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.
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?
Physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s What is Life? (1945) has inspired many subsequent efforts to explain biological evolution, especially the evolution of complex systems, in terms of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concepts of “entropy” and “negative entropy.” However, the problems associated with this paradigm are manifold. Some of these problems will be highlighted in the first part of this paper, and some of the theories that have been derived from it will be briefly critiqued.
Richard Dawkins ‘selfish gene’ metaphor is a one-sided caricature. Even Dawkins himself has admitted that genes must also cooperate to be successful. As Dawkins says, “it’s the team that evolves.”
Holistic Darwinism is a candidate name for a major paradigm shift that is currently underway in evolutionary biology and related disciplines. Here I discuss some of the recent developments and focus especially on the effort to account for the evolution of biological complexity – from “major transition theory” to the “Synergism Hypothesis.”
“Emergence” is a concept with a venerable history and an ambiguous standing in evolutionary theory. This paper briefly recounts the history of the term and details some of its current usages. The reductionist approach to explaining complexity has entailed a search for underlying “laws of emergence.” Another alternative is the “Synergism Hypothesis,” which focuses on the “economics” – the functional effects produced by emergent wholes and their selective consequences.
There have been many different ways of characterizing and describing the phenomenon of life over the years. Synergy should be added to the list.