Originally Posted by Disco King
I dunno, I think that cladistics and looking at different species and their similarities and differences in terms of morphology and behaviour is pretty cool.
More the abstract idea of it. I don't think I'd ever be interested in becoming a zoologist or some expert on beluga whales or capuchin monkeys or anything like that (super cool that people are into that stuff out there and doing it, though). But some of the conceptual issues brought forth by the discipline are interesting.
Like, the biological species concept (there are, like, four or five conceptualizations of the word "species" used by biologists, because different definitions will suit different sub-disciplines better-- the only other one I know about is the ecological species concept) defines a species as a population that interbreeds and is reproductively isolated from other populations. For two organisms to be of the same species, they must be able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring (mules are infertile, so horses and donkeys are not of the same species).
However, there are some interesting complications to that, such as the phenomenon of ring species. Say that there are four populations: population A is adjacent to population B, population B is adjacent to population C, and population C is adjacent to population D. Each population is related via a relatively recent common ancestor, but has different gene frequencies from the others, perhaps due to genetic drift or the founder effect, geographic barriers inhibiting interbreeding, etc.
Members of p.A can interbreed with members of p.B. Members of p.B can interbreed with members of p.C. Members of p. C can interbreed with members of p.D.
However, if you were to introduce a member of population A and a member of population D, they would be unable to interbreed. They are too genetically dissimilar. But the intermediates between them can interbreed. Are they the same species, or nah?
Also, some animals are just cute. I like kinda investigating their cognition through their behaviour. With my sister's rabbit, I would often tease him by getting him some produce (he preferred that to the pellets, though they were treats for him because they can't eat too much), and then closing my hand and pulling it away as he started to approach it. The rabbit would go for my hands, but he would often go after the wrong hand. The fact that he went for a hand at all, and didn't, say, confuse a hand for a foot, suggested to me that he understands the concepts of body parts (or, at least, different parts of structures), but doesn't really have a concept of left/right. He could not distinguish between my two hands.
And they make you wonder about sensory perception and how the world must seem different to them. Different animals have different numbers of cones in their eyes, for example. I wonder how that effects their colour vision. Could you imagine being a bird with, like, seven cones or something? Or being a dichromat, like a dog?
Stephen Hawking said this thing about how he read an off-beat article in the newspaper saying that a small Italian town outlawed putting fish in round bowls, because the curved glass refracts light, and the town thought it inhumane to have fish live with such a distorted view of the world.
Hawking noted that, if an observer were looking at the outside world from within a round bowl, she would still be able to make observations and come up with equations and theories that would make predictions about outside phenomena (say, a swinging pendulum) as accurately as an observer outside the bowl. Makes you think about how we only encounter the world through our sense data, and how it could look completely different if our brains had evolved differently, but there's still that underlying structure to the universe that allows one to find regularities regardless of this. Who's to say that we're not in a round fish bowl?