Cladistics will never produce consistent definitions of both species and clade

Cladistics only recognizes what it callas clades, which it defines as “an ancestor and all its descendants”. This definition is, however, the traditional definition of a clone.

So, is there any problems with only recognizing clones? Well, the first problem is that clones is not a general, but a specific concept, ie, is a clone of something. Not all living beings form clones. Me, for example, is not a part of a clone. This problem does cladistics, however, avoid by discarding individual organisms, instead only considering the two kinds of things it calls populations and species, whereof it doesn’t define population, but defines species as “a lineage of populations between two phylogenetic branch points (or speciation events)”. It thus, in practice, defines species as “a lineage between two speciation events”, wherein lineage is undefined, and thus actually defines species as “something between two speciation events”.

This definitional trick does indeed create an abstraction called species, ie, “something between two speciation events”, but does at the same time contradict the clones cladistics calls clades in that such clades contain a single first and many last things which are not “something between two speciation events” (ie, are not species). The trick is thus incompatible with the definition of clades.

The overall picture is that the fact that clones is a specific, not a generic, concept means that it can’t be combined consistently with a generic concept, like species. It does thus not matter how hard cladists try, they will never produce consistent definitions of both clade and species. This is just as impossible as to decide both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. Cladistics thus tries to solve the insoluble, and its solution is thus always consistently contradictory (actually paradoxically contradictory), whatever it is.


10 responses to “Cladistics will never produce consistent definitions of both species and clade

  1. I have my own set of issues with Cladistics, and they are in the basic level, as my understanding of Cladistic methodology is not very deep.
    When I was told the typical “birds are dinosaurs” statement, after enjoying it so much, I arrived to the typical paradox for a person that studied with Linnean Taxonomic system: If birds are dinos, and dinos are reptiles, then birds are reptiles. Fake, I know, but to discover the problem I had to support some patronizing comments in the style of “what was the last time you opened a Biology textbook?”. But this search to understand what failed in the “birds are reptile” paradox drove me upset with Cladistics.
    My problems with Cladistics are:
    – Why in the world a typical cladistic tree has every branch split in two subbranches?. Why two?. Do living organisms have to split in two every single time they split?, why?.
    – What in the world is a Taxon?. Is it a species, is it a Class, is it a custom party?.
    – Who in the world understand what methodology that led to a determined tree…the computer?
    – Why has to insist in being so counter-intuitive when it comes to extant organisms?, Is there any fundamental reason to reject the reptilian group in living animals?
    And at a very personal level, I can say that the names it uses (pleisiomorphes-synapomorphes-homology-analogy…) are so dark, and embroiled, so counteri-intuitive that make the methology nasty and unfriendly.

    • My general answer to your questions is that cladistics is logical reasoning up-side-down by starting from classes instead of objects, and that it thereby is fundamentally and thereby totally irrational. It simply assumes as an axiom that classes are real (what is traditionally called “realism”, but ought to be called “class-realism”, contrary to “nominalism”), and is thereby actually logically orthogonal (ie, diametrically opposed) to nominal logic. This fact also means that it as a corollary also assumes that paradoxes (like “a true tree of life”) are real (ie, exist), instead of being mental abstractions, which nominalism as a corollary assumes. (This is the reason why cladistics pursues its search for the paradox we call “the true tree of life”). This answer means that it is extremely difficult to straighten out why cladists reason the way they do in specific issues, because it requires considering the issue in both an irrational (their) and a rational (nominalistic) line of reasoning. This problem (ie, the difficulties to penetrate its irrational line of reasoning) is actually the main reason for its success, in addition to that it is wanted by biological systematists, by making defence against it more complicated than it is. Its irrational line of reasoning is simply simpler than a rational line of reasoning is – it is populism in biological systematics. (This populism is moreover the fundament for “scientific” racism).

      My specific answers are:
      1. because splitting into several sub-branches introduces an ambiguity that invalidates the notion of “a true tree of life” and thereby also cladistics itself.
      2. I can’t say what cladistics refer to with “taxon”. In the nominalistic approach, it simply refers to a recognized class (ie, one that is included in the classification of biodiversity).
      3. I guess you mean: who in the world can tell which methodology that leads to “the true tree of life”? The answer is thus: none, because there is none.
      4. Because it is required by its irrational approach. Its corollary assumption that there is “a true tree of life” is simply incompatible with the notion of “extant species”.
      5. Your personal reactions towards cladistics are the same as the reactions I had and which forced me to straighten out the problems both you and I have with it.

      After this, I want to thank you for posing these questions and thereby giving me a further possibility to explain the stupidity of cladistics. I also want to add that the discipline called “particle physics” walks the same irrational route as cladistics, for which it was recently awarded the Nobel Prize. This shows that the stupidity of cladistics (ie, class-realism) is not a stripe phenomenon, but actually a major player in our (humans) discussions about reality, although it was falsified by Bertrand Russell by what is called Russell’s paradox more than a century ago, but, then again, if paradoxes are real, as class-realism assumes, then Russells paradox does not falsify class-realism, but is instead something we ought to search for.

