Living organisms are not passive objects of “chance and necessity” (as Jacques Monod put it). Nor is the currently popular concept of “phenotypic plasticity” sufficient. Organisms are active participants in the evolutionary process (cybernetic systems) and have played a major causal role in determining its direction.
Synergy has played a key causal role in the evolution of complexity, from the very origins of life to the evolution of humankind and complex societies. This also applies to social behavior, including the use of collective violence for various purposes: predation, defense against predators, the acquisition of needed resources and the defense of these resources against other groups and species. In nature and humankind alike, collective violence is, by and large, an evolved, synergy-driven instrumentality.
Here I briefly explore the case for a paradigm shift in evolutionary theory to focus on the economics and the role of functional synergy as a distinct class of causal influences.
Times have changed and the theory proposed in my 1983 book has had a complex journey. Herein lies some lessons about the culture and politics of science.
Cooperative interactions in nature that produce positive functional consequences, however they may arise, can become “units” of selection that differentially favor the survival and reproduction of the “parts” (and their genes). In other words, it is the proximate advantages (the payoffs) associated with various synergistic interactions (in relation to the particular organism’s needs) that constitute the underlying cause of the evolution of cooperative relationships, and complex organization, in nature.
Nature’s Magic presents a bold new vision of the evolutionary process – from the Big Bang to the 21st century. Synergy of various kinds is not only a ubiquitous aspect of the natural world but it has also been a wellspring of creativity and the “driver” of the broad evolutionary trend toward increased complexity, in nature and in human societies alike.
Can there be any doubt that ethics is a cutting-edge issue? We are daily assaulted by routine private acts of violence, chicanery and deception, as men and women (and children) make choices or act out compulsions with ethical ramifications.
Is the time ripe for evolutionary ethics? I would argue that it has always been ripe, ever since Darwin. The difference now is that the continuing progress of the life sciences and behavioral sciences makes the case more irresistible. So the proper question is, are we yet ripe for it?
Devolution is a political buzzword these days. But what does devolution mean? How can we measure it? And, most important, how do we explain it?
Robert Reid’s provocative book is perverse; he uses a semantic sleight of hand to claim credit for a non-Darwinian theory of emergent evolution. Not so.