Towards a universally applicable evolutionary methodology: a new look upon the units and levels of evolution debate.

Nathalie Gontier

Onderzoeksoutput: Meeting abstract (Book)

Samenvatting

Evolutionary epistemology can provide a unified scientific methodology that enables scholars to study the evolution of life as well as the evolution of cognition, science, culture and any other phenomenon displayed by living organisms. Three heuristics are provided that allow for a thorough search for the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution. Contrary to previous approaches, units, levels and mechanisms are not identified by pointing out essential features, but rather ostensive definitions are preferred. That is, units are considers as such if a level of evolution and a mechanism of evolution is identifiable. Levels are levels if one can point out units that evolve at that level according to evolutionary theories, and mechanisms are considered as such if one can point out units and levels where the mechanism is active.
How to examine whether x is a unit of evolution
How do we know that x (e.g. a gene, meme, replicator, reproducer, symbiont, symbiome, chromosome, phenotype, trait, behaviour, system, pattern, organism, etc.) is a unit of evolution (table 1)?

Table 1. Is x ( a feature, trait, space, event, element, ... that is presumed relevant for evolution) a unit in/of evolution?
(read from left to right and top-down)
? Try to prove that it is a unit of evolution (1 example suffices). Thus go to yes.
Y
E
S
Where?
At which level is x the subject of evolution. Not one level found? X is not a unit, go to no.
One/multiple level(s)? Identify them all. (Justifies that x is a unit.) Via which evolutionary mechanism(s)? Identify them all.
Since when?
When did x first originate in time and when did it become a unit of evolution?
How does this unit x interact with other units? Can this unit be divided into one or several subunits?
If so, are they also units in evolution?
Can this unit be absorbed into one or several superunits? If so, are they also units in evolution?
Can this unit also be regarded as a level and/or mechanism of evolution? ? & yes: try and treat the unit as a level and/or a mechanism, go to level and/or mechanism.
Relevance? Is the unit x sufficient and/or necessary for evolution?
NO Level and/or mechanism? ? or Yes: go to level and/or mechanism.
No: treat x as irrelevant for evolution until proven otherwise.

How to examine whether x is a level of evolution
How do we know that x (e.g. the environment, the brain, culture, etc.) is or is not a level of evolution (table 2)?

Table 2. Is x ( a feature, trait, space, event, element, ... that is presumed relevant for evolution) a level in/of evolution?
(read from left to right and top-down)
? Try to prove that it is a level of evolution (1 example suffices). Thus go to yes.
Y
E
S
How many/which units evolve at this level? Not one unit, x is not a level of evolution, go to no.
One/multiple unit(s)? Identify them all. (Justifies that x is a level.)
How many evolutionary mechanisms are active at (not on) this level? Equals the question: how many evolutionary mechanisms are active upon the units that evolve at this level. (testing device)
What is the ontological status of the level? The level is an abstract notion that facilitates theory formation/ an exiting entity.
Since when?
Locate the origin of x in time or when it becomes necessary to invoke x as an abstract notion in the theory of evolution
How does this level x interact with other levels? Can this level be divided into sublevels? If so, are they also levels in evolution?
Can this level be absorbed into superlevels? If so, are they also levels in evolution?
Can this level also be regarded as a unit and/or mechanism of evolution? ? & yes: try and treat the level as a unit and/or mechanism, go to unit and/or mechanism.
Relevance? Is the level x sufficient and/or necessary for evolution?
NO Unit and/or mechanism? ? or Yes: go to unit and/or mechanism.
No: treat x as irrelevant for evolution until proven otherwise.

How to examine whether x is an evolutionary mechanism involved in evolution
If we have an x (e.g. natural selection, symbiogenesis, drift, the ratchet effect, the Baldwin effect, niche construction, ...) of which we do not know that it is or is not an evolutionary mechanism, how do we begin examining whether this x is an evolutionary mechanism?

Table 3. Is x (an evolutionary mechanism, feature, trait, space, event, element, ... that is presumed relevant for evolution) an evolutionary mechanism involved in/on evolution?
(read from left to right and top-down)
? Try to prove that x is an evolutionary mechanism involved in evolution. Thus go to yes.
Y
E
S On how many units is this evolutionary mechanism working? Not one unit: x is not an evolutionary mechanism involved in evolution.
One/miltiple unit(s). Identify them all.
(Justifies that x is an evolutionary mechanism involved in evolution.)
At (not on) how many levels of evolution is this evolutionary mechanism active? Equals the question: the units that are subjected to this evolutionary mechanism, at how many levels are they subjected to it?
How does the mechanism work? Which conditions need to be met in order for the evolutionary mechanism to occur? Answer requires (universal) EE formulas of the workings of the mechanism.
Since when?
Locate in time when these conditions are met regarding each unit and each level = when the evolutionary mechanism became a mechanism involved in evolution at that unit and/or level.
How does this mechanism x interact with other mechanisms? Can this mechanism be divided into sub-mechanism(s)? (Depends on the presence of subconditions.) If so, are they also mechanisms of evolution?
Can this mechanism be absorbed into a super-mechanism(s)? (Depends on the existence of a mechanism that allows to combine different mechanisms into one single mechanism.) If so, are they also mechanisms of evolution?
Can this mechanism also be regarded as a unit and/or level of evolution? ? & yes: try and treat the mechanism as a unit and/or level, go to unit and/or level.
Relevance? Is the mechanism x sufficient and/or necessary for evolution?
NO Unit and/or level? ? or Yes: go to unit and/or level.
No: treat x as irrelevant for evolution until proven otherwise.


References

Gontier N (2006) Evolutionary Epistemology. The Internet Encyclopaedia of philosophy http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/evo-epis.htm
Gontier N (2007) Universal symbiogenesis: An alternative to universal selectionist accounts of evolution. Symbiosis 44:167-181
Gontier N (2010) Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method. Theory in Biosciences 129: 167-182
Originele taal-2English
TitelThe 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science: The authority of science.
UitgeverijUniversity of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
StatusPublished - 10 apr 2011
EvenementUnknown -
Duur: 10 apr 2011 → …

Publicatie series

NaamThe 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science: The authority of science.

Conference

ConferenceUnknown
Periode10/04/11 → …

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