Sewall Wright’s adaptive landscapes: 1932 vs. 1988

Biology and Philosophy 23 (5):591-603 (2008)


Sewall Wright introduced the metaphor of evolution on “adaptive landscapes” in a pair of papers published in 1931 and 1932. The metaphor has been one of the most influential in modern evolutionary biology, although recent theoretical advancements show that it is deeply flawed and may have actually created research questions that are not, in fact, fecund. In this paper I examine in detail what Wright actually said in the 1932 paper, as well as what he thought of the matter at the very end of his career, in 1988. While the metaphor is flawed, some of the problems which Wright was attempting to address are still with us today, and are in the process of being reformulated as part of a forthcoming Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.


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Massimo Pigliucci
CUNY Graduate Center

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