If we are going to get serious about recycling, and about reducing our consumption of natural resources, why not recycle ourselves?
The “synergism hypothesis,” and the closely related concept of “synergistic selection,” involves a theoretical frame shift. The theory proposes that cooperative functional effects (synergies) of various kinds have provided selective advantages over time and has driven the evolution of complexity; the theory is concerned with the benefits and costs of various forms of cooperation.
Fodor is only the latest in rogues’ gallery of people with personal agendas of one kind or another who have used, or abused, Darwin’s theory. Darwin had the formidable challenge of trying to convey a very subtle idea to a largely ignorant and deeply prejudiced audience, and it seems that things haven’t changed very much since then.
In a scholarly but readable book that should have set alarm bells ringing, literally around the world, the distinguished geoscientist Richard B. Alley warned us recently that the accumulating scientific evidence points to the likelihood, in the not too distant future, of an ecological equivalent of 9-11. Or worse.
During the course of an informal workshop that I attended recently on the long-term prospects for the planet Earth, a lively exchange was initiated by an astronomer/futurist who expressed the view that the impending development of “smart machines” represents a potential threat to humankind.
There is much ado in evolutionary biology and some of the social sciences these days about an imperialistic paradigm known as “universal Darwinism,” and the related concept of “memes.” Memes, it seems, are the “new, new thing” (to quote the title of a best-selling book on the high technology boom and Silicon Valley).
The problem with forecasting the future is that living systems are not exemplars of ideal types or slaves to linear forces but are messy, historical phenomena. The “caprices” of history are not simply quirks, anomalies or blips; they are not temporary road-blocks that can be got around. They are major causal variables, an integral part of the causal dynamics.
Although I will save my serious speech-making for next year’s World Congress/ISSS meeting in Toronto, I do want to say a few words about where we are going — about the vision and the “strategic plan” that we are pursuing — and how our plans for the Toronto conference fit into that vision.
Our everyday lives are subject to tidal influences…This year’s fad is often next year’s “remainder” or “close-out” sale item. Although we like to think that science is free from such “extraneous” influences, of course this is not so. Thomas Kuhn, in his celebrated volume on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1972) argued that science is very much influenced by the tidal effects associated with different “paradigms”.
In his latest book, Full House, (1996), Stephen Jay Gould posits what he characterizes as a “drunkard’s walk” model to account for the evolution of complexity. This is a rather surprising argument, coming from such a sophisticated and articulate student of evolution.