Evolution: Maybe It's Not Just for the Fittest Anymore
March 28, 2013 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Is it time to put natural selection in its place? Jello Biafra once famously wrote that "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve." But while it likely comes as no surprise to specialists working in the field or to those who've been following developments in evolutionary biology closely, there's an emerging view among experts that Darwin's view of natural selection as the primary driver of speciation and evolutionary change may be incorrect or at least drastically overstated. It's long been understood that non-adaptive evolutionary mechanisms like "genetic drift" and random mutation also play non-trivial roles in evolutionary processes, but a recent study (link to abstract with full-text PDF available) casts new doubts on the primary role of natural selection, finding that "Neutral models, in which genetic change arises through random variation without fitness differences have proven remarkably successful in describing observed patterns of biodiversity."

Meanwhile, America's obsession with competitive fitness as virtue remains a conspicuous feature of the culture despite the evolving science of evolution, and newer scientific fields like Evolutionary Psychology continue to operate under the assumption that adaptive fitness is the primary driver of evolutionary processes.
posted by saulgoodman (51 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like that little warbler! Good job, warbler! Warble on!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:58 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Neutral models, in which genetic change arises through random variation without fitness differences have proven remarkably successful in describing observed patterns of biodiversity."

I don't think it's necessarily time for it to be "put in its place". If there's plenty of resources and not very much competition for them going on within a biosphere then of course there's going to be room for multiple random genetic lines to start propagating, find their own niche and promote biodiversity.

If the resources are poor or there's a particular adverse condition you might find natural selection putting huge pressure on a population.
posted by Talez at 8:00 AM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Don't feed the Fodor.
posted by SollosQ at 8:02 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


By putting it in its place, I only meant to say recognize more broadly that it isn't always the primary driver or even a significant driver of evolutionary processes. Evolution apparently happens without it anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:05 AM on March 28, 2013


DEVO WAS RIGHT.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:06 AM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, America's obsession with competitive fitness as virtue remains a conspicuous feature of the culture despite the evolving science of evolution

"Despite"? You make it sound as if you believe that "competitive fitness as a virtue" is in some way linked with evolutionary science. That seems distinctly wrong. I don't think there is any link whatsoever between the processes ov evolution - whatever they might be - and moral judgements such as "virtue". To suggest there is, iis a bad idea, I think.
posted by Decani at 8:08 AM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


...an emerging view among experts that Darwin's view of natural selection as the primary driver of speciation and evolutionary change may be incorrect or at least drastically overstated.

This is definitely the kind of language the topic of evolution needs to put in front of the public right now.

It's especially frustrating when it really boils down to what you are trying to explain. Are you trying to explain variation in general? Yes, randomness is a large component. Are you trying to explain the widely-spaced (i.e. high variation) attractors in biospace? That's mostly natural selection.

It's like arrows. On a given target, you find 47 different clusters of arrows. Within a cluster, the variation is due to random things like air turbulence or whatever while the arrow was flying. Between clusters, it's who was shooting.

And if this whole post was to get in a supposed dig at the idea that the brain is under evolutionary pressure....ugh.
posted by DU at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Despite"? You make it sound as if you believe that "competitive fitness as a virtue" is in some way linked with evolutionary science.

Social Darwinism (sorry for the awful cite but it gets the job done) was pseudo-science, but it still clothed itself in scientific respectability and it had a huge influence on the current American culture.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:16 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Furthermore, I am convinced that natural selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification."

-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:25 AM on March 28, 2013 [29 favorites]


Pyrogenesis: Well, the idea here is that it may not always be the most important either. The study found that it may be possible to account for observed levels of biodiversity in some populations without it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:30 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you discover a species or a class of organisms benefits from diversity, and if you further discover that such groups with diversity thrive and those without it don't so much, how is that not natural selection again?

I'm not a scientist, but it seems to me that every time I hear about adjustments to ideas of genetic evolution, it's something that's obviously fits in to the basic framework of heritable variation, and all that's really changing is the current ethos of the field of biology, not the bedrock theory.

It seems to me that explaining natural selection the other way around might be clearer. Natural selection is driven by the death and extinction of the seriously unfit, rather than the survival of only the very fittest. That seems a little more permissive, in a sense. It makes it easier to see that unexplained variation is permitted.
We normally think of species as being adapted for particular functions. They have their own role to play in a community. That’s the standard wisdom.
Why is that the conventional wisdom? The basics of natural selection don't imply any such thing. For an amateur like me, this seems like the same pattern in natural selection study that we've seen before with gradualism, saltation, punctuated equilibrium, etc. None of them were either prescribed or prohibited by the basic rules of natural selection. None of them really change the basic theory, they all just demonstrated that those in the field were in the habit of making a lot of unwarranted assumptions.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:32 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Strange Interlude: "DEVO WAS RIGHT."

