October 21, 2014

Evolution, neo-Darwinism and the paradigm of science

Neo-Darwinism does not provide a satisfactory explanation for evolution and however resilient it may prove to criticism, it must eventually give way to a more realistic theory. This can only occur if we abandon the reductionistic and mechanistic ‘paradigm of science’, which neo-Darwinism so faithfully reflects.

Published in The Ecologist Vol. 20 No. 2, March–April 1990.


Decades ago, Haldane predicted that facts would soon emerge which would show that natural selection was not an adequate explanation of evolution. Waddington had similar thoughts. As he said at the 1969 Beyond Reductionism Anspach Symposium, “I think that we are going to see extraordinary changes in our ideas about evolution quite soon.” [1]

Yet, although the deficiencies of neo-Darwinism have become increasingly apparent in recent years, and criticism has mounted on almost every front, it remains the official scientific explanation for evolution.

There appear to be two reasons for its continued dominance. The first is that it is the only theory of evolution that is, or appears to be fully consistent with the ‘paradigm of science’. The second is that the critics have not yet provided a coherent alternative to neo-Darwinism but have rather sought to modify it in different ways so that it might incorporate their various criticisms.

Thus Waddington’s view of evolution is a long way from that of Huxley, Simpson, Dobzhansky and the other formulators of the ‘synthetic theory’ (the latest version of neo-Darwinism), yet his ideas – such as that of “genetic assimilation” which simulates Lamarck’s inheritance of acquired characteristics – were formulated in such a way that they could (with a certain stretch of the imagination) be reconciled with the official doctrine.

The criticisms of the ‘neutralist school’ (which tried to show that a large proportion of mutations could be regarded as neutral vis-à-vis adaptation) also seem to have been incorporated into neo-Darwinist thinking. Although King and Jukes originally called their famous paper “Non-Darwinian evolution”, they also seem to have remained firmly within the Darwinian fold. [2] So too have the advocates of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ (Gould, Stanley and Eldridge) although Darwin considered that “saltationism” was irreconcilable with his theory.

Until recently, it has only been in France, to my knowledge, that we find a few critics who are willing to abandon neo-Darwinism and even to trace the ancestry of their ideas on evolution to Lamarck. In the English-speaking world, few scientists have openly supported Lamarckism for fear of ridicule, or worse still, of being hounded out of the scientific community.

In France, on the other hand, Wintrebert was an avowed neo-Lamarckian. So too was Grassé, whose writings are equally ignored in the English speaking world (except by Arthur Koestler, who quotes a number of passages from them in his superb last book Janus). [3] Other interesting authors such as Cuenot and Vandel, were distinctly Neo-Lamarckian, but then it could be argued that the French intellectual tradition is very different and that the French are notoriously chauvinistic about their own intellectuals.

However, even the French Neo-Lamarckian critics have yet to make a clean break with neo-Darwinism. Their failure to do so is clearly not out of allegiance to Darwin nor to the fathers of neo-Darwinism – but rather because they are still wedded to the ‘paradigm of science’ itself, which neo-Darwinism so slavishly reflects.

My feeling, indeed my conviction, is that a realistic and coherent theory of evolution will be proposed and accepted only once a clean break is made, not only with neo-Darwinism, but also with the sacrosanct ‘paradigm of science’, which paints a very distorted view of the world. Let us see why.

Compartmentalisation

First of all science is divided up into a series of separate disciplines, each one of which specialised in trying to understand specific life processes at different levels of organisation and sometimes different aspects of those processes. Because the different disciplines have developed for so long in isolation from each other, they are rarely compatible and hence today’s much vaunted multi-disciplinary research can occur only on a very superficial level.

In order to rationalise and hence legitimise, what, in effect is a totally arbitrary division of the subject matter to suit the requirements of scientific method, the world must be seen to reflect the same arbitrary divisions, which in reality, it does not. On the contrary, the biosphere – or the world of living things – is a single continuum and the basic feature of living things and processes is both their similarity and their interdependence.

