Darwin's theory of evolution is substrate-neutral. Darwin himself recognized this - and included passages to that effect in "The Descent of Man", saying that:
The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection.
The Wikipedia page on Universal Darwinism gives a long list of fields to which Darwin's theory of evolution has been applied. It ranges from the social sciences through complex adaptive systems to some much more speculative ideas - such as the idea that the visible cosmos itself evolved.
Memetics and cultural evolution represent Universal Darwinism applied to human culture.
ScopeThough Darwinism has historically been largely confined to biology, Universal Darwinism represents a massive expansion of its domain - into the social sciences, ontogeny and beyond: into physics, chemistry and systems theory. Position, velocity, mass, charge and many other physical attributes are all copied with variation and selection.
HistoryThe idea was first expressed in modern times by Donald Campbell. One of the best histories of the idea comes from Henry Plotkin's book "Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge". In the book, Plotkin repurposed the term "Universal Darwinism", assigning it its modern usage. He traces the idea from Darwin, Huxley, Piaget, Campbell and Popper before getting on to the topic of natural selection within the immune system and the nervous system.
UniversalitySome (e.g. Geoffrey Hodgson) have questioned the "universality" of Universal Darwinism - saying that life is confined to our planet - and that the term "Generalised Darwinism" would be more appropriate. I think that "Degenerative Darwinism" - which applies Darwin's theory to fractures, ripples, crystals and other commonplace adaptive systems which are not "advanced" enough to exhibit cumulative adaptation - justifies use of the term "universal Darwinism". It does this without recourse to controversial ideas about black holes, quantum physics, or biologically-derived evolving systems, like culture, technology or modern computer systems.
History of the termRichard Dawkins appears to have coined the term "Universal Darwinism" in 1983 to describe the conjecture that any possible life forms existing outside the solar system would necessarily evolve by Darwinian means.
Henry Plotkin's 1997 book "Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge" had a chapter titled "Universal Darwinism". This redefined the term to refer to broader forms of evolution - specifically evolution within organisms (the immune system and learning) rather than between organisms.
Susan Blackmore, in her 1999 book The Meme Machine, also has a chapter titled "Universal Darwinism". This discusses applying Darwinism to a broad range of phenomena - including human culture.
Incompleteness"Universal Darwinism" is a very general theory. To make detailed predictions in specific cases, it typically depends on other theories. It is thus like a framework on which other, more specific theories are based. It has 'spaces' for theories of:
- Selection criteria;
These elements are typically treated as pluggable black boxes by the theory - though there are typically constraints on what can be plugged in (for example, a mutation can't be allowed to be any possible change).
This incompleteness is expressed in papers like: Why we need a generalized Darwinism, and why generalized Darwinism is not enough.
EconomicsMuch of the debate over the utility of Universal Darwinism has taken place within economics - one of the first social sciences to take Darwinism seriously. However, economics has proved to be a myopic context in which to criticize the theory, with many critics getting out of their depth and struggling to understand the topic.
Criticism"Universal Darwinism" is a highly-criticized subject. It hasn't attracted as much heat as cultural evolution, memetics, or evolutionary psychology, but there are still many critics with a lot of different issues. Probably the single most important thing to say about the critics is that they are mistaken. However some of them do highlight genuine issues with the theory.
Probably the single most important criticism is that "Universal Darwinism" is mistaken because copying with variation and selection is not a scientific theory - since it is compatible with all observations and so is irrefutable. Levit, Hossfeld and Witt (2010) present this criticism in more detail. NeoDarwinism avoids this criticism since it claims that mutations are 'random' (in a bizarre technical sense of the word). However in Universal Darwinism, mutations are merely 'blind' (in a bizarre technical sense of the word due to Donald Campbell). This both weaker, harder to explain and more confusing, which leads critics to this objection.
A weaker version of this criticism is that "Universal Darwinism" constrains expectations only weakly - and so isn't very useful. However, applying weak constraints is still better than not applying constraints at all.
Speculative extensionsSome applications of Darwinism are pretty speculative. The idea that the visible universe is an adaptation - by James Gardner and Lee Smolin - is one example of this. These speculative aspects of universal Darwinism should not be used to detract from those that are hard science.
- John Campbell has now written a book on Universal Darwinism. There's an associated web site and a blog.
- D. B. Kelly has written The Origin of Everything via Universal Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Systems in Contention for Existence. There's an associated web site.
- Gary Cziko's 1995 book Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution is also about Universal Darwinism.
- Geoffrey Martin Hodgson and Thorbjorn Knudsen have a 2010 book on the topic: Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution.
- Henry Plotkin's 1994 book Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge has a chapter on the topic.
- Henry Plotkin's 2003 book The Imagined World Made Real is highly relevant.
- Henry Plotkin's 2010 book Evolutionary Worlds without End also relates to the topic.
