zamudio and Greene, 1997). The rest were "good" species with recognizably distinct forms and particularized localities, none of which were contiguous. Zamudio and Greene (1997) added to Ripa’s theory, and this is the nomenclature in use today.
Science is governed by trends, and in the world of "publish or perish" it is not enough that taxonomists keep busy, their works must find a readership. What an audience will or will not accept is governed by the sympathies of the age; and these are guided by current expectations. At present, one of these expectations is that taxonomy should abolish all unnecessary designations (of which there are many), and seek cleaner, better descriptions to support them. An honest task; but what is the description of a "description"?
In this new and more precisely organized universe we have inherited, when does a description fail its task? Korzybki, in his General Semantics, emphasizes strongly that a name is not a description, and is, indeed, "a non-meaning" until it expresses a relationship. A chair is not a "chair" unless compared to something else, say, a table, bench, floor, etc. Non-relative terms are meaningless propositions (e.g., Wittgenstein’s "A proposition cannot contain itself as one of the terms."). In the world of descriptions nothing can standof its own. Names signify relationships, not objects.
In our more "primitive" recent past when the number of designations far exceeded those of the descriptions presumed to support them, taxonomy did battle with names floating in space. Names represented physically undescribed organisms, morphological singularities unjustified against other like-species. We had species seeking genuses and (when the former were toppled) genuses lying in wait like traps for new species to assume their place. The latter is a curiosity of Ripleyian proportions. The concept of "genus" is meaningless without a species to ground it in nature. Nevertheless, it happens occasionally by a sort of taxonomic quirk that a previously erected genus, divorced from purpose when its species have walked out on it, haunts the books in a sort of taxonomic limbo, only to be resurrected later when by chance a new species, disgorged from some other genus that has found it unpalatable, moves in to occupy its place. It is a universe of ghost names, grounded not to the earth, not even to bodies, floating with uncertain intentions above empty cenotaphs. Biding their spectral time to be reincarnated, they wait on future caretakers to dig them up and bury them again with the appropriate ceremony.
Cope’s (1875) Lachesis stenophrys is a nearly faceless corpse waiting on future examiners to give it a meaningful identity. A lonely name on paper, undefended against its ilk, represented by one of the most impoverished specimens in the history of herpetology: the distal part of a snake’s tail. You cannot tell from this miserable scrap of flesh which type of bushmaster it is, and Cope reveals little more than its locality. Nor is its mitochondria of any use either, thanks to the formalin preservative. Were scientific expectations so meager in the 19th Century that they could be satisfied by a mere label on a jar? One wonders the necessity of a specimen at all. One could simply propose a species and label an empty jar on the off chance of it finding a more meaningful destiny later on. Cope gives us what amounts to the equivalent, renames what is presumed to be inside, without defending it against Wagler, Daudin, or any others, and expects us to follow. Quite rightly, we did not follow—at least not straight away. Cope’s stenophrys existed (much like Garcia’ acrochordus), in a dark hole in space until Taylor (1951) rescued it with a tri-name, 75 years after the fact. All this is pure happenstance as far as Cope is concerned. He could not have been aware of any differences between his snake and Linnaeus’s muta (mutus). None had ever been put forth.
So what was Cope doing at the time? Why did he bequeath us this new, unneeded name? He seems only to be affirming the precedence of Daudin’s "Lachesis" over Wagler’s "Bothrops" as a statement. But if we should ask why he ignored Daudin’s mutus and added this new name (stenophrys) to the pile, we can only answer with certainty, "because he did."
As of 1896, the names for bushmaster "species" are a haphazard assortment of possibilities awaiting the dice throw of future historians to decide their fate. By contrast to Cope (1875) or Garcia (1996), Solorzano’s and Cerdas’s (1989) description of a bushmaster is something new to science. They are giving us a new perspective not only on the species (subspecies) they describe (L. [mutamelanocephala), but on the allopatric L. (mutastenophrys from which they separate it. They are working relationally, not simply naming things. In so doing they are adding to the growing picture of bushmaster morphology and the evolutionary effects of barrier geography.
