Making sense of evolution

Some time back, I was doing driving duty for a conference of philosophers (that's the collective noun; another is a dispute of philosophers) on a skin diving trip, and one of my passengers was Jonathon Kaplan (actually, if I'd crashed and killed us all, a large swathe would have been cut through the philosophy of biology, not including me). Jon was talking about adaptive landscapes and the work of Sergey Gavrilets, who proposes that in a realistic view of adaptive landscapes with thousands of alleles there will be hyperplanes of high fitness connecting nearly all regions of genome space. This inspired me to write a paper on speciation, which is forthcoming in Biology and Philosophy. I won't bore you with that right now.

But Jon's conversation comes out of a book he coauthored with Massimo Pigliucci, entitled Making sense of evolution, which has just come out. I have seen some of it in manuscript, but not the finished product (hint!).

Massimo, who was at the PSA conference (though I failed to make contact due to the drinkingdiscussions I was having with other SciBlings), proposes a reconceptualisation of evolution using Gavrilets' work. He also proposes that "species" is a family resemblance predicate, a view that I concur with independently. He discusses the adaptive landscape here on his blog.

Gavrilets' work will revolutionise evolutionary thinking the same way that Sewall Wright's work did. Wright was the author of the mathematics of adaptive landscapes, although he at first called it a "field of genetic recombination". I think that Jon and Pigliucci will be to Gavrilets, what Dobzhansky was to Wright, getting the ideas out in a manner that non-mathematicians can absorb. For my money, it at the very least undercuts the conceptual dichotomies so popular in discussions of evolution, such as drift vs selection, and sympatric vs allopatric speciation.

It's good to see a biologist and a philosopher working together on technical matters in biology. I hope this is the beginning of a tradition of employmentopportunities for future collaboration between well-funded biologists and penurious philosophers. Anyone working in some field of biology who wants a philosopher for hire, please contact me...

More like this

Having blown my own trumpet, I should mention that there are a few other articles in the same edition of Biology and Philosophy (which I hadn't seen until now) on Gavrilets' view of adaptive landscapes now on Online First: Massimo Pigliucci has a very nice historical summary of Sewall Wright's…
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 (…
Today is Darwin Day. Chris at Mixing Memory has qualms about the name, and suggests "Evolution Day" as a more appropriate celebratory appellation in keeping with the spirit of Charles Darwin's scientific insights. I tend to have sympathies with Chris' point, though I would assert that Darwin was…
This is a repost of a piece I wrote for The Panda's Thumb in March 2004. I add it here to put it in the Basics series. It is, wrote the Roman poet Horace, fit and proper to die for one's homeland. The word he used for homeland was "patria" (dulce et decorum est pro patria mori), and the word has…

Anyone working in some field of biology who wants a philosopher for hire, please contact me...

It has to be said:

"Have Pun, Will Travel"

By Ian H Spedding FCD (not verified) on 19 Nov 2006 #permalink