Niche construction is the process whereby organisms, through their activities and choices, modify their own and each other’s niches. By transforming natural-selection pressures, niche construction generates feedback in evolution at various different levels. Niche-constructing species play important ecological roles by creating habitats and resources used by other species and thereby affecting the flow of energy and matter through ecosystems—a process often referred to as “ecosystem engineering.” An important emphasis of niche construction theory (NCT) is that acquired characters play an evolutionary (...) role through transforming selective environments. This is particularly relevant to human evolution, where our species has engaged in extensive environmental modification through cultural practices. Humans can construct developmental environments that feed back to affect how individuals learn and develop and the diseases to which they are exposed. Here we provide an introduction to NCT and illustrate some of its more important implications for the human sciences. (shrink)
What role does non-genetic inheritance play in evolution? In recent work we have independently and collectively argued that the existence and scope of non-genetic inheritance systems, including epigenetic inheritance, niche construction/ecological inheritance, and cultural inheritance—alongside certain other theory revisions—necessitates an extension to the neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis (MS) in the form of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). However, this argument has been challenged on the grounds that non-genetic inheritance systems are exclusively proximate mechanisms that serve the ultimate function of calibrating organisms (...) to stochastic environments. In this paper we defend our claims, pointing out that critics of the EES (1) conflate non-genetic inheritance with early 20th-century notions of soft inheritance; (2) misunderstand the nature of the EES in relation to the MS; (3) confuse individual phenotypic plasticity with trans-generational non-genetic inheritance; (4) fail to address the extensive theoretical and empirical literature which shows that non-genetic inheritance can generate novel targets for selection, create new genetic equilibria that would not exist in the absence of non-genetic inheritance, and generate phenotypic variation that is independent of genetic variation; (5) artificially limit ultimate explanations for traits to gene-based selection, which is unsatisfactory for phenotypic traits that originate and spread via non-genetic inheritance systems; and (6) fail to provide an explanation for biological organization. We conclude by noting ways in which we feel that an overly gene-centric theory of evolution is hindering progress in biology and other sciences. (shrink)
Le philosophe américain Charles S. Peirce ne trouva, malgré ses efforts, guère d’interlocuteurs en France. On le considéra comme un mathématicien et logicien, un physicien et un psychologue fiable, mais son œuvre philosophique fut systématiquement distordue au gré des controverses franco-françaises. Nous mettons l’accent sur les lectures d’André Lalande et de Louis Couturat qui contribuèrent néanmoins à faire reconnaître en France l’originalité du père du pragmaticisme.Despite his efforts, the American philosopher Charles S. Peirce found hardly any interlocutors in France. (...) He was considered mostly as a mathematician and logician, a physicist and a reliable psychologist, but his philosophical work was systematically distorted in consequence of “Franco-French” disputes. We emphasize here the readings of André Lalande and Louis Couturat who made significant contributions towards the recognition in France of the originality of the founding father of Pragmaticism. (shrink)
Laland et al.'s bidirectional model is a welcome starting point that can be enhanced by a full incorporation of systems thinking into its framework. Systems thinkers note that culture is not transmitted linearly in chunks but is co-constructed within subgroups. Niche construction, particularly among primates, should be studied primarily through the effects that social relationships have on selection pressures.
Industrial melanism, according to the traditional explanation, amounts to niche construction since it involves changes in predation pressure. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine selection without niche construction. This cannot be what Laland, Odling-Smee & Feldman mean. They offer convincing examples, but they should provide a better definition of “niche construction” to indicate how their view supplements traditional evolutionary biology.
Niche construction is a concept that captures a wide array of biological phenomena, from the environmental effects of metabolism to the creation of complex structures such as termite mounds and beaver dams. A central point in niche construction theory is that organisms do not just passively undergo developmental, ecological, or evolutionary processes, but are also active participants in them Evolution: From molecules to men, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983; Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Feldman MW, In: KN Laland and T Uller (...) Evolutionary causation: Biological and philosophical reflections, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2019). In this paper, we distinguish between two fundamentally different ways in which organisms are active participants: as agents and as contributors. Roughly, organisms act as agents when niche constructing effects are a result of a goal-directed behavior over which the organisms have some degree of control. Organisms act as contributors when the niche constructing effects do not arise from a goal to perform the constructive activity. As illustrative examples we discuss plants altering leaf-morphology to optimize light exposure as reported by Sultan and bacteria creating novel niches through excreting energy-rich metabolites. The difference between agential and contributional niche construction is important for understanding the different ways organisms can actively participate in development, ecology, and evolution. Additionally, this distinction can increase our understanding of how the capacity of agency is distributed across the tree of life and how agency influences developmental and evolutionary processes. (shrink)
SUMMARYIn 1803, the most prominent Japanese astronomer of his time, Takahashi Yoshitoki, received a newly imported Dutch translation of J. J. Lalande's ‘Astronomie’. He could not read Dutch, yet he dedicated almost a year to a close examination of this massive work, taking notes and contemplating his own astronomical practices. How did he read a book he could not read? Following the clues Yoshitoki left in his notes, we discover that he found meanings not only in words, but also (...) in what are often taken for granted or considered to be auxiliary tools for data manipulation, such as symbols, units, tables, and diagrams. His rendering of these non-verbal textual elements into a familiar format was crucial for Yoshitoki's reading, and constituted the initial step in the process of integrating Lalande's astronomy into Japanese astronomical practices, and the subsequent translation of the text into Japanese. (shrink)
Is human nature something that the natural and social sciences aim to describe, or is it a pernicious fiction? What role, if any, does ”human nature’ play in directing and informing scientific work? Can we talk about human nature without invoking---either implicitly or explicitly---a contrast with human culture? It might be tempting to think that the respectability of ”human nature’ is an issue that divides natural and social scientists along disciplinary boundaries, but the truth is more complex. The contributors to (...) this collection take very different stances with regard to the idea of human nature. They come from the fields of psychology, the philosophy of science, social and biological anthropology, evolutionary theory, and the study of animal cognition. Some of them are ”human nature’ enthusiasts, some are sceptics, and some say that human nature is a concept with many faces, each of which plays a role in its own investigative niche. Some want to eliminate the notion altogether, some think it unproblematic, others want to retain it with reforming modifications. Some say that human nature is a target for investigation that the human sciences cannot do without, others argue that the term does far more harm than good. The diverse perspectives articulated in this book help to explain why we disagree about human nature, and what, if anything, might resolve that disagreement. Introduction Tim Lewens 1 Doubling Down on the Nomological Notion of Human Nature Edouard Machery 2 Trait Bin and Trait Cluster Accounts of Human Nature Grant Ramsey 3 A Developmental Systems Account of Human Nature Karola Stotz and Paul Griffiths 4 Human Nature, Natural Pedagogy, and Evolutionary Causal Essentialism Cecilia Heyes 5 Human Nature John Dupré 6 Sceptical Reflections on Human Nature Kim Sterelny 7 The Social Construction of Human Nature Kevin N. Laland and Gillian R. Brown 8 The Use and Non-Use of the Human Nature Concept by Evolutionary Biologists Peter J. Richerson 9 Human Ontogenies as Historical Processes Christina Toren 10 Divide and Conquer Maria Kronfeldner. (shrink)