Dude... Devo is always right.
posted by Samizdata at 8:40 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting reads.

Natural selection is driven by the death and extinction of the seriously unfit...

And might I add, of the seriously unlucky. All it takes is one little meteor....
posted by BlueHorse at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Survival of the good enough.

Why does the male peacock have such bright feathers? Because fuck you, I'm a peacock.

The fun starts when intelligent design proponents realize that fitness-driven evolution provides more room for a rational father-figure-like deity and then start insisting that classic evolution be taught in the classroom.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is freakin' awesome. Evolution can *just happen* because that's how life works? Mind=blown.
posted by edheil at 9:06 AM on March 28, 2013


I suspect if we murdered Herbert Spencer's ghastly turn of phrase about the "fittest" in cold blood, dumped that stupid "ascent of man" trope that everyone seems to love so much, and pointed out that evolution isn't about a single line going backward, but a three-dimensional array of trillions of interactions all going on simultaneously, we might have a slim, but non-zero, chance of successfully explaining the mechanism of evolution to the people as a whole.

It's a beautiful world we live in, a sweet romantic place, but it gets even better when we really muck in and dig into the deep stuff.
posted by sonascope at 9:06 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Natural selection is driven by the death and extinction of the seriously unfit...

And might I add, of the seriously unlucky. All it takes is one little meteor....


No difference. Their environment changed dramatically, and they were no longer very well adapted to it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fodor's, Why Pigs Don't Have Wings: The Case Against Natural Selection
posted by SollosQ at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2013


It makes it easier to see that unexplained variation is permitted.

I like how you put those words together. "Unexplained variation is permitted."

I feel like every evolutionary biology/psychology/sociology article I've read has refused to acknowledge that idea, been frought with unjustified assumptions, and sometimes hinted that fitness is a kind of morality or otherwise elevated value.

This may be more a problem with science reporting than with science. I'd enjoy reading a few scientist's response to the research being conducted in those fields from a fair but critical perspective.
posted by jsturgill at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Love and companionship, in spite of and through hardship, will not be acquired through a sperm bank sorted by SAT score.

Damnit, that was my one shot! Are they suggesting I actually have to go outside and talk to girls?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2013


Well, the idea here is that it may not always be the most important either. The study found that it may be possible to account for observed levels of biodiversity in some populations without it.

This is correct, and as you note in the OP, those who follow the developments have known this for a couple of decades now. Although I'd say that instead of genetic drift and neutral selection (the latter is already from the 1960s), the most fascinating stuff today comes from evo-devo (or "eco-evo-devo") and epigenetics. And for the more philosophically inclined there's also the developmental systems theory, but I don't think this one is really going anywhere right now. In general, there has been a gradual shift from gene-centric approaches to more ontogeny based ones, it seems to me.

A pretty good paper [pdf].
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:24 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is freakin' awesome. Evolution can *just happen* because that's how life works? Mind=blown.

Yeah but I'm sticking with my SHIT HAPPENS t-shirts. They're just somehow more poetic than EVOLUTION HAPPENS.

... but seriously, sonascope speaks volumes for how I've long felt on this particular issue, and thus is worth a repeat:

I suspect if we [...] dumped that stupid "ascent of man" trope that everyone seems to love so much, and pointed out that evolution isn't about a single line going backward, but a three-dimensional array of trillions of interactions all going on simultaneously, we might have a slim, but non-zero, chance of successfully explaining the mechanism of evolution to the people as a whole.

Which is pretty much exactly as it was put to me when I was about fifteen by an uncle of mine who was a Catholic man of the cloth. I'm guessing he was Jesuit trained because he had no problem at all buying the Theory of Evolution -- he just felt it didn't go far enough. As I recall him saying (trying to win me over, of course), "I doubt there would be many atheists left if people truly understood the incalculable complexity of how evolution actually works."
posted by philip-random at 9:34 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone who works in evolutionary research, I'd tend to cautiously agree with the premise here. A big part of evolutionary biology right now involves trying to ascertain the relative importance of selection as opposed to selectively-neutral processes for various situations. We know already, as mentioned above, that genetic drift is the primary driver in very small populations.

