[R] [Obo-relations] Discussion summary on "original" biological parts

Wacek Kusnierczyk Waclaw.Marcin.Kusnierczyk at idi.ntnu.no
Thu Nov 20 17:56:14 CET 2008

mejino at u.washington.edu wrote:
>>> A canonical human body will have canonical parts and those canonical
>>> parts will
>>> have canonical subparts and so on.
>> ... and?
>>> Can't think of anyone who would fit that
>>> description.
>> is this considered an argument for that there cannot possibly an
>> instance of the canonical human body?
> So what exactly is your understanding of a canonical entity and
> perhaps that'd clarify your point?

when i studied medicine, i used to think about 'canonical' anatomy
(well, we'd just speak of human anatomy, with no canonicity referred to)
as a model that corresponds to our expectations wrt. a human's body when
we do not have any additional information.  that is, the book
descriptions reflect, in most cases, the most frequently occurring
structural variants.  there does not have to be a single human that is
exactly as the book descriptions want (and there is *no* single canon in
this respect, besides perhaps that a human has one heart and such gross
stuff), but there is nothing in the way of there being a human that is
accurately described by a particular canonical anatomy.  that's why i
got shot by your "There is no instance of a canonical human body or a
canonical heart.", which does not make sense to me if it amounts to
saying "there cannot be".

as to "A canonical human body will have canonical parts and those
canonical parts will have canonical subparts and so on", the problem
with the insisted canonicity here is that the more you go into details,
the less canonicity to be found.  if hardly anyone has more than one
heart (and who has none, except for patients under surgery?), hardly any
two people will have the same pattern of capillary vessels in a
particular location in their body.  that is, on the frequentist reading
of 'canonicity', the gross level canonical descriptions correspond to
strong accuracy of expectations, the more detailed levels correspond to
weaker accuracy of expectations.

i have read the article on canonicity writen by fabian et al., and
besides its logical clarity, i found the definitions completely
useless.  it might be that i read them too quickly, and had no time to
examine them more carefully, but it stroke me that 'canonicity' was
defeined there in complete dissociation from the frequentist view. 
basically, a canonical entity is one that is canonical. 

> But let's assume the possibility that 1 or 2 out of 6 billion people
> fit the "idealized, canonical" type. I don't see much utility in that. 

of course.  what is useful is that if the canonical anatomy says that
there is one heart in a human body, and that it is located here or
there, then when a patients comes to me, without additional evidence i
assume he/she has one heart and it is here or there.  but i have less
confidence when it comes to more detailed descriptions; these are more
exemplary than canonical.

> I want a system that can accommodate and provide the information that
> your heart, my heart and anyone's heart are instances of some type
> "Heart" which defines the necessary and sufficient conditions that
> establish the identity of the heart structure  in you, me and everyone
> else. 

wait.  if you define necessary conditions for an entity to be heart and
call this canonical anatomy, then either there are no hearts (because
none fulfils the necessary conditions) or there are hearts that
instantiate canonical anatomy.  i must be wrong, but where.

> This is why I'm re-evaluating my position with regards to any
> canonical reference to the FMA, unless of course we redefine
> "canonicity" to mean some general or generic description.

my feeling is that the term 'canonical' is virtually meaningless the way
you seem to use it.


More information about the R-help mailing list