      The problem you and I face is thus to dismantle over-simplification, also called populism, which is an eternal task. Luckily, mathematics has already straightened out the relation between continuous and discrete mathematics, the two aspects on reality that both cladistics and particle physics deny. Mathematics can thus show the consistent way around the paradoxically contradictory (ie, empty) middle that cladistics and particle physics on the contrary believe in.

  2. Thank you very much for your answer. I have to say that in general I fnd my own Spanish fellows more dogmatic and simple minded when I try to discuss anything about Cladistics, and in internet comments tey are far more prone to fall in an almost bullying style that people I changed some comments with in English. BTW, i can make some mistakes with my English, though i would never make this statement in a work interview.
    Well, I don´t know about the Russell paradox yet, but I think that what you are trying to transmit is that as far as cladistis and cladistics bulliers understand that Cladisitc is a real and true fact of life, and not a kind of taxonomical analysis, it is impossible to have any useful change of opinions with them, as far that everything that you try to argument is wrong, because Cladistics is real, true and right by definition. Did I catch it?.
    About your last paragraph, like it very much and totally agree. Evolution is a continous transition, sometimes a very fast and abrupt transition if you look at the puctuated equilibrium theory. So it is not a matter of 1s and 0s like machine code, and one of the things that puzzles me most is how closely cladograms resemble decission trees, that are methodological tools for programming, well sure you know it. And that it is oversimplifying life as we see it.
    About the issues I had with Cladistics and birds and dinos, I wrote a little stupid post here (, iti is in Spanish, but a proof I am wondering about this matter sometime.

    • Yes,”dogmatic” and “simple-minded” are correct descriptors of cladists. They are just as dogmatic and simple-mided as all other oversimplifiers (also called populists and extremists) are. Their common mistake is to assume as an axiom that classes, instead of objects, are real (ie, exist), an approach that traditionally is called (class-)realism. This approach did Bertrand Russell (1901) demonstrate is paradoxically contradictory, ie, does ultimately lead to paradox, which in the case of cladistics is its idea of a “single true tree of life” (ie, every possible “tree” contains a paradoxical contradiction, or the other way around, there is no “tree” that is free from paradoxical contradiction). (BTW, its “tree” is actually neither a “tree” but a bifurcating graph supposed to illustrate a similarly bifurcating process, which neither is consistent as is well-known in graph theory).

      Cladistics is thus more of a computer game than a science, expecially by lacking a consistent solution (ie, being indefinite) per definition. It is thus a rare possibility to get paid for playing a computer game, while being considered a scientist. It is, however, a fox in the henhouse of science. If we don’t take care, the henhouse may again fill up with foxes instead of hens, as it did with the race biology (eugenetics) in the first half of the 20th century, from which it was transmitted to us by Willi Hennig, and recieved by Steve Farris and Gareth Nelson in the form of cladistics. It is thus just as difficult to head off as race biology (eugenetics). It is a inherent pitfall in science.

  3. Ok, I agree about that Cladistics is like computer game, because I have writen some commercial computer games code, in fact they were lottery games, so I know what is behind suppodsely objective assumptions.

    About your last statement, it is not a minor one, and I had read a post in that you talk about Cladistics and egenetics connection. This is truly serious, and I can see that there are two links between this two “branches” of “dogmatic weird science”.
    First one, is that them both impose an excessive dogmatism in the original assumptions, without truly realizing they are making assumprions. Cladistics assume that every branch has 2 and only 2 sub-branches, and there is nothing in nature that oblies living organisms to behave this way. Eugenitics decided that there was a right way to exist, (and thereby to have the right to be born or to live, and in mild later forms carried out in some countries till 60´s or 70´s to be able to have descendents), and the rest of them were wrong.
    The second one is forgetting what natural science is about, or was about, working on the ground. They keep making constant theoretical assumptions, step after step. Evolution is true, right; (sadly I find I have to make this basic statement whenever I try to discuss Cladistics methodology) but is it true that this sequence of DNA you selected to analyse the grade of proximity between dogs and wolves is more significative than this other one?…Is it ok to assume we can deppreciate all the horizontal transmision of information specially when we talk about plants? (side note, almost all the popularization of genetics is based in simplifications of observations made in mammals!).

    To my understanding Cladistics can rotten biology leading it to a kind of speculative soft science.

    But I believe that it is not exactly what you are meaning wiht this connection between Cladistics and eugenetics, that to a some degree I don´t see your point.

