In recent years, the concept of evolvability has been gaining in prominence both within evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and the broader field of evolutionary biology. Despite this, there remains considerable disagreement about what evolvability is. This article offers a solution to this problem. I argue that, in focusing too closely on the role played by evolvability as an explanandum in evo-devo, existing philosophical attempts to clarify the evolvability concept have been overly narrow. Within evolutionary biology more broadly, evolvability offers a (...) robust explanation for the evolutionary trajectories of populations. Evolvability is an abstract, robust, dispositional property of populations, which captures the joint causal influence of their internal features on the outcomes of evolution (as opposed to the causal influence of selection, which is often characterized as external). When considering the nature of the physical basis of this disposition, it becomes clear that the many existing definitions of evolvability at play within evo-devo should be understood as capturing only aspects of a much broader phenomenon. 1 Introduction2 The Problem of Evolvability3 The Theoretical Role of Evolvability in Evolutionary Biology3.1 The explanatory targets of evolutionary biology3.2 Selection-based explanations3.3 Lineage explanations3.4 Evolvability-based explanations3.5 What properties must evolvability have?4 What Evolvability Really Is4.1 Making sense of ft4.2 Making sense of x and b5 What of the Limbs? The Power of E6 Conclusion. (shrink)
In recent years, the concept of evolvability has been gaining in prominence both within evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and the broader field of evolutionary biology. Despite this, there remains considerable disagreement about what evolvability is. This article offers a solution to this problem. I argue that, in focusing too closely on the role played by evolvability as an explanandum in evo-devo, existing philosophical attempts to clarify the evolvability concept have been overly narrow. Within evolutionary biology more broadly, evolvability offers a (...) robust explanation for the evolutionary trajectories of populations. Evolvability is an abstract, robust, dispositional property of populations, which captures the joint causal influence of their internal features on the outcomes of evolution (as opposed to the causal influence of selection, which is often characterized as external). When considering the nature of the physical basis of this disposition, it becomes clear that the many existing definitions of evolvability at play within evo-devo should be understood as capturing only aspects of a much broader phenomenon. 1 Introduction2 The Problem of Evolvability3 The Theoretical Role of Evolvability in Evolutionary Biology 3.1 The explanatory targets of evolutionary biology 3.2 Selection-based explanations 3.3 Lineage explanations 3.4 Evolvability-based explanations 3.5 What properties must evolvability have?4 What Evolvability Really Is 4.1 Making sense of ft 4.2 Making sense of x and b5 What of the Limbs? The Power of E6 Conclusion. (shrink)
Against the background of “arms race” style competitive explanations for complex human cognition, such as the Social Intelligence Hypothesis Growing points in ethology, Cambridge University Press, pp 303–317, 1976; Jolly in Science, 10.1126/science.153.3735.501, 1966), and theories that tie complex cognition with environmental variability more broadly The evolution of intelligence, Lawrence Earlbaum and Associates, 2001), the idea that culturally inherited mechanisms for social cognition would be more capable of responding to the labile social environment is a compelling one. Whilst it is (...) tempting to think that the evolvability of culturally inherited cognitive mechanisms such as Cecilia Heyes’ cognitive gadgets would be akin to culturally inherited tools like axes or canoes, I draw on established theory in evolutionary developmental biology to show that this is a mistake. Their causal translucency, along with the degree to which they would be integrated within the organism, make cognitive gadgets far more like genetically inherited traits with respect to their evolvability. Consequently, their evolution is unlikely to be particularly fast or nimble. In making clear the constraints on the evolution of culturally inherited cognition and how they must influence our theorising the discussion also highlights the value of thinking about evolvability in this domain. (shrink)
Veissière et al. must sacrifice explanatory realism and precision in order to develop a unified formal model. Drawing on examples from cognitive archeology, we argue that this makes it difficult for them to derive the kinds of testable predictions that would allow them to resolve debates over the nature of human social cognition and cultural acquisition.
Although there is no in-principle impediment to an EvoDevo of behavior, such an endeavor is not as straightforward as one might think; many of the key terms and concepts used in EvoDevo are tailored to suit its traditional focus on morphology, and are consequently difficult to apply to behavior. In this light, the application of the EvoDevo conceptual toolkit to the behavioral domain requires the establishment of a set of tractable concepts that are readily applicable to behavioral characters. Here, I (...) begin the type of theoretical work that needs to be undertaken in order to achieve this, focusing in particular on the key concept of “novelty.” Building on existing criteria used for the identification of behavioral homology from behavioral ecology, I develop a set of operational criteria for identifying novelty in the behavioral domain. These criteria provide a conceptual foundation for the study of novelty in behavioral traits. (shrink)
Traditional accounts of the role of learning in evolution have concentrated upon its capacity as a source of fitness to individuals. In this paper I use a case study from invasive species biology—the role of conditioned taste aversion in mitigating the impact of cane toads on the native species of Northern Australia—to highlight a role for learning beyond this—as a source of evolvability to populations. This has two benefits. First, it highlights an otherwise under-appreciated role for learning in evolution that (...) does not rely on social learning as an inheritance channel nor “special” evolutionary processes such as genetic accommodation (both of which many are skeptical about). Second, and more significantly, it makes clear important and interesting parallels between learning and exploratory behaviour in development. These parallels motivate the applicability of results from existing research into learning and learning evolution to our understanding of the evolution of evolvability more generally. (shrink)
We are less optimistic than Madole & Harden that family-based genome-wide association studies (GWASs) will lead to significant second-generation causal knowledge. Despite bearing some similarities, family-based GWASs and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are not identical. Most RCTs assess a relatively homogenous causal stimulus as a treatment, whereas GWASs assess highly heterogeneous causal stimuli. Thus, GWAS results will not translate so easily into second-generation causal knowledge.