We also know that new mutations are much more likely to be selectively neutral rather than advantageous, and that selection itself tends to reduce diversity at least as often as it promotes diversity. There's also the whole epigenetics issue, which is poised to cause a bit of a revolution.

The interplay of these forces is complex and varies for different genes, different geographical locations, and different times. There is a tremendous amount here that we do not know, but we definitely know that as with most things in life, it's much more complicated than we once thought.
posted by Scientist at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


And might I add, of the seriously unlucky.

The "seriously unlucky" fall under not "natural selection" but what's called "genetic drift" and are not considered examples of adaptive evolution in current evolutionary biology, is my understanding.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:49 AM on March 28, 2013


Not to mention the occasional Mass Extinction Event...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:58 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's anything wrong with the linked paper per se, but the framing here and in the Wired article is pretty misleading.

First, the article looks at ring species, which are not exactly representative of biodiversity in general. In fact, they're a signifiant oddity.

Second, the mere fact that a neutral mechanism may explain a data set does not prove that it is the correct explanation. Rather, it demonstrates that we need more or different data if we want to really understand what's going on. The idea that the distribution of organisms through space may cause genetic patterns that are superficially similar to those caused by selection is really, really old news. In fact, the quote in the post is not a "finding" of the study, but merely their boilerplate summation of previous literature.

Third, it's essential to distinguish between molecular evolution -- changes in DNA -- and phenotypic evolution -- changes in traits. There's been a sixty year debate in the field about the importance of neutral mechanisms for molecular evolution, driven by the realization that many changes to DNA are very likely to be totally unimportant and therefore neutral. This does not mean that neutral mechanisms predominate at the level of traits! There are people doing serious research on neutral diversification of phenotypic traits (check out Rick Prum's work, for one), but there is certainly not an emerging consensus among experts that selection is unimportant for phenotypic evolution.

Evolution has been misused by social Darwinists, eugenicists, creationists, evolutionary psychologists, opponents of evolutionary psychology, and many other groups with political and social agendas -- so I apologize if this winds me up a little. It's pretty frustrating to see such a slanted presentation here.
posted by inkfish at 10:10 AM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Second, the mere fact that a neutral mechanism may explain a data set does not prove that it is the correct explanation.

This study isn't really the only line of evidence in this direction, as I understand it, just one of the more recent ones. As mentioned, natural selection is already understood among modern evolutionary biologists to be only one of a number of mechanisms involved in evolutionary change. The only question now is, is it really still necessary and/or correct to view it as the primary mechanism, if the evidence shows that other known mechanisms (not supernatural intervention, mind you, but other known natural processes) can produce the same observed outcomes? Natural selection is only one of a number of different factors we've observed with a potential impact on evolutionary change. There seems to be no compelling evidence that it's somehow uniquely important among those known mechanisms. In fact, this study provides evidence that it doesn't have to be. At the time people first accepted Darwin's strong view of natural selection's role in evolutionary processes, there was a lot we didn't know and couldn't bring to bear on these questions about how DNA actually works and other natural factors.

The case for natural selection being the exclusive or most important driver of evolutionary change is pretty well-refuted by application of Occum's razor. The original idea was that natural selection was both necessary and sufficient for evolutionary change. The evidence we have now says, no, it's probably not strictly necessary. It may be sufficient, but the evidence seems to suggest it's not necessary. The mere fact that a non-neutral mechanism may explain a data set does not prove it's the correct explanation either, so you could easily turn that argument around against natural selection as well. It's beginning to look more and more like natural selection may not be the big-deal be-all-and-end-all of evolution Darwin took it for. And, gee, is it really all that unlikely that a guy practicing science with late-19th century tools and methodologies might have been mistaken, or at least, too hasty to generalize his conclusions?

Evolution has been misused by social Darwinists, eugenicists, creationists, evolutionary psychologists, opponents of evolutionary psychology, and many other groups with political and social agendas -- so I apologize if this winds me up a little. It's pretty frustrating to see such a slanted presentation here.