But Garcia is merely saying, "look, a large venomous rough-scaled viper exists in this region. It is probably some kind of Bothrops, although I can’t say why. Here is a picture of its head." He doesn’t realize this work has already been done before him, or that his locality is not significant of speciation (but it will one day become significant). If Garcia’s work can be called a "description" in Korzybki’s sense of the word, it is low on the scale of meaning. It will rate higher on the scale of meaning in years to come when certain special distinctions are advanced by others.
Taxonomy is a strange roulette wheel where precedence takes all, and the sole measure of "ownership" is to have raised the first flag. Like Columbus, one need not know exactly what continent one is standing on to have "discovered" it. One need not measure its topography, or count its rivers; one need not, in fact, even set foot on its shores to prove its existence. After all, stars and planets are "discovered" long range by telescope, some merely by inference, from gravitational shadows. The general dimensions of a piece of land, its rivers and lakes, flora and fauna, even indigenous inhabitants, can all be satisfied by a prediction, leaving the measuring for others later. It is the ability to coordinate ones discovery—to put it on a map—that counts in a world that relies on communication to make determinates.
Whereas a piece of property is described by its locality alone, with a species, the topographical shape of the terrain (the morphology of the plant or animal) is the ultimate coordinate.
Garcia’s snake (like Cope’s), is a nearly shapeless landmass floating in an open sea called "Cauca." It has the traits of other similar landmasses denoting a certain type of geology (i.e., all of which are traceable to "bushmaster"), but its shape is not rendered distinctively enough for us to say, in and of itself, where it belongs on the map. It exists in a zone with few coordinates, allowing no certain predictions about where it should lie, where its "newness" should begin or end. While I must grudgingly "sink" my unpublished synonym, Lachesis darienensis into Garcia’s acrochordus I find it ironic that more than a hundred years later Garcia should find (is he watching?) his previously dismissed species resurrected and exonerated because of (not in spite of), his scholarly error. If Garcia had known better (if, say, the libraries in Colombia had had the pertinent books and journals on hand) he would have seen his error and afforded his specimen any number of other synonyms: Crotalus mutus (after Linnaeus, 1766), or Coluber crotalinus (1788, Gmelin), or Coluber alecto (Shaw, 1802) or Scytale catenatus (Latreille, 1802), or Scytale ammodytes (Latreille, 1802), or Lachesis mutus [muta] (Daudin, 1803), the latter of which, for reasons of precedence (but not evolutionary systematics), we call the nominate species today. Or he might have picked from abundant others, such as Lachesis ater(Daudin, 1803), Bothrops surucucu (Wagler, 1824), Lachesis rhombeata (Wied, 1824), or Trigonocephalus brasiliensis (Liais, 1872). If he had known of Cope’s (1875) specimen from Nicaragua, he surely would have followed suit and taken Lachesis stenophrys for its name, this being the nearest locality.
But Garcia is unaware of Cope (1875), the best choice among his 13 predecessors, so Lachesis is not revived in his mythology. He consigns his snake to Bot[h]rops, in those days the handy catch-all for all large ground vipers that are not rattlesnakes since Wagler launched this trend in 1824. The name soon became appended to over 61 species, in both the New and Old World.
Glancing over this mammoth grimoire, one realizes that before 1900, the overwhelming number of names for species arose simply from the namers lacking a common checklist. From our modern standpoint, when forests have become scarcer than libraries, it seems strange to think that rare animals like bushmasters were once more common than the taxonomic publications in which they now "live." With such an abundance of new material to draw from, the name-fecund 19th Century naturalists learned to name first, ask questions later. Abundant new objects for Latin monikers calling from the branches of every tree, Garcia harkens not to the call of published predecessors (their voices faint and far), rather gives us a name already obsolete during his own era, and that will collect dust for the next 100 years until another researcher, Ripa (1999, 2000), vindicates it by proxy. Garcia’s name becomes welded to a species he neither discovered nor described, his contribution outdated by nearly a century during his own lifetime.
Such outbursts of Linnaean enthusiasm created a species overkill that has kept taxonomy jumping for over two centuries. Yet as names get older they get lost, are constantly being revived and/or dismissed as systematics matures and ponders their worth. For the most part taxonomy spends its time not with qualifying and refining descriptions, but with juggling these old claims to names. Indeed, just as in the Land Claims Office where skilled surveyors enter the picture only in response to border-disputes, so too is the Systematics Office called in only when disputes arise over the validity of names. Indeed, one could go so far as to say that systematics itself (whatever its aims may now be), evolved just for this reason: a technology for justifying (or refuting) scientific claims.