For instance, behaviour, ontogeny and evolution at all levels of organisation are very similar processes. They can be shown to be governed by the same general laws and are also inextricably linked with each other. [4]

Thus to say that population has evolved is to say that neither its ontogeny nor its behaviour are the same today as they were at some moment in the remote past. To understand evolution is thus to understand ontogeny and behaviour – the processes that have actually undergone change.

It is only because science is compartmentalised in this way that it is possible to maintain the Weissman and Bateson thesis that there is no feedback between behaviour and evolution, a thesis which has recently been further sanctified by Crick, who refers to it as the “central dogma” of molecular biology.

According to this dogma, the instructions that determine the evolutionary process are seen as issued blindly without being influenced by their effects on the processes they give rise to, a phenomenon that is unknown in the living world and that is cybernetically impossible in an adaptive process.

Baldwin, Waddington, Schmallhausen, Piaget and a number of other students of evolution, have tried to get round the problem by postulating a feedback mechanism of a type that is compatible with the paradigm of neo-Darwinism. But it is only when ontogeny, behaviour and evolution are seen together as parts of a single process that we can begin to understand their vital interrelationship.

The compartmentalisation of knowledge also allows students of evolution to make a totally artificial distinction between behaviour occurring within the internal environment of an organism and that occurring outside it. It is only by insisting on that arbitrary dichotomy that the idea of natural selection, closely associated as it is with the ‘struggle for survival’ (Darwin suggested the two might be different terms for the same thing) can possibly be postulated as the basic mechanism of evolution.

The notion put forward by Roux that selection occurs at different levels of organisation within the internal environment of an organism – even at the level of the cell, the tissue, etc. – was never really accepted, partly, at least, because natural selection and the struggle for survival were difficult to envisage within an internal environment where co-operation and homeostasis were so marked. [5]

The internal factors postulated by a number of writers – including Haldane, von Bertalanffy and Lancelot Law Whyte (with whose name this notion is usually associated) – to complement natural selection by the external environment, were never clearly defined. Waddington prefers to speak of “epigenetic canalisation”.

If we insist on the selection doctrine, as Waddington does, then to say that epigenisis (the development of the embryo within the womb) imposes constraints on the nature of the mutations that prove viable and survive, is to say no more than that genes are subjected not only to selection indirectly as the phenotype (the living product of the embryological process) which they help to determine struggles for survival in its own external environment (the only type of selection that is really accepted by the neo-Darwinist doctrine) but also to selection within its internal environment.

Yet Waddington would not accept this. Selection within the internal environment was a concept he wished to avoid, largely I am sure, in the interests of maintaining his respectability within the scientific community. In his elaborate model of the evolutionary process, in which he distinguished four different sub-processes, internal selection significantly plays no part.

Waddington, in fact, saw ontogeny (the development of an individual organism) and phylogeny (the evolution of a species) as being fundamentally different and consequently subjected to different laws. Ontogenetic development is clearly goal-directed since it leads to the development of a relatively standard pheno-type. It is also dynamic and highly co-ordinated since all the different stages are closely interwoven into what is incontestably a single strategy. It is also highly stable (“homeorhetic” in Waddington’s language) since it avoids any diversion from its optimum course (or “chreod” as he referred to it.)

Thus it displays precisely all those features that are religiously denied to the evolutionary process, both by neo-Darwinists in general and by Waddington himself. If science were not compartmentalised and if the workings of the living world were accepted, then scientists would have to admit that all life processes are designed according to the same pattern and it could no longer be maintained that development and evolution are so totally different.

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Empiricism

Because the scientific method is based on empiricist philosophy which regards all knowledge as primarily obtained by random observations – the principle of induction – the world must be seen as organised in a manner that justifies the use of this procedure. Empiricism today is very difficult to reconcile with our knowledge of perception and cognition.

