Saturday, 11 January 2014

Population dynamics

"Universal Darwinism" is a convenient term to cover the modern expansion of the scope of evolutionary theory. However, it doesn't seem to be to everyone's taste.

Some have objected to the word "universal" - arguing instead for "generalized". These objections are not technically correct, I believe - though "generalized" is also a reasonable term.

However, the term "Darwinism" also has some problems. In science, it's normally the idea, not the man, that is celebrated. "Darwinism" sounds too much like a religion consisting of followers of Darwin. Some object that evolutionary theory has moved on since Darwin's era, and the term "Darwinism" fails to recognize this properly. Neo-Darwinism has been tried - but alas, used dogmatically - and it isn't clear whether the term is still usable.

This post is about an alternative set of terminology for the topic. The field could be referred to as "population dynamics" - which would be part of dynamical systems theory.

The main problem I see with "population dynamics" is the term "population". For many, this term has a fairly specific technical meaning - which is not really appropriate for the topic. However, I think that this technical meaning is narrow and bad - and that we should just recycle this term to refer to any-old collection of things.

The term "population dynamics" has also been used in a limited way - to refer mainly to births and deaths. I don't see this usage as much of a problem - science can't allow "population dynamics" to mean that.

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