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Author Topic: The lucky butterfly
Ginger Yellow
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quote:
That's because the lineage is constrained to wander in the space of actual environments, but can wander in the space of possible genotypes. The latter is hugely, unimaginably more vast than the forme
Isn't it in reality (rather than Mendel's Library) the space of accessible possible genotypes, which is in turn constrained by the space of actual environments? The former is still vastly larger than the latter of course.
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Wyatt Earp
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SSS: The "gene privilege" argument isn't about the level at which selection happens--everyone agrees that's the phenotype--but about what's effectively getting selected. The gene selectionists argue that phenotypes themselves don't replicate, and are hence too unstable to count: any given phenotype, however successful, dies forever with its "owner". Others have responded with various versions of "Yeah, but..."

"Yeah, but..." number one is that genes only ever occur in combinations with vast numbers of other genes, making individual genes effectively invisible to selection. Gene selectionists argue in turn that the effects of all the other genes can be sort of averaged out over the gene pool, making selection of individual genes possible.

"Yeah, but..." number two says that genes aren't the only stable entities in this game, and in particular that species and lineages have the kind of stability over time that selection requires.

"Yeah, but..." number three says that other mechanisms, in addition to natural selection, are important in evolution, such as accidental byproducts of selection, or periodic random catastrophes that cause mass extinctions. That's never really been disputed by anyone, and the gene selectionists have tended to wonder why their opponents make such a big deal out of that.

The argument is far more heated than the depth of the disagreement has ever warranted. Gould and the "Yeah, but..." crew have never really disputed that orthodox natural selection is, and has to be, central to the process of building complex adaptations. Most of their Yeah-buttery comes from the fact that, unlike the gene-selectionists, they happen to be interested in stuff other than complex adaptations, such as historical trends in the fossil record, or patterns of speciation, or the collapse of ecosystems to be replaced, apparently quite suddenly in geological terms, by wholly new ones. Dawkins and that lot don't really disagree with all that, they just don't see these questions as all that interesting, because they don't pertain to the ancient "What is life?" mystery that natural selection (they argue, and I agree) solves.

However, the gene-selectionist hardliners have quietly made a number of concessions over the years, while still claiming to be hardliners: Dawkins, for example, suddenly started talking about "the evolution of evolvability" (notice that "evolvability" is a trait found in lineages, not in genes). He later went on explicitly to concede, after some mathematical-modelling chums had done some studies, that species-level selection could, in certain circumstances, cut in after gene-level selection had done its work; that's straight outta Gould, with his "higher level species sorting".

So the two camps started not really all that far apart, and have moved closer together, while hating each other more each day. It's weird, really.

[ 01.12.2005, 11:01: Message edited by: Wictred Earpwald ]

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Wyatt Earp
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GY: surely your accessibility criterion applies to environments as well? The butterfly can't tumble off an edelweiss leaf and land on a South West Australian bluegum. I was on about the space within which the wandering takes place; I agree that within that space, you can only get to the bits that you can get to. I mean, who'd argue with that?
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Super Sharp Shooter
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Yes, indeed. All of those "yeah but..."s seem fairly, if not obvious, then mainly uncontentious, and more importantly, they are not contradictary to the central theory. Indeed, Dawkins seemed to me to most of the way to concurring with your "yeah but..." number two in The Selfish Gene (the title notwithstanding).
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Ginger Yellow
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quote:
GY: surely your accessibility criterion applies to environments as well? The butterfly can't tumble off an edelweiss leaf and land on a South West Australian bluegum. I was on about the space within which the wandering takes place; I agree that within that space, you can only get to the bits that you can get to. I mean, who'd argue with that?
Absolutely. I wasn't disagreeing, just clarifying. The way you worded it arguably suggested that the genotype could leap from any one possibility to another, when in fact there must be a viable pathway.
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