The name always comes first.
It seems backwards or illogical, this bestowing of "identity" upon something before knowing what it "is" or looks like, but perhaps naming is only the first step in a search for an identity, and not the proof of having found one. A child is born, it is named—we may only later question who the father is. One thing is certain: it is relative child’s play to bestow a name; quite something else to justify its value. Due to the ease with which earlier science accepted unjustified nomenclature, and because of a zoological code that gives precedence to names over description, synonymies for almost all species of organism abound ad nauseam. The winnowing of old names is a task the taxonomic writer better have a taste for, lest his occupation be a painful one as he sifts through the dusts of dead men’s fancies.
The business of science is discovery, but as science ages, the nature of discovery changes. As in surveying, an emphasis on clearer and more highly organized descriptions of borderlines will produce more accurate demarcations not only of a particular property, but that of adjoining landowners. In taxonomy, increasingly defined terms will yield increased understanding not only of our own subjects, but of peripheral species as well. Hence a tri-name is useful to systematics for it brings new relations into play. Whether or not the tri-name represents an intrinsically "valid" phenotype (e.g., the valid morphological distinctions between Crotalus horridus horridus vis-à-vis C. h. atricaudatus,illogically dismissed by researchers demanding too much of the word "subspecies" conceptually) is not really so important. We are not dealing with genetics (unaltered by natural selection without the phenotype; genes do not exist by themselves), we are not dealing with DNA (yet another morphological trait); we are not even dealing with "nature." We are dealing with a filing arrangement enabling us to identify phenotypes, for these alone are altered by natural selection (Mayr, 2001), not in reverse order. Many of the arguments about species and the longed-for proofs of evolution are rooted in this human foible to identify objects with the names given to them. A "chair" is not a "chair," it is anything but a "chair" until it has relation. We are naming relationships, not physical "things." We are naming descriptions, not natural objects.
The Linnaean system is still with us because it has proved itself the most durable means of identifying living relationships. This does not mean it will always be with us. Computers do not need this system as we do, and, in fact, the extra weight of our human vocabulary, and the translation to human terms this entails, makes machines run slower, burdening their analysis.
Does classification need human beings anymore?

The power of machines to out-think us can be expressed thus: If a tri-name better defines the terms of a bi-name, then why stop with a tri-name? With the aid of machines we can have names to the Nth power, as new variations are made known to us. Human beings cannot keep up with such an enormous log, but a computer can. Indeed, a computer can do something more: it can keep up with individuals.
Classification is a human need; and the Linnaean system is a response to that. It treats not individuals but Orders, into which we slot individuals, often clumsily, and falsely, so that we can make sense of them. For us, "sense" is Order, and if Order is King, it is from our hereditary expectation that without Order, our ever-fallible memory would let individuals be lost. Order is a product of forgetting; thus we need Order. But machines needn’t worry about forgetting.
Emerging from the murky designations of the past we now have mathematical programs (e.g., mtDNA analysis) to add to the primarily visual systems of morphology; systematics becomes more emphatically systematic, more "fool proof," as the human element is removed. The art goes out of description, replaced by the mathematical certainties of the machine. Numbers supplant human expression. Machines are the preeminent classifiers.
This begs the question: if a machine can do our work better than we can, then it can also better understand what its own work means. And this inspires other questions: Do machines even need human classifiers? Do we, as human beings, need classification? Why not leave our questions for the machines to muddle over? A humorous picture of things to come: A world of machines all buzzing and humming by themselves, deciding what our semantic Order should be; machines that do not need our illusion of order; that create their own fast moving, perfect order, of perfect memory, without us.
The human mind strives to understand nature by imposing its own need for order upon it. But a machine that can remember every object singly is a greater mirror of nature than any human-made Order can be. Machines do not need our slow-witted Order. They have their own faster, more reliable Order (or Orders) to choose from, able to juggle as many Orders as we, or they, can manufacture. Better still, they can do it all simultaneously. We have entered an age where machines, not people, have become the programmers of machines (Warwick, 1997). Is the human audience necessary?
Our system of classification exists because the majority of us believe in it; but machines do not need our belief and they may soon be in the majority. They do not need our concept (or concepts) of species in order to identify those special patterns of recurrence by which we recognize "species," or anything else.
