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...
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"