Günter Wagner’s Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation is a compelling, and empirically well-supported account of the evolution of character identity and character origination which emphasizes the importance of homology and novelty as central explananda for 21st century evolutionary biology. In this essay review, I focus on the similarities and differences between the structuralist picture of evolutionary biology advocated by Wagner, and that presented by standard evolutionary theory. First, I outline the ways in which Wagner’s genetic theory of homology diverges from (...) the account of homology offered by standard evolutionary theory. Then, I consider the motivations for these divergences. Lastly, I discuss a number of concerns with Wagner’s view, and offer some concluding thoughts on the relationship between structuralism and adaptationism. (shrink)
On Jagiello et al.'s cultural action framework, end-goal resolvability and causal transparency make possible the transmission of complex technologies through low-fidelity cultural learning. We offer three further features of goal-directed action sequences – specificity, riskiness, and complexity – which alter the effectiveness of low-fidelity cultural learning. Incorporating these into the cultural action framework generates further novel, testable predictions for bifocal stance theory.
Transformations in the “behavioral innovativeness” of species—broadly, the capacity to generate new or novel behaviors—have been associated with significant evolutionary shifts in cognition by both philosophers and scientists. Whilst intuitively and theoretically appealing, this assumption lacks strong empirical support. One barrier is the absence of a good measure of behavioral innovation. This paper offers a solution to this problem by breaking down innovation into its components and presenting a novel multi-dimensional framework for characterising and comparing putative cases of behavioral innovation.
In this introduction to the Synthese SI: The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition, we introduce some basic theoretical terms that will help readers to navigate the volume. Subsequently we describe the papers that make up the volume and draw attention to points of agreement and disagreement between the authors. We also identify a number of outstanding issues for the field of cultural evolution research. The papers in the volume can be divided into three sections: The Cultural Evolution of Mindreading, (...) The Cultural Evolution of Ethics and Aesthetics, and Methodological Challenges. (shrink)
How do technologies that are too complex for any one individual to produce arise and persist in human populations? Contra prevailing views focusing on social learning, Osiurak and Reynaud argue that the primary driver for cumulative technological culture is our ability for technical reasoning. Whilst sympathetic to their overall position, we argue that two specific aspects of their account are implausible: first, that technical reasoning is unique to humans; and second, that technical reasoning is a necessary condition for the production (...) of cumulative technological culture. We then present our own view, which keeps technical reasoning at the forefront but jettisons these conditions. This produces an account of cumulative technological culture that maintains an important role for technical reasoning, whilst being more evolutionarily plausible. (shrink)
Birch’s formulation is persuasive but not nuanced enough to capture at least one situation where it is reasonable to invoke the precautionary principle (PP): when we have multiple, weak, but convergent, lines of evidence that a species is sentient, but no statistically significant evidence of a single credible indicator of sentience within the order as required by BAR. I respond to the worry that if we include such cases in our framework for applying the PP, we open ourselves to the (...) charge of being “unscientific.”. (shrink)
Made famous by Ernst Mayr (1961), the distinction between proximate and ultimate causation in biological explanation is widely seen as a key tenet of evolutionary theory and a central organizing principle for evolutionary research. The study of immediate, individual-level mechanistic causes of development or physiology (“proximate causation”) is distinguished from the study of historical, population-level statistical causes in evolutionary biology (“ultimate causation”). Since evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is a field that explicitly uses so-called “proximate” sciences such as developmental biology, morphology, (...) and embryology in the study of evolution, it challenges the standard construal of the proximate-ultimate distinction and its associated account of causation. The exact nature of the challenge and its ramifications for the viability of the distinction more broadly are contested, but these conceptual questions are central to the status and significance of evo-devo in contemporary evolutionary biology. (shrink)
Non‐human animal evidence is frequently invoked in debates in cognitive science. Here, I critically assess one use of such evidence in the form of the “argument from animals,” a prominent positive argument for nativism, which roughly states that non‐human cognitive development is largely nativist, and thus human cognitive development is most likely largely nativist too. I offer a number of reasons to reject this argument, and in doing so derive some important broader lessons concerning the appropriate role of non‐human animal (...) evidence in a science of the human mind. (shrink)