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Thread: Is there a way to caclulate the number of possible species?

  1. #1 Is there a way to caclulate the number of possible species? 
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    All right, it may be tempting to say that there are an infinite number of possible species. That cannot really be true, though; matter is finite, and there is only so much of it. Though the number of possible material objects may be more massive than we can handle right now, the number of ways that matter can be arranged in such a way as to make a living thing is much smaller. Do you think there will ever be a way to predict what that number is?


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    You need an agreed-upon definition first, which is a bit of a problem.


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    Quote Originally Posted by free radical
    You need an agreed-upon definition first, which is a bit of a problem.
    Suggestions:

    Living thing:
    Anything that is heterogeneous parts ordered immanently (from within, interiorly rather than from outside) toward the whole, with at least nutritive and reproductive functions.

    Species: A class of living things that is sufficiently different from all other classes of living things as to be reproductively independent of them.
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    This is a problem that we are far from being able to even attempt. I find myself doubting that we ever will. Is there, for example, an upper limit on the complexity of the genome of a possible hypothetical organism? I don't know, and I doubt anyone else does.

    All I can say, is that any number that is derived would be an estimate only, and would be astronomical. Maybe a googol of species?
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    Forum Freshman DrNesbit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    This is a problem that we are far from being able to even attempt. I find myself doubting that we ever will. Is there, for example, an upper limit on the complexity of the genome of a possible hypothetical organism? I don't know, and I doubt anyone else does.
    If you stick to this universe and DNA-based biology, the number of atoms available can set an upper limit to how much DNA you can have.
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    Moderator Moderator TheBiologista's Avatar
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    Predicting how many possible combinations of DNA/RNA genomes of various lengths there could be would not be too difficult. Figuring out how many of those would code for viable organisms is another matter.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    species is an artificial concept used by scientists to facilitate their work.

    Every population currently identified as a species is merely a transitional stage in a lineage.
    "Kill them all and let God sort them out."

    - Arnaud Amalric

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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    species is an artificial concept used by scientists to facilitate their work.

    Every population currently identified as a species is merely a transitional stage in a lineage.
    From a bald biological standpoint I suppose that is true. But from an ontological standpoint every "transitional" species is something. This would be true even if there is only one individual example.

    All horses are manifestly the same thing in some way, even if all of them are, genetically speaking, a bit different. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to say "all horses". I suppose, ontologically speaking, any given thing may be a participant in more than one species.

    For the sake of this tread, however, I gave what I thought were some pretty good working definitions of "living thing" and "species" in my second post. I know that neither exhaust the reality of each.
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  10. #9  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    In that case do you limit the calculations to the current phyla or all possible imaginable phyla?
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    In that case do you limit the calculations to the current phyla or all possible imaginable phyla?
    I would limit it to all phyla that could, according to the laws of our universe, physically exist.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    well, the number of possible species at any given point in time is limited by available niches, where a niche can also be a niche created by another species.

    So the number approaches infinity and in a practical sense you can call it an infinite amount since every newly added species will create a new niche.
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  13. #12  
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    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    species is an artificial concept used by scientists to facilitate their work.

    Every population currently identified as a species is merely a transitional stage in a lineage.
    From a bald biological standpoint I suppose that is true. But from an ontological standpoint every "transitional" species is something. This would be true even if there is only one individual example.

    All horses are manifestly the same thing in some way, even if all of them are, genetically speaking, a bit different. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to say "all horses". I suppose, ontologically speaking, any given thing may be a participant in more than one species.

    For the sake of this tread, however, I gave what I thought were some pretty good working definitions of "living thing" and "species" in my second post. I know that neither exhaust the reality of each.
    Altho you seemed to have found a working definition for your purposes, I would like to throw in the problem of ring species to your calculation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by free radical
    Quote Originally Posted by delsydebothom
    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    species is an artificial concept used by scientists to facilitate their work.

    Every population currently identified as a species is merely a transitional stage in a lineage.
    From a bald biological standpoint I suppose that is true. But from an ontological standpoint every "transitional" species is something. This would be true even if there is only one individual example.

    All horses are manifestly the same thing in some way, even if all of them are, genetically speaking, a bit different. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to say "all horses". I suppose, ontologically speaking, any given thing may be a participant in more than one species.

    For the sake of this tread, however, I gave what I thought were some pretty good working definitions of "living thing" and "species" in my second post. I know that neither exhaust the reality of each.
    Altho you seemed to have found a working definition for your purposes, I would like to throw in the problem of ring species to your calculation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species
    That does give me a bit to ponder. Biology uses names for things as a way of convenient reference, but as a science seems to be more concerned with what things do, rather than what they are is any essential sense.

    My preliminary reaction would be to posit the idea of a "poly-species", or an individual of which two or more species (in an ontological sense) can be accurately predicated. In this way, we could use a non-living analogy, such a futon; a futon is both a sofa and a bed, which are two "species" of furniture.
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    Forum Sophomore schiz0yd's Avatar
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    I think it's quite obvious that the answer is no, yet everyone is choosing to answer with explanations of a maybe or probably not.

    here's my personal proof:
    say you're right, and you calculate out a list of all possible species. in order to prove that it is indeed the maximum possible number of species, you would have to prove why it is no longer possible for evolution to produce new species. Otherwise, your finding would be destroyed completely one day when you wake up and find out a species of squirrels has been discovered that has three testicles and produces profoundly healthy and genetically-modified offspring.
    I prefer to use my right brain to study the universe rather than my left brain.
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  16. #15  
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    Regarding the first post: No, it won't. You see, on the danger of contradicting Turing, some things are just predictably unsolvable with logic and scientific method (see Bödel, who came up with a logical explanation for the logical inexplainability of processes), and this is one of them. Numbers of something affected by many variables, affected by variables, affected by variables etc aren't necessarily impossible to predict, but very difficult at least. In this case, I dare say, the previous.
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