Saturday, 13 August 2016

Evolution excluding inorganic physics and chemistry

Here's D.S. Wilson on the domain of evolutionary theory:

Properly understood, what makes the expansion of evolutionary theory so radical is that it’s not just another cross-disciplinary program. Instead, it uniquely provides a common language for all of the divisions, departments, and programs listed in the table, with the exception of the purely physical sciences; i.e., the study of non-living processes. This idea was foreign and sometimes even anathema to all of the human-related disciplines during most of the 20th century. Now, as we near the 1/5th mark of the 21st century, it is becoming embraced within psychology and the social sciences but not nearly as much in the humanities. In this sense, the humanities can be called the last frontier of evolutionary science.

What about Darwinian physics? Physics and chemistry have their own evolutionary sub-disciplines which Wilson doesn't seem to be taking into account.

The humanities are hardly the last frontier of evolutionary theory. Usually, after understanding cultural evolution comes understanding evolution during development, understanding neural and psychological evolution of brains and understanding evolution of inorganic physical and chemical systems.

I have some sympathies with Wilson's position because I once thought something similar myself. For example, if you look at my 2011 video/essay Seven steps to understanding evolution you will see that inorganic physical and chemical systems are conspicuous by their absence. However, I have learned some things since 2011. Inorganic physics and chemistry contain systems which can be usefully analyzed within Darwinian frameworks involving reproduction with variation and selection. Excluding these types of system from the domain of Darwinian evolutionary theory is simply a mistake.

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