Perception is not the objective measuring instrument that it should be if empiricism were to make sense. Our knowledge of behaviour tells too that the mind at birth is not the tabula rasa which it must be if we are to maintain the myth that all knowledge is the product of observation. The young of even the most modest forms of life are known to be in possession of considerable knowledge at birth.

Moreover, knowledge is not just an accumulation of data, it is an organisation of data and organising activities can go on in the mind without their being triggered off by external stimuli. Thinking in fact, is just as much a source of knowledge as is observation, which in any case, involved thinking, since, as we now know, observation involved interpreting data in the light of the mental model or ‘cognitive map’ that we have built up in our mind – and which reflects the experience of our species, our culture and our upbringing.

Empiricism is dead in theory but not in practice, in so far as the scientific method which consists in the empirical examination of things under controlled laboratory conditions is still the only scientifically acceptable method of acquiring information.

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Induction

But it is not empiricist philosophy alone that has crumbled – so has the associated principle of induction. Popper dealt it a devastating blow and since then it has been finished off by just about all serious epistemologists.

Induction – the random accumulation of data – does not occur in the natural world. No living organism builds up knowledge in this way. But scientists in their laboratories are still supposed to go on performing piecemeal experiments and publishing their results in Nature. The knowledge thus derived is not supposed to be built up systematically as part of a co-ordinated strategic as it is among living things functioning as homeotelic parts of the biosphere. [6]

Instead it is built up or accumulated in a purely random manner – or at least in a manner that is random to the achievement of what should be the scientist’s goal – that of causality also leads scientists to see a system as essentially managed from the outside, rather than being self-regulating. In this way, scientists deny yet another of the basic features of living things.

In neo-Darwinian terms, the genes are seen as veritable little dictators. Yet they are themselves subject to the control of the chromosomes and the genome, the larger organisations of information (or cybernisms) of which they are part. In reality, the latter desperately try to maintain their stability in the face of disturbances of all kinds, including those that could be brought about by gene mutations, as does the phenotype itself.

In essence only those gene mutations survive that are compatible with both the optimal structure of the genome as well as that of the phenotype. The implication is that genetic mutations play only a minimal role in evolution – a conclusion that can only be reconciled with neo-Darwinism by resorting to the most ingenious mental and linguistic conjuring tricks.

Once again, scientists, in order to maintain the myth of ‘causality’, are made to depict life processes in a totally misleading way, one which effectively obscured those features of living things that distinguish them from inanimate things.

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Passivism

The need to see behaviour as essentially ‘stage-managed’, and living things as inert mechanistic robot-like devices that only do things when prompted to do so by a manager, the needs also to see them as random and hence as incapable of any purposive initiative causes scientists to insist that they are passive rather than dynamic and creative. Thus individuals are made to evolve by gene mutations selected by their environment and are considered to do so through no effort of their own.

The absurdity of that notion becomes apparent when one considers that the environment also consists largely of other organisms and that these are thereby expected to play a dynamic role. Yet no one has through to explain why the organism under consideration should be passive, whereas organisms not under consideration, which are nonetheless part of the anonymous environment, should be active or dynamic. Such embarrassing questions are simply not asked. In reality, such one-way processes are not found in the natural world.

Thus, far from dictating evolutionary changes, genes, as already mentioned, are themselves subject to control and modification from the system of which they are part. And while environments select responses from living organisms, those same environments are themselves subject to modification by such responses. Yet neither of these two evident facts have been accepted by those within the neo-Darwinist fold.

Waddington clumsily got round the first of these specific problems with his canalisation theory. He also got round the second by admitting the ability of living things to choose their own environment, as did Elton. But if living organisms can choose to leave one environment in order to move to another, they are taking initiative. And if they can take one initiative, why can they not take others such as those required to change their environment to suit their requirement? And so avoid the need to emigrate and to adapt to a strange environment which would probably force them to undergo very much more drastic changes?

