Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan have written a book on evolutionary theory. Check out Massimo’s description on his blog. But it’s not all masturbatory philosophy — these guys understand the science. Here’s Massimo describing their treatment of adaptive landscapes:
To make the story short (for the longer version you’ll have to read the book), Jonathan and I claim that the idea was fraught with problems and inconsistencies from the beginning, and that it has now been radically modified by the work of a mathematical biologist named Sergey Gavrilets. Sergey actually showed that the mathematical (and biological) properties of realistic (i.e., highly multidimensional) “landscapes” are very different from those of the 2- and 3-dimensional versions usually presented in textbooks and examined in most of the literature. Indeed, these differences are such that some old questions to which biologists have dedicated a large amount of effort ought to be rethought in an entirely different fashion, and may in fact cease to be relevant to our understanding of how evolution works. For example, the classic adaptive landscape problem is how does a population “move” from one adaptive peak to a higher one, i.e. how can evolution re-shape the genetic makeup of populations to increase their average fitness. The problem is that the “peaks” of the classic rendition are separated by maladaptive “valleys,” i.e. by combinations of genes that have lower fitness than the combinations currently present in the population. By definition, natural selection cannot bring a population “down” such a valley to reach a nearby peak, because it (selection) doesn’t have forethought, it cannot sacrifice the immediate advantage for the long-term gain. Several ingenious (but largely unworkable) solutions have been proposed over a course of decades, until Gavrilets demonstrated that if the landscape is highly-dimensional (as must be the case for real organisms with tens of thousands of genes) the problem largely disappears because there are no “peaks” and “valleys,” but rather large continuous multidimensional hyper-planes of high fitness punctuated by occasional “holes” of low fitness (hence the term “holey landscapes” to refer to Gavrilets’ theory). All natural selection has to do is keep the populations from falling into the holes, i.e. to evolve genetic constitutions that would drive the population to extinction.
I put the quote below the fold because it’s so large. I guess you’ve gotta be a philosopher to churn out paragraphs of that impressive length.
Paragraph lengths aside, I find this pretty interesting. I have to admit, however, that my knowledge of classical population genetics theory is less than stellar. I’m more of an empirical population geneticist — if I can’t relate theory to data, the abstract nature of the theory fails to connect for me. That’s why I’m a big fan of the coalescent. But Wilkins thinks this will revolutionize evolutionary theory.