Amidst these cycles of change, our human expectations remain the same: we wish to express ourselves in an orderly way, and be assured afterwards that we have learned from what we, as human beings, have done. But a machine that can call up every star in the sky numerically should care little for an argument like the one in these pages. With machines, units can, once again as in real nature, become singularities. A human-named "species" does not require a "genus" to contain it—this is a human coordinate, and a flawed, uncertain one, forever changing from year to year as new names are expressed against the old. So too a machine, able to process nature in single units, does not require a special cladistics in order to identify it, or to locate it within its files. A machine can think outside of the human (and thus flawed) parameters within which we humans endlessly argue. And why do we argue? Because ours is an Order of generalization, not specifics. It is only through generalization that we can make Order—of data, of specifics. Generalizations help us "understand." But in this gaining future, there may be no place for what is not specific. Every sample becomes unique of its own, and unproved hypotheses like "species" remain merely human ponderings, akin rather to philosophy than science.
This seems hard to grasp, but with an intelligence that can remember everything individually, filing systems must change. Already the machine is working to remove the faulty human element of outmoded species-concepts and nature is being reinterpreted in terms of genetic absolutes, written in digital formulas no human memory is capable of remembering. Words like "discovery" have no currency here. Discovery might remain with us, a human concern in some equally vague contest of men, but to a machine "discovery" is only programming.
Discovery is a product of expectation, and whether to men or machines has divergent meanings. The question what is new? begs the age old retort, new to whom? Our expectations as humans are bound to a human expectation of what "newness" consists of to our adopted system. For most of us, newness means not what’s new to the world (or to a machine) but what is new to ourselves, what enlightens us in particular. The phrase new to science is axiomatic and conditional, for, as we know, there is nothing new under the sun.
We grant tacitly that the discoveries of science are "new," relative to scientific expectations, but that, in many cases, if science has "discovered" it, then it was probably already known to some nonscientist out there who simply didn’t have the interest, or knowhow, to record it, or the right technical words to express his idea in a way that would persuade "scientists." Garcia’s bushmaster had bitten, maimed and killed generations of indigenes before he stumbled upon it, and the Spanish settlers had already given it a passable Latin (if not scientifically Latin) name, Verrugosa ("Wart Skin"), which is just as descriptive of a bushmaster as the name given by Garcia, acrochordus meaning exactly that. Which among these people, Garcia included, can claim to have discovered the elusive Wart Skin?
If the scientific audience does not worry over such questions as these it is because it expects the scientific view to be different from the common person’s. The man-on-the-street (or the jungle) may have developed his own mythos about why a snake looks different from the other side of the mountain; but his myth, right or wrong, will cater to his own regional expectations of truth and likely not succeed when a very different international consensus demands a different protocol. The scientific myth wins through being communicable to the largest number of people who share a similar expectation. Garcia’s description, with its limited expectations of "species," is closer to folk-science than the science of today. In his era, all science was "closer to the street" than now. It was comprehensible to the average person.
Consider the next evolutionary stage into which machines will move us, one in which the Aristotelian systems of the past will become completely lost, and the Linnaean method itself become a sort of folk method. If folk names lost the race in the past because they were the least communicative to the majority of people, so too should a method reliant on concepts as opposed to individuals fail in a future where the largest audience is mechanical. Consider an audience of machines acting as interpreters for "stupider" human beings. The former, whose brain is infinite, can remember everything; the latter, requiring an unwieldy Order to remember anything, is a brain working so slowly that it is soon surpassed. Will the machines walk out on us? Wouldn’t you? Teaching a classroom full of human half-wits might be a fairly trying experience, even for a machine.
We cannot discover something totally "new" because what is totally "new" is without relations. The "chair" is an expected discovery in our living room because we have a living room and (perhaps) an expectation to sit down. But if there were only "chair" and no "room" and sitting down was not an expectation then "chair" might be "hat" or "world" or anything else besides a piece of furniture. We must include the observer in the equation, else our view will be an extrinsic and pointless one. The expectation begins with the observer, and our expectations as observers begin with relations. But a machine that can count and reproduce the atoms in a "chair" need not care for such relations as "room" or "house" and the requirements of sitting down, although it may spit out duplicates of chairs whose original purpose was (in some relational past) to provide seating for some by then, perhaps extinct beings. Let relations shift and the old arguments break down. The Linnaean system, as good as it is, remains an argument of very specialized utility: it capitalizes on the weakness of the human thought process. Our relations, subordinate to our Order, is an Order conjured up from out of human forgetting. In the age of super computers, forgetting is soon to be an outmoded, human cognitive relation.