It should be evident that living things affect their environment in the same way as they are affected by it, that in fact, living processes are circular or two-way rather than uni-directional. If we accept such multidirectional influences we should then no longer accept the neo-Darwinist thesis that evolutionary change is merely “selected” by the environment. We would instead, like Piaget, have to see such changes as the result of “mutual adjustment” and as subject to the constraints imposed by the hereditary endowment of the systems involved as well as those imposed by the larger system of which they are part. [8]

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Creativity

If scientists refuse to face the fact that living things are dynamic, still more do they refuse to face the equally evident fact that they are creative. Mechanical devices clearly cannot transform themselves into new and more perfect things on their own initiative. Such behaviour, among other objections, would be teleological.

Interestingly enough, it was this refusal to accept the creativity of living things which for a long time led many scientists to insist on the principle of pre-formation. The phenotype was seen to exist in the fertilised egg in a minute form which grew, in a simple mechanical way, into a foetus and eventually into an adult. The alternative theory – ‘epigenisis’ – took a long time to be accepted and is still impossible to explain in the light of the ‘paradigm of science’.

The refusal to accept the creativity of the evolutionary process has forced those scientists who take the neo-Darwinist paradigm seriously to provide science fiction explanations for the origin of life. Francis Crick (the co-discoverer with James Watson of the genetic code for which both won Nobel prizes) considers that our complex biosphere could not have evolved (that is by the neo-Darwinist process of course) in the short time available to it, that is the 3 billion years since life began. Instead, claims Crick, life must have originally come to earth from some other planet in the form of bacteria sent over in a rocket of some sort.

This is no spoof: it is absolutely what Crick says and since his thesis is formulated in the appropriate ‘scientific’ language, it is not apparently regarded in any way as being incompatible with the ‘paradigm of science’. Indeed, it may even be essential to postulate such a thesis if the neo-Darwinist thesis is to be sustained and if the dynamic and creative features of living processes are to bed denied.

It is indeed ironic that scientists should regard it as more scientific to trace the ancestry of living things on our planet to bacteria which arrived in a rocket 3 billion years ago than to admit that living processes such as evolution are goal-directed, dynamic and creative.

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Reductionism

Another feature of the scientific method is that it is reductionist or ‘analytical’, to use the term preferred by scientists. Thus scientists seek to understand the nature of matter by breaking it up into its component parts for separate examination, preferably under controlled laboratory conditions.

To rationalise that approach, scientists try to make us believe that the world is made up of a multitude of discrete, mechanistic units, the way they are organised being of no consequence for understanding how they function – hence the inference is that they can be understood in isolation from the system of which they are part and at the same time, that they can be shifted about, changed and transformed at the whim of their human manager.

Thus the gene comprised of three DNA bases is taken to be the atom of hereditary information, just as the ‘reflex’ is the atom of behaviour, the ‘sense-datum’ the atom of perception, the ‘engram’ the atom of memory and the ‘bit’ the atom of information – an approach that is fortunately under attack.

With regard to the gene, it is now generally admitted that it rarely acts on its own, in isolation from the rest of the genotype. [9] Indeed phenotypic changes are now seen as being determined by the joint actions of many genes (‘polygenism’), while at the same time, each gene tends to contribute to changes affecting many different features of the phenotype (‘pleotropism’).

Lewontin even suggests that the process of inheritance would be better understood if we developed a “geneless” theory of heredity. [10] The chromosome, rather than the gene, he feels is the correct unit of study. It would be very much more realistic, of course, to regard the genome as the unit, better still the gene-pool, and even better still the pattern of information (‘cybernism’) constituted by all the information that is organised within an ecosystem and on the basis of which its behaviour is mediated.

The reductionist approach makes it impossible to understand life since one of the most important features of living processes is their hierarchical organisation. This tends to be ignored by scientists, or, if admitted, its implications are denied or ignored since the very notion of organisation is in effect, incompatible with the reductionistic approach embodied in the ‘paradigm of science’.

Indeed, how can the atoms of behaviour be studied in controlled laboratory conditions, hence in isolation from each other, when they are organised and hence subject to the constraints of the whole? How can one explain the development of organisation in mechanistic terms? Selection may sort individuals out into two categories, the fit and the unfit, but how can it cause them to organise themselves into larger entities? How can one quantify organisation save in terms of Shannon and Weaver’s quite inappropriate concept of information?