    • The problem we discuss is fundamentally very simple:
      there is one ambiguity in reality (expressed as its two aspects “pattern” and “process”) and one in conceptualization (ie, between the represented and representation), which together can be interpreted either as one ambiguity (as in objectivity and nominalism), meaning that reality is ambiguous (by the resulting ambiguity), or as no ambiguity (as in subjectivity and class-realism), meaning that reality is paradoxically contradictory (by the two ambiguities together). The former is thus consistent (albeit ambiguous), whereas the latter is inconsistent by letting two wrongs make one right (ie, by letting two ambiguities make one paradoxical contradiction).

      This is the fundamental problem. All other theoretical problems are corollary to it. There are thus problems with both objectivity and subjectivity (ie, reality is theoretically in practice out of reach), but objectivity is consistent, albeit ambiguous, whereas subjectivity is paradoxically inconsistent (ie, consistently inconsistent). This is the reason why a subjective approach like cladistics believes in a paradox like the idea of “a single true tree of life”. (And also the reason why the subjective approach “particle physics” similarly believes in the paradox “Higgs particle”.) Such beliefs are thus simply wrong, because they are contradictory. Their “things” are simply not real things, but merely abstract ambiguities. If matters would have been the other way around, ie, that their things would have been real things, then there wouldn’t have been any ultimate consistency at all, which mathematics already have reached. (And furthermore, time would then not have been relative to speed in space, which it already has been proved to be, although this is a far-fetched empirical falsification of such beliefs, ie, this approach).

      Our consistent alternatives are thus to choose between different descriptions of reality (or the history of it), whereof there are at least two that are just as correct (ie, the axiom of choice). However, this fact means that the idea of a single correct description of reality collapses into which empirical support different alternative descriptions can get. Subjectivity does thus practically collapse into objectivity. This leads us to the conclusion that cladistics (like particle physics) is just a dream of unambiguity. The hard fact is that it (they) can’t be realized.

  4. Yes, you can´t put together a footage and a still photo and say that is the whole truth. Because there is not such a thing like a whole truth we can have access with our tools. There are representations and there are concepts that aims that representations.
    Your point is that the whole thing is wrong, because the concept that aims it is wrong, as it is impossible to arm an unambigous model of reallity, that shows pattern and proccess, changes and kinds. And what is more that they don´t realize it is a model.
    My questions about Cladistics and my objections are the result of, (I will use a graphicall metaphor) trying to follow how they armed the model, the mechano toy to put it more graphically. And what I discovered is that this model never will work, because there are many problems in matching the pieces. And that it is not a great toy anyhow, because in spite of its objective, [to show visually the relationship among living things connected by evolution], it is absolutely counter-intuitive to what it wants to show in many ways.
    Regarding particle physics I understand the paralellism you draw, but to me it is more worrying the practical side of the question, i.e, the money it has cost to follow the confirmation of a theoretical model that still we don´t know if it is going useful to nothing more than making more theories (based on wrong or right philosophical approach). And this for me (in Spain with our economic crisis and our stupid politic of cutting the grants for investigation), is not a minor concern.

    • I think you have got it right. The problem is surprising in that it originates from that it is inconsistent to illustrate a dichotomously branching process with a dichotomously branching graph, because the “lines” in the process (ie, the things) corresponds to the nodes in the graph (ie, the branching points) (which also Willi Hennig concluded in his Figure 14, but obviously didn’t understand), meaning that the graph actually is paradoxically contradictory (ie, it is impossible to map the properties of the things in the process on the graph without paradoxical contradiction). (This fact can also be expressed as that it is impossible to classify a dichotomously branching process without a paradoxical contradiction.) This problem is in essence Russell’s paradox. This problem is also the reason for the chaos in biological systematics before Linné, and the reason for Linné’s invention of his ingenious (ie, orthogonal) system of classification, since it bypasses this paradox. Cladists instead search for the paradox (as also particle physics do).

  5. I have some newer issues, when looking closer to Cladistics methology to organize information.
    The one you mention is very important. Others are, they operate the data they collect with strictly discret maths methods. Once information is arranged as a dichotomous graph, you can develope graphical methods to interpret it, they have done, or just making some beutiful arrays to operate with it (1), again they have done it. How clever they are, just using engeneering methods to maniputalte -in the strict meaning of the term- the information.
    (1) This methodology was used in many engeneering processes, and one of them is to drive decissions in “genetics” development in agriculture engineering, I had to suffer many hours of this subject when I studied engineering.
    Well, my love for Caldistics goes higher every new discover I make.
    Seriously speaking, when they mistake data analisys and living organisms I can´t call it Biology. I barely could stand this manipulation of concepts when I was studying engineering, but in Biology the confussion is worst.
    Linnean Taxonomy was powerful enough to transmit the notion of a relationship among all living organisms since the xvii century. This idea was noticed by many people before than Charles Darwin (even Darwin grandparent was interested in the way how animals were interrelated).

    Thank you for all your comments and observations, very helpful for me.

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