Point of instantiation

BlueprintSoftware Engineers will be familiar with the idea of instatiation, but for those that aren’t, it’s the representation of an idea, an instance of it – or put another way it’s making something abstract concrete. So for example, a blueprint is instantiated into a building, but also the blueprint itself is an instantiation of the architects ideas.

So that’s all straight forward then? Well no, not always. The trouble is that unless you understand where your point of instantiation is you can easily get yourself in a semantic muddle. Talking at cross purposes, from different frames of reference.

For example, take a couple of recent posts on the on the concept of ancestral species and how to count them. The posts are excellent – well thought out and interesting; and conclude…

…a lot of nonsense is said about this or that taxon being “more evolved” that (sic) another. Most recently we heard that chimps are “more evolved” than humans, in this case because they had more selected gene changes. But often the confusion here is that a species is “more evolved” because there has been more taxonomic change over time. However, no matter what the speciation rates in unit time for a given lineage, it is on average going to be close to the rest of its clade, unless the concestor of that clade is so far back down the evolutionary tree that it includes bacteria, which have a generation time sometimes of hours, and elephants that generate every 40 years or so, in which case the number is largely meaningless.’

The problem the author has with the research that led to the conclusion that ‘chimps are more evolved than humans’ is not, I assume, with the findings themselves (that chimp DNA has been changed more by natural selection than human DNA) but rather with the conclusion, the notion, that chimps are ‘more evolved’.

As discussed elsewhere evolution isn’t about progression towards a platonic ideal, or some absolute notion of better. And I suspect that John is right in his hypothesis that:

“All species at a given time have exactly the same evolutionary duration, and on average, probably the same number of ancestral species, as their nearest relatives.”

But this point can only be extrapolated to mean that no species is ‘more evolved’ than any other if your point of instantiation encompasses the entire evolutionary history of a species – all its evolutionary ancestors. However, if your point of instantiation is different – say only the ancestral species since the concestor (most recent common ancestor) as with the research looking at Chimp and Human DNA then ‘more’ has a different meaning. And different implications.


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