The failure to accept the hierarchical nature of the biosphere leads scientists studying evolution to insist that selection only occurs at the level of the individual. Evolutionary changes affecting populations as a whole are seen by neo-Darwinists as exclusively the result of changes occurring to their individual members. Thus they deny that adaptation (by selection or whatever other processes may be involved) occurs at any other level of organisation, whether it be that of the cell, the organ, the family, the community, the population, the ecosystem or the biosphere itself.

But what is so special about the individual? Why should all evolutionary change within the vast hierarchy of the biosphere originate at that particular level rather than at any other? There is no evidence of any kind to justify such a dogma. If we were to face the principle of the unity of life and the similarity of all life processes, we would realise that the mutual adjustment of systems to their specific environment within the constraints imposed on them by the larger systems of which they are part, must occur at all levels of organisation within the hierarchy of the biosphere.

To think otherwise implies that systems are incapable of mutual adjustment and must be controlled from the outside by forces occurring at other levels of the hierarchy. Such a tenet is contrary to the principle of self-regulation and suggests that such systems are passive rather than dynamic; and robot-like rather than life-like. It is only in terms of the outdated ‘paradigm of science’ that it is possible to maintain such a view of the process of adjustment or adaptation.

It is only when one recognises the hierarchical nature of the biosphere and of its component systems and sub-systems that one realises what is the true nature of the environment, which in terms of the neo-Darwinists have never defined the environment: it is just something that is ‘out there’. Yet, they attribute to it the capacity to select and therefore to perform a task requiring considerable discrimination.

Thus we find the environment selecting for all sorts of different qualities other than the original quality of fitness. Waddington talks of selection for flexibility and canalisation. One also reads of selection for teleonomic behaviour and selection for co-operative behaviour. Selection becomes an almost omnipotent force capable of doing virtually anything, in particular of causing life processes to adapt with incredible subtlety to almost any conditions. Selection, as Grasse suggested, has become a sort of God, a totally undefined mystical force, an environmental super-entelechy or super-elan vital. [11]

Once the hierarchical nature of the biosphere is understood, the most important principle to emerge is that the environment of any system, together with the system itself, constitute the large system, of which the system is but a part. This large system is by definition a self-regulating unit of behaviour within the biosphere and is not the random and anonymous environment of the neo-Darwinists,

Largely through the work of Paul Weiss we also know that systems at all levels of organisation “control” or “co-ordinate” their constituent parts and thus assure that they fulfil those differentiated functions that are required to maintain the integrity and stability of the larger systems of which they are part. [12] The larger system, (i.e. the environment) thus exerts pressure on the individual systems that comprise it to assure that they ‘fit in’, not that they are ‘fit’ in the individualist sense of the term.

Those that refuse to fit in, of course, are eliminated or ‘selected out’ by the larger system.

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Progress

One of the basic assumptions of the ‘paradigm of science’ is the notion of progress. Evolution has always been seen as a process of change from a low level to a high level of organisation, a move in the direction of increasing complexity, however teleological this might sound. The concept of ‘progress’ was modelled on the fashionable late 18th and 19th century notion of ‘social progress’ and it actually preceded the theory of evolution.

As Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather wrote,

“Progress in the organic world is analogous to the improving excellence observable in every part of the creation such as in the progressive increasing in the solid or habitable parts of the earth from water and in the progressive increase in the wisdom and happiness of its inhabitants.” [13]

Progress is clearly not seen as a random change but rather as a highly teleological one. Moreover, the idea of progress leads one to see living organisms as geared to perpetual change, in particular in the direction of ever-increasing complexity.

