Biology and Philosophy 15 (5):641-668 (2000)

Dan McShea
Duke University
The functional complexity, or the number of functions, of organisms hasfigured prominently in certain theoretical and empirical work inevolutionary biology. Large-scale trends in functional complexity andcorrelations between functional complexity and other variables, such assize, have been proposed. However, the notion of number of functions hasalso been operationally intractable, in that no method has been developedfor counting functions in an organism in a systematic and reliable way.Thus, studies have had to rely on the largely unsupported assumption thatnumber of functions can be measured indirectly, by using number ofmorphological, physiological, and behavioral parts as a proxy. Here, amodel is developed that supports this assumption. Specifically, the modelpredicts that few parts will have many functions overlapping in them, andtherefore the variance in number of functions per part will be low. If so,then number of parts is expected to be well correlated with number offunctions, and we can use part counts as proxies for function counts incomparative studies of organisms, even when part counts are low. Alsodiscussed briefly is a strategy for identifying certain kinds of parts inorganisms in a systematic way.
Keywords complexity  evolution  function  modularity  parts
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1006695908715
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 68,944
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Architecture of Complexity.Herbert A. Simon - 1962 - Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The Problem of Biological Individuality.Ellen Clarke - 2010 - Biological Theory 5 (4):312-325.
Parts and Theories in Compositional Biology.Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (4):471-499.
What is Complexity?Christoph Adami - 2002 - Bioessays 24 (12):1085-1094.
The Varieties of Parsimony in Psychology.Mike Dacey - 2016 - Mind and Language 31 (4):414-437.

View all 22 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
36 ( #313,346 of 2,498,022 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #428,301 of 2,498,022 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes