Venomous Dinosaurs and Rear-Fanged Snakes: Homology and Homoplasy Characterized

Research paper by Adrian Mitchell Currie

Indexed on: 15 Sep '13Published on: 15 Sep '13Published in: Erkenntnis


I develop an account of homology and homoplasy drawing on their use in biological inference and explanation. Biologists call on homology and homoplasy to infer character states, support adaptationist explanations, identify evolutionary novelties and hypothesize phylogenetic relationships. In these contexts, the concepts must be understood phylogenetically and kept separate: as they play divergent roles, overlap between the two ought to be avoided. I use these considerations to criticize an otherwise attractive view defended by Gould, Hall, and Ramsey & Peterson. By this view, homology and homoplasy can only be delineated qua some level of description, and some homoplasies (parallelisms) are counted as homologous. I develop an account which retains the first, but rejects the second, aspect of that view. I then characterize parallelisms and convergences in terms of their causal role. By the Strict Continuity account, homology and homoplasy are defined phylogenetically and without overlaps, meeting my restriction. Convergence and parallelisms are defined as two types of homoplasy: convergent homoplasies are largely constrained by external factors, while parallelisms are due to internal constraints.