- 2008) In defence of generalized Darwinism. (
- 1989) The trials and tribulations of selectionist explanations. In K. Hahlweg & C. A. Hooker (Eds.), Issues in evolutionary epistemology (pp. 413-432). Albany: State University of New York Press. [criticism]
- 1999) Of memes, universal Darwinism and humanism. (
- 2002) The Return of the Replicator: What is Philosophically Significant in a General Account of Replication and Selection. (
- 1999) The Meme Machine. [book]
- 2003) Variations in Variation and Selection: The Ubiquity of the Variation-and-Selective-Retention Ratchet in Emergent Organizational Complexity. Foundations of Science, 8(3), 215–282
- 2011) Darwinism without populations: a more inclusive understanding of the "Survival of the Fittest".. (
- 1986) Assessing evolutionary epistemology. Biology and Philosophy, 1(4), 401-459.
- 2008) Evolutionary Epistemology
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [criticism]
- 2010) Reviewing a Generalized Darwinist Approach to Studying Socio-economic Change. (
- 2005) How Useful Is Universal Darwinism as a Framework to Study Competition and Industrial Evolution? Papers on Economics and Evolution. [criticism]
- 1974a) Evolutionary epistemology. In Evolutionary epistemology, rationality, and the sociology of knowledge by Gerard Radnitzky, William Warren Bartley, Karl Raimund Popper
- 1974b) Unjustified variation and selective retention in scientific discovery. In F J. Ayala & T. Dobzhansky (Eds.), Studies in the philosophy of biology (pp. 139-161). London: Macmillan.
- 1977) Comment on Robert J. Richard's "The natural selection model of conceptual evolution." Philosophy of Science, 44, 502-507.
- 1988) A general 'selection theory' as implemented in biological evolution and in social belief-transmission-with-modification in science [A commentary on Hull]. Biology and Philosophy, 3, 171-177.
- 1990) Epistemological roles for selection theory. In N. Rescher (Ed.), Evolution, cognition, and realism: Studies in evolutionary epistemology (pp. 1-19). University Press of America.
- 2009) Bayesian Methods and Universal Darwinism. (
- 2011) Universal Darwinism: The path of knowledge. [book]
- 2012) Bayesian inference and the world mind. (
- 1960) Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. (
- 1990) Epistemological roles for selection theory. Evolution, cognition, and realism: Studies in evolutionary epistemology. (
- 2007) Can a generalized Darwinism be criticized? A rejoinder to Geoffrey Hodgson. [criticism]
- 1995) Without miracles: Universal selection theory and the second Darwinian revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press (A Bradford Book). [book]
- 1998) From Blind to Creative: In Defense of Donald Campbell. Journal of Creative Behavior.
- 2000) The Things We Do: Using the Lessons of Bernard and Darwin to Understand the What, How, and Why of Our Behavior. [book]
- 1983) Universal Darwinism. In: Evolution from molecules to man, ed. D. S. Bendall. Cambridge University Press.
- 1996a) Darwins Dangerous Idea. The Sciences 35: 34-40. [book]
- 1996b) The Scope of Natural Selection. The author replies to H. Allen Orr's review of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea." Boston Review
- 2002) Universal Darwinism in Nelson and Winter's Evolutionary Theory. (
- 2002) Review of Selection Theory and Social Construction: the evolutionary naturalistic epistemology of Donald T. Campbell - edited by Cecilia eyes and David Hull. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 6.
- 1999) Cultural Selection. [book]
- 2009) Towards a universal theory of competition and selection. (
- 2011) The impossibility of a generalized Darwinism: comments on Darwin's conjecture. [criticism][review]
- 2003) Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life Is the Architect of the Universe. [book]
- 2007) The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos. [book]
- 2009) The economic concept of evolution: self-organization or Universal Darwinism? (
- 2000) The Replicator in Retrospect. [criticism]
- 2001) The Role of Information and Replication in Selection Processes. [criticism]
- 2009) What Darwinism Explains. (
- 2009) Conditions for Evolution by Natural Selection. (
- 2010) Darwinian Individuals. (
- 2011) Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection. (
- 2006) Evolutionary Epistemology. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- 1989) Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology. [book]
- 2007) The Concept of Information and the Problem of Holism vs. Atomism in Biological and Economic Uses of Universal Darwinism. (
- 2001) Selection Theory and Social Construction: The Evolutionary Naturalistic Epistemology of Donald T. Campbell. State University of New York Press. [book]
- 2002) Darwinism in economics: from analogy to ontology. (
- 2005) Generalizing Darwinism to Social Evolution: Some Early Attempts. Journal of Economic Issues, 39(4), December, pp. 899-914.
- 2006a) Why we need a generalized Darwinism, and why generalized Darwinism is not enough. (
- 2006c) Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution. Chapter 1 is online [book]
- 2006d) Replication, Information and Complexity. (
- 2007) Information, Complexity and Generative Replication. (
- 2008) How Veblen Generalized Darwinism. JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC ISSUES Vol. XLII No. 2 June.