Slanted how? It seems to me one key point here is that the current science absolutely does not support Social Darwinist views of evolution. And in fact, several people working in the field have chimed in to say the framing of the post gets at the current consensus quite well.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The doctrine of natural selection is anthropocentric teleology naturalized:
[T]he final goal of evolution, as he originally conceived its telic purpose, could be realized: the production of the higher animals having moral sentiments. Yet not only did Darwin construe natural selection as producing moral creatures, he conceived of natural selection itself as a moral and intelligent agent.... Darwin's vision of the process of natural selection was anything but mechanical and brutal. Nature, while it may have sacrificed a multitude of its creatures, did so for the higher "object," or purpose, of creating beings with a moral spine--out of death came life more abundant. We humans, Darwin believed, were the goal of evolution by natural selection.--"Darwin's theory of natural selection and its moral purpose" / Robert J. Richards. In Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species.
There is no provision here for seeing other life-forms as full and complete in themselves.
posted by No Robots at 11:03 AM on March 28, 2013


I shouldn't have said slanted without making my point more clear -- sorry. What I mean is that the post, and particularly the Wired article, point to this study as a significant piece of evidence overturning the primacy of natural selection. That's not correct for several reasons, some of which I outlined: ring species are rare and weird, and molecular evolution and phenotypic evolution certainly evolve differently and conflating the two is a big error.

My frustration is that pop-sci articles often suggest that some new thing is overturning Darwinism, without any real appreciation for the 150 years of work that have happened since Origin of Species. These debates about selection, drift, and spatial structure were a significant catalyst for the Modern Synthesis, a mid-century reconciliation and, well, synthesis of genetics and evolutionary thought. They have continued to be front-and-center in evolutionary research. The consensus view is, of course, much, much different than what Darwin thought in many ways. It is not, however, different in the sense that selection has been refuted as a major mechanism.

There seems to be no compelling evidence that it's somehow uniquely important among those known mechanisms.

I guess this claim hinges on the word "uniquely" to some extent, but there is just so much evidence that selection is necessary to explain phenotypic evolution that it's hard to know where to start. This is the part of the framing that I found slanted -- from where I sit, it's a huge overreach to claim this.

On preview: No robots, literally no evolutionary biologist that I've ever talked to or read believes such a thing.
posted by inkfish at 11:08 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the part of the framing that I found slanted -- from where I sit, it's a huge overreach to claim this.

Ah, I see. My intention wasn't actually to make that claim positively (in the FPP at least; I may have gone a little further in the above comment), only to engage the idea of whether or not it is time for that claim to be made--basically wondering if we've reached a point now where it begins to look like natural selection may not be the most important mechanism. How does phenotypic evolution occur in the case of ring species if natural selection doesn't apply to them? Isn't the point of the results here that phenotypic evolution has been observed in the absence of selective pressure in ring species? It seems to me if it's possible for phenotypic evolution to occur in the absence of selective pressure, then we don't necessarily need natural selection to explain evolutionary change, in which case, the simpler explanation of evolution would seem to be that evolutionary change just happens in living things due to processes at the genetic level, but one of the mechanisms that can greatly influence the direction that change takes is natural selection--or something like that.

It is not, however, different in the sense that selection has been refuted as a major mechanism.

Oh yeah--of course not.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2013


Once again, someone appears to have inadvertently defeated PNAS subscription pay-walls by uploading the text of their paper to an incredibly secure and not-open-to-the-public-at-all university lab site.

Which was totally not on the front page of the google search results for the title of the paper.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:55 AM on March 28, 2013


Differential reproductive success. That's all it is.
posted by CrazyJoel at 12:08 PM on March 28, 2013


The original paper cited is a valid and useful result. The interpretation going on is a little ridiculous. DNA mutates at a fairly predictable rate. Some mutations may provide useful adaptions to the environment in rare occurrences, which accumulate over time to create species. Many mutations are deadly and don't continue. Some are neither more or less useful than the wild type and may not even change the phenotype. The paper addresses genetic and related phenotypic variation within a species and doesn't even attempt to address the general issue of the interaction of random mutation with environmental pressures, the essence of "survival of the fittest." I mean, it's fun and all to suggest that maybe reproductive and survival success doesn't play a role in evolution, but, no.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:12 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


it seems to me that every time I hear about adjustments to ideas of genetic evolution, it's something that's obviously fits in to the basic framework of heritable variation,

I'm not a scientist either, but wasn't that part pretty popular pre-Darwin? I think the key idea is that the theory of Natural Selection was seen as answering a mystery about why this variation would occur - not, as Lamarck suggested, due to particular usage, but instead due to fitting into an environment. If Natural Selection isn't really the primary mechanism, it does seem pretty significant historically.