Yet this movement masks another basic feature of living processes, which is their highly conservative nature. Their goal is not change nor increased complexity but increased stability, the homeostasis of Cannon and now of Lovelock. That the achievement of stability is the overriding force becomes clear when one considers those life processes which occur within the internal environment. It is less apparent when one refuses to face the essential similarity of all life processes and postulates – on the basis of processes occurring in the external environment in isolation from all others – that they alone provide the model for evolutionary change.

In fact, the theologist Thorpe has noted that the problem for neo-Darwinists is as much to explain how little living matter has changed over hundreds of millions of years as it is to explain the process of evolution itself. In terms of the neo-Darwinist paradigm, it should be inexplicable that the basic raw materials of living things, protein and DNA, have remained unchanged for aeons – that the basic features of eukaryotic cells (cells with nuclei) have remained very much the same since they first developed some one billion years ago. [14]

Even that archpriest of science, Monod, regarded “l invariance” as one of the three basic features of living things. [15] Von Bertalanffy also regarded the influence that the past exerts on living things to be one of their two main features – the other being the hierarchical nature of organisation.

If one examines those human societies that are capable of self-regulatory and adaptive behaviour (that is tribal societies living within their natural environment), it becomes clear that rather than being geared to perpetual change as is our disintegrated, atomised society, they are, on the contrary, geared to the maintenance of stability, the preservation of their social structure, cultural pattern and natural environment.

Such societies survive, not because they produce more offspring than their neighbours, but because they are organised in that way that assures the maintenance of the most stable relationship possible with their specific environment. Stability is undoubtedly the goal of living organisms and their ability to maintain their stability in the face of change is perhaps their most impressive achievement.

It was that feature of living things that led Dreisch to reject the mechanistic thesis and to postulate his particular brand of vitalism – he felt that one could not explain the extraordinary ability of living things to maintain their integrity in the face of external disturbances, without postulating some sort of life-principle.

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Organicism

The trouble with vitalism is that it does not tell us very much. To have any meaning such terms must be related functionally to the other constituents of the living world.

The modern variant of vitalism is ‘organicism’. Organicists maintain that when processes reach a particular level of organisation, they develop qualities that were not previously present, a concept first formulated by Lloyd Morgan and often referred to as “emergence”.

Organicists thereby hold that it is the level of organisation that we associate with living processes that confers on them their specific features – those that distinguish them from inanimate objects. Organicism is an essential notion, one that underlies the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, Paul Weiss, Arthur Koestler, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, Jean Piaget and even Conrad Waddington.

The neo-Darwinist thesis, however, utterly fails to provide an explanation for the development of organisation. If inanimate matter like specks of dust, billiard balls or pebbles on a beach were ‘selected’, they could indeed be arranged into two specific piles. Those heaped in one of the piles could, for specific purposes be labelled as ‘fitter’ than the others, although fitness could no longer be defined in terms of differential reproduction, since such inanimate objects cannot reproduce themselves.

But such matter, as already mentioned, could not be made by selection to organise itself into ever more complex and sophisticated forms. Selection, in fact, does not explain organisation, it assumes it. In that respect, neo-Darwinism totally begs the question. Selection, or more precisely what in the real world most closely resembles ‘selection’, that is mutual adjustment, does not explain evolution. It is on the contrary simply one of the mechanisms developed by evolution, one that is performed with ever greater precision and discrimination as living things become more complex and more sophisticated. Neo-Darwinists have got the whole thing the wrong way round.

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The ‘paradigm of science’

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Since Darwin’s time and, in particular, since the rediscovery of Mendel’s work, states Waddington,

“The emphasis has been placed on the discreteness of individual genes, the randomness and non-relational nature of the mutation process and the unimportance of the reaction of the organism to its environment.” [16]

This is a means of rationalising the ‘paradigm of science’. It is because neo-Darwinists conceive of evolution as proceeding in this reductionist and mechanistic manner that neo-Darwinian theory has gained such wide acceptance among scientists. It is because neo-Darwinism so admirably fits in with the ‘paradigm of science’, not because it provides an accurate picture of the real processes involved, that it is today the official doctrine of science.

