Thursday, September 15, 2016

Galton on the nature of invention

Also from Galton's Natural Inheritance:
An apparent ground for the common belief [in gradualism] is founded on the fact that whenever search is made for intermediate forms between widely divergent varieties,
whether they be of plants or of animals, of weapons or utensils, of customs, religion or language, or of any other product of evolution, a long and orderly series can usually be made out, each member of which differs in an almost imperceptible degree from the adjacent specimens. But it does not at all follow because these intermediate forms have been found to exist, that they are the very stages that were passed through in the course of evolution. Counter evidence exists in abundance, not only of the appearance of considerable sports, but of their remarkable stability in hereditary transmission. Many of the specimens of intermediate forms may have been unstable varieties, whose descendants had reverted; they might be looked upon as tentative and faltering steps taken along parallel courses of evolution, and afterwards retraced.  Affiliation from each generation to the next requires to be proved before any apparent line of descent can be accepted as the true one. The history of inventions fully illustrates this view. It is a most common experience that what an inventor knew to be original, and believed to be new, had been invented independently by others many times before, but had never become established.  Even when it has new features, the inventor usually finds, on consulting lists of patents, that other inventions closely border on his own. Yet we know that inventors often proceed by strides, their ideas originating in some sudden happy thought suggested by a chance occurrence, though their crude ideas may have to be laboriously worked out afterwards. If, however, all the varieties of any machine that had ever been invented, were collected and arranged in a Museum in the apparent order of their Evolution, each would differ so little from its neighbour as to suggest the fallacious inference that the successive inventors of that machine had progressed by means of a very large number of hardly discernible steps.
If that is a "fallacious inference" then how is any lineage inferred?

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