As people are fond of pointing out to creationists, we've been breeding animals for thousands of years - we know they can change. The questions have always been, how do new mating pairs arise, and why do the changes occur when a farmer isn't trying to create certain traits.
posted by mdn at 12:14 PM on March 28, 2013


Natural selection is predicated upon variation it doesn't cause it. Think about it for a second. You have to have variation for natural selection to occur in the presence of a stressor. Otherwise, yes, you get genetic drift. Either way you get change over time. Which is a synonym for...... evolution!

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhh science "journalism" [/degree in evolution]
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, try to breed 100 generation of something and not see any observable changes between your generation #1 and generation #100 at all. Not gonna happen. Even if you do it in a laboratory. Even if you clone. Stuff changes over time
posted by fshgrl at 12:37 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Suck it Darwinists, soon we will prove that Lamarck and Lysenko were right after all!
(yes, I know that's not actually how science works).
posted by symbioid at 12:38 PM on March 28, 2013


Isn't the point of the results here that phenotypic evolution has been observed in the absence of selective pressure in ring species?

Well, it's been observed in their simulations, and shown to be roughly compatible with genetic patterns and patterns of mating incompatibility. The only phenotype here is mating incompatibility, which is often thought to evolve neutrally when, say, two populations are totally separated by a geographic barrier, then later come back into contact. The new angle here is specifically the ring species thing, specifically the wonky shape of the geographic barrier to migration that creates the conditions for ring species to evolve.

Mating compatibility is a really important phenotype, but it's not in the same category as the vast majority of traits that people think of when they talk about adaptation. I guess the distinction I'm trying to draw is roughly this:

1: How big of a role does natural selection play in creating and maintaining barriers to reproduction between populations, i.e., speciation?
2: How big of a role does natural selection play in shaping traits within a species?

My contention is that the linked paper speaks to Q1, but not really to Q2. My other point is that both of these questions have advanced a lot since Darwin, but that Darwin's views are beaten like a straw man whenever a Wired writer needs to file a piece.

It seems to me if it's possible for phenotypic evolution to occur in the absence of selective pressure, then we don't necessarily need natural selection to explain evolutionary change, in which case, the simpler explanation of evolution would seem to be that evolutionary change just happens in living things due to processes at the genetic level, but one of the mechanisms that can greatly influence the direction that change takes is natural selection--or something like that.

Absolutely! What you've written here is totally in line with mainstream evolutionary thought since the 70s or so. At the level of DNA change, everyone now operates with a null hypothesis of neutral mechanisms. At the level of phenotypic traits, people are more apt to assume selection is the best explanation and design their study around validating or disproving that assumption -- partially because of the many, many examples that selection does drive the evolution of such traits. But people recognize that this mode of thinking is potentially misleading, and have been arguing about it for decades. Stephen Jay Gould, for example, played a big role in the conversation around phenotypic evolution and the appropriate null model of evolution.

Anyway, sorry for grumping up your post -- this stuff is obviously close to my heart.
posted by inkfish at 1:34 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


No need to apologize! You didn't grump it up so much as just bring much-needed expert perspective to the discussion.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:51 PM on March 28, 2013


High-Speed Evolution: Cars Driving Change In Cliff Swallows
posted by homunculus at 3:13 PM on March 28, 2013


Or what Talez linked.
posted by homunculus at 3:20 PM on March 28, 2013


CrazyJoel: "Differential reproductive success. That's all it is."

Yeah, well, thanks for reminding me my inability to get a date means this will be the last dorkus Samizdatii in the world.

That's right. I AM AN ENDANGERED SPECIES!

(Anyone want to send me some money or suitable(ish) breeding stock to help offset this tragedy? I am AT LEAST as assuming as the damn snail darter. And, unlike the snail darter, I CAN COOK!)
posted by Samizdata at 4:19 PM on March 28, 2013


Either way you get change over time. Which is a synonym for...... evolution!

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhh science "journalism"


To be fair, no one is disagreeing about evolution. The article is called "Something Other Than Adaptation Could Be Driving Evolution". The disagreement is just about Darwin's theory.

What you've written here is totally in line with mainstream evolutionary thought since the 70s or so.

That's either a bit exaggerated or you guys have to write a lot more science journalism... This piece by Stephen Jay Gould (admittedly from 15 years ago) gives something like the sense I had - that there were people who thought other mechanisms than Natural Selection were important, but that that was still controversial, and that no one disagreed that Natural Selection was the central mechanism.
posted by mdn at 6:42 PM on March 28, 2013


And assuming should be amusing.