The expectations of science increase from year to year, and consequently we are discovering more and more; knowledge is snowballing, and more pieces of "furniture" (relations) are appearing in our rooms. All this is very tentatively held together through our agreement and expectation of a room, a house, a world—an order. Let these expectations change and so too will our interpretations change.
The expectations put on Cope (1875) in his day will not hold water in the schools of today. It is not enough to put a name in a catalogue and expect a unanimous acceptance of its novelty. There is already too much excess furniture in the room. The expectations put on Wagler, for instance, were minuscule compared to the expectations put on say, Salomao and colleagues (1997) when they attempted to refine the synonyms and discover, within the lineages of the all-purpose Bothrops group (to which nearly every New World species of viper once belonged) which "species" were really worth keeping on the books. Filing can be random and arbitrary when there are no relations in the way; not so when it comes time to re-file, costing more in time and effort as more files appear.
With irony, I am able to trace Garmon’s (1883) contribution to viperid taxonomy because his name is attached by the thread of fate (and locality) to Bothrops asper; but if I want to find out why Bothrops asper is not Bothrops atrox or some other species, what its distribution is, what its distinguishing characteristics are—indeed, anything that would enable me to classify it—I will not find it in Garmon. Instead I will have to go on a paper chase extending back in time, for more than a century. I must sort through a myriad of obscure papers authored by less famous scientists whose emphatically new descriptions, whose new and more compelling discoveries, remain buried under a less well-known monument.
As with Columbus (as with Garcia, Cope, &c.), what Garmon gives me is a locality for a specific action taking place: namely, the moment when he sees the advancing coastline, and believes, for whatever reason, that he has discovered a "new world", and makes a record of that moment by giving his vision a name, or planting a flag. But Columbus, while he can show me the way to the Indies, cannot tell me where the Indies end and Siberia begins. He names his discovery through error. Others will have to come along later and prove that America is not "India" or some other Asian country, before we can determine the importance of Columbus to European culture.
Blind stabs in the dark such as Cope’s might ultimately prove valid by "accident", through other people’s work to justify them—but the vast majority will not be. Garcia’s was not for an entire century. At least 10 of his 13 predecessors have not.
They might be within the foreseeable future. Variations within "species" are as limitless as locality. As new data is constructed about the South American orogeny, we can expect to see some of these names resurfacing, probably trinomially. Based on morphology, Ripa (1999, 2000; Chapter 1) already shows some evidence for variations existing within the nominate form. As such, old names, now discarded, may arise anew, full of new meaning their inventors had never conceived of.
Evolution is a concept; like the concept "God", it attempts to explain an otherwise unexplainable diversity. And like "God", the story told about Evolution, also evolves and changes, as knowledge about its inconsistencies grows and its worshippers strive to compensate. But is Evolution a description of extrinsic things (real organisms, outside itself), or a description of a Knowledge that is itself evolving. Morphology pretends to be a genetic indicator of change, and is dependent on measurable factors, most of which at some point converge in a visual parallax (the primary means by which we detect differences). The scientist begins by measuring things visible to the naked eye—shape, color, &c.—then with the aided eye—microscopically, spectrally, &c.—then chemically—as mere sequences of genetic text—and ends with piles of Numbers representing what he hasperceived. His goal is to conjure the god behind all this—a god called Order, substantiating the variance he has perceived. But Order, like God, is only a name signifying something other and external to his own investigative process, else it would not need to be searched for by such secondhand, happenstance means. An intrinsic proposal for anextrinsic universe—unspeakable, unknowable, perhaps interminably so.
Machines, need neither our Order nor our Gods, possessing the ability to classify differences that we can’t even see with our eyes, and perhaps not even with our minds. They can, like the invisible Creator (incorruptible nay sayer to our Order), number even the very hairs on our heads. In a computer world where every specimen is singular, every individual sample can be assigned a name (or a number), and thus every name (or number) can become a valid relation. As more relations are expressed, more relations can yetbe expressed, and we find ourselves on the verge of a labyrinthine world like Borges’ Library of Babel where books (and the names in them) beget books by spontaneous divisions. Science, which attempts to imitate nature as its "god," ends by reflecting nature so completely that "god" is itself replaced by science—a perfect mirror. The search for Order becomes a religious search, less a scientific one.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was "snake!"
