Natural selection and self-organization

Weber, Bruce H., and David J. Depew. “Natural selection and self-organization.” Biology and Philosophy 11, no. 1 (1996): 33-65.

The Darwinian concept of natural selection was conceived within a set of Newtonian background assumptions about systems dynamics. Mendelian genetics at first did not sit well with the gradualist assumptions of the Darwinian theory. Eventually, however, Mendelism and Darwinism were fused by reformulating natural selection in statistical terms. This reflected a shift to a more probabilistic set of background assumptions based upon Boltzmannian systems dynamics. Recent developments in molecular genetics and paleontology have put pressure on Darwinism once again. Current work on self-organizing systems may provide a stimulus not only for increased problem solving within the Darwinian tradition, especially with respect to origins of life, developmental genetics, phylogenetic pattern, and energy-flow ecology, but for deeper understanding of the very phenomenon of natural selection itself. Since self-organizational phenomena depend deeply on stochastic processes, self-organizational systems dynamics advance the probability revolution. In our view, natural selection is an emergent phenomenon of physical and chemical selection. These developments suggest that natural selection may be grounded in physical law more deeply than is allowed by advocates of the autonomy of biology, while still making it possible to deny, with autonomists, that evolutionary explanations can be modeled in terms of a deductive relationship between laws and cases. We explore the relationship between, chance, self-organization, and selection as sources of order in biological systems in order to make these points.

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