- 1988c) Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science. University of Chicago Press. [book]
- 2001) Science and selection. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, U.K. [book]
- 2001) A general account of selection: biology, immunology, and behavior. Behav. Brain Sci. 24:511'573. CrossRef, PubMed, CSA.
- 2013) Universal Darwinism and the Price equation. (
- 2013) Using Galant Schemata as Evidence for Universal Darwinism. (
- 1982) Can Darwinian inheritance be extended from biology to epistemology? In P.D. Asquith & T. Nickles (eds.), PSA 1982, Volume 1. East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association Press, pp. 356-369.
- 2012) The Origin of Everything. (
- 2013) Review of Darwin's conjecture. [review]
- 2010) Can Darwinism Be “Generalized” and of What Use Would This Be? [criticism]
- 2005) Evolutionary Social Science and Universal Darwinism. (
- 2010) Review of Darwin's Conjecture. [review]
- 1994) Darwin machines and the nature of knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [book]
- 2002) The imagined world made real. Penguin, London. [book]
- 2010) Evolutionary Worlds without End. Oxford University Press, USA. [book]
- 2009) Seeking the chemical roots of Darwinism: Bridging between chemistry and biology. (
- 2011) Toward a general theory of evolution: Extending Darwinian theory to inanimate matter. (
- 1970) Selection and Covariance. (
- 1972) Extension of Covariance Selection Mathematics. (
- 2011) Evolutionary Epistemology of Donald T Campbell (
- 1989) The view from Somewhere - A critical defense of Evolutionary Epistemology. In Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology.[criticism]
- 1996) Universal Darwinism and the methodology of social science. (
- 2005) The Naturalist Perspective on Universal Darwinism: An Application to the Evolutionary Theory of the Firm. (
- 2008a) The explanatory logic and ontological commitments of generalized Darwinism. (
- 2008b) Generalized Darwinism From the Bottom Up: An Evolutionary View of Socio-Economic Behavior and Organization. (
- 2008c) Darwinian Foundations for Evolutionary Economics. (
- 2008d) Ontological Foundations for Evolutionary Economics: A Darwinian Social Ontology. (
- 2010) The firm as a Darwin machine: How Generalized Darwinism can further the development of an evolutionary theory of economic growth. (
- 2011) Review of Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution. [review]
- 2011) Review of Plotkin's Evolutionary Worlds without End (
- 2004) General Selection Theory and Economic Evolution: The Price Equation and the Replicator/Interactor Distinction. (
- 1980) Against evolutionary epistomology. PSA - ed. P.D. Asquith & R.N. Giere 187-96. [criticism]
- 2011) Degenerative Darwinism. (
- 2011) NanoDarwinism. (
- 2011) Natural production and natural elimination. (
- 2012) Universal Darwinism. (
- 2012) Universal selection. (
- 2012) Universal reproduction. (
- 2012) Universal reproduction. (
- 2012) Universal Darwinism vs "constructal theory. (
- 2012) Tim Tyler: Campbell, Universal Darwinism (review). (
- 2012) On Memetics: Tim Tyler: Kelley, The Origin of Everything (review). (
- 2012) New book on Universal Selection by D. B. Kelly. (
- 2012) Generalised genetics. (
- 2012) Generalised symbiosis. (
- 2012) An inherited unit for Universal Darwinism. (
- 2012) The Origin of Life - Crystals. (
- 2012) Positional inheritance. (
- 2013) What are inheritance and copying? (
- 2013) Universal Darwinism and maximum entropy. (
- 2013) Value in Universal Darwinism (
- 2013) Attributes of the successfully copied. (
- 2013) Universal Darwinism meets chaos theory. (
- 2013) Universal computation and universal Darwinism. (
- 2013) Replicators revisited. (
- 2013) Velocity inheritance. (
- 2013) Observation of the observable. (
- 2013) Darwinian physics. (
- 2013) Universal Darwinism and the definition of life . (
- 2012) From Darwinian Metaphysics towards Understanding the Evolution of Evolutionary Mechanisms. A Historical and Philosophical Analysis of Gene-Darwinism and Universal Darwinism. [book]
- 2013) Darwinian Metaphysics. (
- 2007) Generalized Darwinism in Evolutionary Economics: The Devil is in the Details. [criticism]
- 1984) Evolutionary epistemology: A challenge to science and philosophy. In F. M. Wuketits (Ed.), Concepts and approaches in evolutionary epistemology (pp. 1-29). Dordrecht & Boston: Reidel.
- 2001) UNIVERSAL PLOTKINISM: A REVIEW OF HENRY PLOTKIN’S DARWIN MACHINES AND THE NATURE OF KNOWLEDGE. (