Ages before Columbus, before ships, maps and even men (in the era of pre-men), in the one great Day before calendars brought plurality to Days, when our greatest ancestors slept uneasily in the dreaming-forest, their emotions, unspeakable, struggling for utterance amidst the frantic beating of hearts afraid of the unseen jaws that might eat them, there was only one Book and its author was Terror. A prognathous dictionary of grunts and growls, crees and cries—all very real "names" for things uttered from the depths of the soul—mimicked through the ages so that others might hear, and survive to pass it on. A hereditary dictionary passed down through the hollers of wiser, more experienced scholars, be they apes, whose names for things one had better remember before treading in the dangerous forest.
Given the horror that primates have of snakes, their signaling and vocalizing at the sight of one, and given the evident danger of snakes to primitive vocalizing hominids—it is conceivable that the very first name ever uttered for anything was a shout signifying "snake!" To be able to cry "snake!" and, especially, to understand the cry of "snake!" would have survival advantage in a forest teeming with snakes—and naturally there should be no cry of differentiation between "good" and "bad" snakes when one was about to put a foot or hand on one. (The complexities of snake identification would not have been worth considering by early humans, nor is it today in most human societies, whether primitive or advanced, where snakes are indiscriminately feared, whatever their kind.)
Columbus cries "land ho!" but he does not know which land. . . The jungle man cries "devil!" signifying "snake!" but he does not know which devil, only that devils are bad and he had better warn his family when he spots one on the trail. A million years later a medical doctor named Garcia cannot tell us much about the snake he has "discovered"—the language, the systems of thought, are not yet evolved to the task—but he describes something of its outward aspect and warns us of its danger in a book he has written. The name he gives the animal is more sophisticated than a cry; and yet, however Latinized, however better documented in the medium of print, it is a warning with few relations.
The name Garcia has given his cry for "snake!" will be abandoned for at least a century after he has uttered it, lost among other earlier cries, and eventually dismissed. He cannot justify his cry of Botrops acrochordus against the cries for other species already proclaimed by his predecessors—names he has never heard. His name rests in an unmarked grave; his holler in the woods, mute, heard by nobody.
We have come a long way from the primordial scream in the jungle, that certain unmistakable emotive that signified danger in our midst. We have taken that scream and subdivided it more than 2,900 times, till it signifies not one conceptual serpent any longer, but all the different forms of serpents, all the variety of their danger or harmlessness, residency and whatever else we can find to say about them. The human expectation, the vain reward for our efforts, for the taxonomist’s whirl, is to transect that cry yet further, and create new utterances that can be formed on the lips or at the end of a pen—new words that can be logged in the exponentially expanding dictionary of cries. The language of DNA, the genome, quantum mechanics, cybernetics, all voices of the same panic, crying after that same despairing why?, uttered with the same shrill of horror of things to come. In the beginning was the word, and the word has been God ever since. And at the end? Perhaps the one right word we are looking for, to put an end to that beginning.
Korzybski (1933) reports that words represent only "half-truths," under-defined evaluations framing neurological impulses (called "unspeakables") in which every identificationis bound to be in some degree a misevaluation. But in the mechanized future, when tests have become so perfected that the human need to identify becomes secondary, and even a burden upon the functioning of the machine; when machines have done away with species-names as we have done away with folk names—as folk names did away with special grunts—when machines alone can command "true understanding" and we, the prognathous idiots of an earlier age beseeching their greater wisdom (a wisdom we will be unable to grasp)—there will be no such arguments, for there will be no uncertainties. Yet still our cries "unspeakable," muted as on that forgotten first morning of the world when once a shadow moved with terrible insistence through the grass, and a feeling of awe and horror proved uncontainable.
A cry torn from an unknown throat screaming down through the lost ages to be heard; and finding there was No One listening.


2 comentários:

  1. Quite a load of fiction!

  2. Thanks for the visit, but can you be more specific ? Should muta and achrocorda remain in a commom grave ?