It is because Lamarckism and the neo-Lamarckism of certain French and Swiss students of evolution such as Bergson, Wintrebert, Guenot, Piaget and Grasse poorly satisfy the requirement of the ‘paradigm of science’ that such scientists are rejected with indignation, if not derision. There is another factor: the ‘paradigm of science’ provides, in its turn, a rationalisation and hence a legitimisation of the ‘paradigm of industrialism’ which is, in effect, the religion of the industrial society in which we live.

Indeed, it suits the purposes of our economists, technologists and politicians to pretend that living organisms are machines, since the benefits provided by the state and the formal economy cater above all for humanity’s mechanistic needs. Such benefits are quantifiable and must be so for both commercial and electoral reasons. They are atomistic which they must be if they are to be quantifiable and they cater for humanity’s most rudimentary needs, leaving unsatisfied those that are more specifically human, in particular social, ecological, aesthetic and spiritual needs.

To admit the existence of the latter needs, worse still to show that traditional vernacular cultures were perfectly designed to satisfy them, is to expose the terrible shortcomings of the modern State and the formal economy and must go a long way towards revealing that it is those two aberrant institutions that are ultimately responsible for the terrible problems we face today.

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Conclusion

It is the thesis of this article that in order to understand evolution, one must reject the neo-Darwinist thesis and indeed the ‘paradigm of science’ itself that this thesis so faithfully reflects. We must also see evolution and life processes in general as displaying precisely the opposite features to those that they are held to display by neo-Darwinists and mainstream scientists in general.

  • Rather than being atomistic they are highly organised and hierarchical.
  • Rather than being mechanistic and hence passive and non-creative, they are living dynamic and creative.
  • Rather than being random they are ordered and highly purposive.
  • Rather than being geared to perpetual flux in the direction of some mysterious undefined goal which is usually referred to as ‘progress’, they are highly conservative and seek at all costs to preserve their stability.
  • Rather than being brought about by some single physical event or ’cause’ that preceded them in time and hence managed by some atomistic, mechanical and external force, they are self-regulating and subject to the influence of their past and of the hierarchy of spatio-temporal systems of which they are part.
  • Rather than being explicable in quantitative terms, which assumes their atomistic and mechanistic nature, they can only be understood in the qualitative language appropriate for expressing their highly sophisticated capacity for creativity, improvisation and innovation.

Of course, to adopt such a view of life processes and of evolution, the overall life process, would, among many other things, force us to reconsider very radically our attitude to the living world and what we are doing to it.

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Notes and References

1. C. H. Waddington, “The theory of evolution today”. In Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies, Beyond Reductionism. Hutchinson, London 1969.
2. J. L. King and T. H. Jukes, “Non-Darwinian Evolution”, Science 164, 1969, pp.788-789.
3. Arthur Koestler, Janus Hutchinson, London 1970.
4. For example see J. W. S. Pringle, “On the parallel between learning and evolution”. In Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Rapoport, Michigan 1956.
5. Darwin at one time actually envisaged the ‘tree of life’ as growing, as preposterous as this may seem, by competition among its branches and twigs.
6. As parts whose function is to contribute to the stability or homeostasis of the biosphere or Gaia.
7. J. H. Woodger, Biological principles. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1967.
8. J. Piaget, Le Comportment Moteur de l’Evolution. Gallimard, Paris 1976.
9. Except to determine very superficial features of the phenotype, such as those studied by Mendel.
10. R. C. Lewontin, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change. Columbia University Press, New York, 1974.
11. P. P. Grasse, L’Evolution du Vivant. Albin Michel, Paris 1973.
12. P. Weiss, “The Living System”. In Koestler and Smythies, op.cit. supra [1].
13. Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia. P. Byrne, Dublin 1794.
14. W. H. Thorpe, Science, Man and Morals. Methuen, London 1965.
15. Monod J, Le Hazard et la Nécessité. Seuil, Paris 1970.
16. C. H. Waddington, The Evolution of an Evolutionist. Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY 1975.
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