One of the most stimulating workshops that I attended during 2009, the year of Darwin, was titled “Evolution–the Extended Synthesis” and held at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria. Sixteen evolutionists met to discuss how our field has changed since Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, which was published in 1942 and represented a consensus view formulated by major figures such as Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and George Gaylord Simpson.
The workshop, which was organized by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Muller, created quite a bit of buzz at the time. We became known as “The Altenberg 16” as if we were a cabal meeting in secret to reformulate evolutionary theory. That was silly, but one certainly hopes that the field of evolutionary biology has changed over the last six decades. We were meeting to discuss some of the most profound changes that the architects of the modern synthesis had no way of anticipating.
An edited volume based on the workshop has just been published by MIT Press. Titled Evolution–The Extended Synthesis, I recommend it as one of the best single sources for learning about contemporary evolutionary science. Here is the publisher’s description:
In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis. In this volume, sixteen leading evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey the conceptual changes that have emerged since Huxley’s landmark publication, not only in such traditional domains of evolutionary biology as quantitative genetics and paleontology but also in such new fields of research as genomics and EvoDevo. Most of the contributors to Evolution – the Extended Synthesis accept many of the tenets of the classical framework but want to relax some of its assumptions and introduce significant conceptual augmentations of the basic Modern Synthesis structure–just as the architects of the Modern Synthesis themselves expanded and modulated previous versions of Darwinism. This continuing revision of a theoretical edifice the foundations of which were laid in the middle of the nineteenth century–the reexamination of old ideas, proposals of new ones, and the synthesis of the most suitable–shows us how science works, and how scientists have painstakingly built a solid set of explanations for what Darwin called the “grandeur” of life.