In this week’s lecture, professor Judy Stone talked about typological thinking in today’s society. Typological thinking is a way of looking at things that classifies things only in terms of the types to which they belong, and ignores variations among individuals. Though Darwin and following evolutionary biologists revolutionized evolution by proposing that variations play a central role in evolutions, typological thinking still persists in the general public. This, I contend, is incorrect yet inevitable. In order for our society today to avoid the negative consequences associated with typological thinking, we need to look at it appropriately.

Typological thinking has a long tradition that can be traced back to Plato. From this thinking emerged naturalists’ idea of taxonomy, which concerns the systematic classification of living organisms. The outcome of this is that the spectrum of living organisms is artificially dotted with many “perfect forms”. All living things are, to some extent, considered imperfect representations of the “perfect forms”. This approach was helpful at the beginning, when human’s understanding of the nature was so little that we needed it to simplify and make sense of the world. However, as more and more evidence compelled biologists and the general public to realize that all living things form a continuous spectrum, we can no longer hold that some forms are inherently more “perfect” than others.

While we know by now that typological thinking does not have any solid basis and thus erroneous, I want to argue that this kind of thinking is inevitable. Suppose we can completely get rid of typological thinking. Then all living organisms that have existed in this world, living or extinct, are not fundamentally different – there are only variations. We cannot draw a fine line between any two “species”. Thus all living organisms are not fundamentally different. Therefore, an outcome is that we cannot name anything at all, which is nonsensical.

What should we make of this? I believe that the only way to solve this dilemma is to be constantly aware of our own thinking process: to be aware of the intricacy of the world, to be aware of when and how we simplify things, and to be aware of the role typological thinking plays in our cognitive process. This will be largely aided by technological advances in genomics, which help us understand the similarities and differences of individuals in a fundamental way. As we learn to never take typological thinking for granted, hopefully we can overcome the negative consequences of typological thinking.

In conclusion, while we might never be able to completely get rid of typological thinking, it is possible, with efforts to understand the complexity of life, to avoid the ramifications of it.