Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Extending evolutionary theory? - Andy Gardner

I will be attending the Royal Society Meeting on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. I'll post each of the abstracts and ask for your help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. Here's the abstract for Andy Gardner's talk on Anthropomorphism in evolutionary biology.

A longstanding tension exists in evolutionary biology between behavioural ecology – in which organisms are treated as having adaptive, fitness-maximising agendas; and population genetics – in which such notions are decried as naïve ‘anthropomorphism’ and are widely rejected. I explore the formal and scientific justification for evolutionary anthropomorphism and consider its application to the understanding of adaptive design at the level of genes, individuals and societies.
Andy Gardner is a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland (UK). Here's a description of his research interests from his website.
I work on Darwinian adaptation. Natural selection explains the appearance of design in the living world, but at what level is this design expected to manifest – gene, individual, society – and what is its function? Social evolution provides a window on this problem, by pitting the interests of genes, individuals and societies against each other. I develop general theory on the topics of inclusive fitness and multilevel selection, and also tailor general theory to the biology of particular species to facilitate empirical testing. I work on a wide range of biological systems, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, crustaceans, insects, fish and humans.
I'm not sure how this view differs from Gould's writings on hierarchical theory. I'm looking forward to hearing the answer.

1 comment :

  1. Here is the conclusion of a paper by Andy Gardner in the Sept. 8, 2016 issue of Cell:
    "Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene has captured the imagination of generations of budding evolutionary biologists, as well as the general public. Even if some details do not seem to stand up to scrutiny, its overall message remains both insightful and timeless. Its enduring appeal lies in the way that it overturns folk wisdom on the harmony of nature, exposing the cynical tensions, all-out warfare, and occasional glimmers of true altruism in the sexual and social lives of animals in a way that is both shocking and yet also profoundly resonant with everyday human experience."
    Gardner is hell bent on adaptationism (a lá Geo. Williams, Wm. Hamilton, R. Trivers, V. C. Wynne-Edwards, J. Maynard Smith) - much like you are on neutral processes - and will probably have little or nothing to say about Gould. But I could be wrong. I suspect his anthropomorphisms have to do with the treatment of evolved functions and their beneficiaries – at what level of demographic and social organization they might appear. Andy’s approach is one that many of us find interesting, relevant, and productive, and IMHO will repay attention.