So, maybe the snail darter's got my ass kicked on proof reading.
posted by Samizdata at 7:46 PM on March 28, 2013


I don't think it's necessarily time for it to be "put in its place". If there's plenty of resources and not very much competition for them going on within a biosphere then of course there's going to be room for multiple random genetic lines to start propagating, find their own niche and promote biodiversity.

But I think there's still a very widespread popular perception that natural selection--in fact, not even natural selection but only those aspects of natural selection that involve competitive pressure--are responsible for creating diversity and actually driving evolutionary processes. It's the kind of thinking that underpins many commonplace assumptions about how evolutionary processes might work in other areas, like markets, where we assume more competition will always yield improvements in any kinds of products or services. But in practical effect, natural selection works to adapt species to their environments by reducing biodiversity and may even make a species so specially adapted to its immediate environment that it can't easily adapt to environmental changes, making it from a certain point of view less robust.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:19 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's either a bit exaggerated or you guys have to write a lot more science journalism... This piece by Stephen Jay Gould (admittedly from 15 years ago) gives something like the sense I had - that there were people who thought other mechanisms than Natural Selection were important, but that that was still controversial, and that no one disagreed that Natural Selection was the central mechanism.

That's fair -- Gould's paper "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme" was published in 1979, so I see I was exaggerating by a decade or so. Gould's perspective, though, is paleontological -- neutral mechanisms were treated a lot more seriously, though still very contentiously, in the molecular evolution world during that era. I've been told that Gould really saw himself as a revolutionary fighting against orthodoxy, in some grand Kuhnian sense -- his historical perspective might be a little influenced by that. Then again, one could say that about many famous scientists.
posted by inkfish at 10:59 PM on March 28, 2013


i get that "this article is generally considered most applicably to non-human groupings... When you add human culture into the mix things get so complex," but given the human angle, i can't help but think of our biotech future (by freeman dyson* ;)
Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.
re: post-Darwinian evolution (or considering a probabilistic multiverse!)
That's the end of the Darwinian era, when cultural evolution replaces biological evolution as the main driving force.

"Cultural" means that the big changes in living conditions are driven by humans spreading their technology and their ways of making a living, by learning from one another rather than by breeding. So you are spreading ideas much more rapidly than you're spreading genes.

And stage seven is what comes next.

The question is whether any of that makes sense. I think it does, but like all models, it's going to be short-lived and soon replaced by something better.
or sociobiology [1,2,3,4,5,6]
Sociobiology is defined as the scientific or systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior, in all kinds of organisms including man, and incorporating knowledge from ethology, ecology, and genetics, in order to derive general principles concerning the biological properties of entire societies. "If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species." "The brain [and the mind] exists because it promotes the survival and multiplication of the genes that direct its assembly." The two apparent dilemmas we face therefore are: (1) We lack any goal external to our biological nature (for even religions evolve to enhance the persistence and influence of their practitioners). Will the transcendental goals of societies dissolve, and will our post-ideological societies regress steadily toward self-indulgence? (2) Morality evolved as instinct. "Which of the censors and motivators should be obeyed and which ones might better be curtailed or sublimated?"
dim sun :P "But I am part of natural process!"

like we could build stuff like this (or this ;) to prove it or engage -- 'argue with that'! -- in desire modification short of (more of us) becoming the next von neumann or feynman (or franklin, musk, etc...)

also btw...
-I wonder why I wonder why
-Glial cells for Algernon
-Synthetic biology and the hype cycle
-Genetic Architecture of Intelligence
-The dawn of de-extinction
-Should We Bring Species Back To Life?

---
[*]"Dyson has suggested that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees. He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere..." which interestingly enough is also something that john baez has proposed! altho that this might require a global consciousness or at least the recognition that some global problems require global solutions [cooperative engineering], like e.g. for sustainable energy, suggests that we're still lacking the requisite scale, i.e. critical mass :P
posted by kliuless at 11:42 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin
posted by homunculus at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2013


The Wrong Way to Write about Epigenetics and Violence
posted by homunculus at 11:44 AM on April 10, 2013


Evolution takes place over very long periods of time, random mutations occur throughout the process. On average, and in the long term, certain adaptions survive while others perish. Obviously, there is room for variation and diversity. The Study say's clearly, natural selection is important for determining traits from these variations.
posted by Nicholas Geary at 11:55 PM on April 12, 2013


ACLU to Kansas school district: Cancel creationist assemblies about dinosaurs
posted by homunculus at 6:32 PM on April 21, 2013


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