Someone drew attention to Smithsonian paleobiologist Douglas H. Erwin‘s recent article (April 20145), offering a “public goods” approach to major evolutionary innovations:
Here’s the abstract:
The history of life is marked by a small number of major transitions, whether viewed from a genetic, ecological, or geological perspective. Specialists from various disciplines have focused on the packaging of information to generate new evolutionary individuals, on the expansion of ecological opportunity, or the abiotic drivers of environmental change to which organisms respond as the major drivers of these episodes. But the critical issue for understanding these major evolutionary transitions (METs) lies in the interactions between environmental, ecologic, and genetic change. Here, I propose that public goods may serve as one currency of such interactions: biological products that are non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Such biological public goods may be involved in either the generation of new evolutionary variation, as with genetic sequences that are easily transferred between different microbial lineages, or in the construction of new ecological niches, as with the progressive oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere. Attention to public goods emphasizes the processes by which organisms actively construct their own evolutionary opportunities. Such public goods may have facilitated some METs. (paywall)
Rob Sheldon notes,
The connection between this article and the “Malthusian Trap” is striking. What makes Darwin wrong, is the same thing that makes Malthus wrong–a “public goods” approach to competition. In physics, I call it the difference between local and global optimization.
Darwin insisted that there could be no global optimization because it required “teleology”, a purpose-driven approach. In physics, this became the aversion to Aristotle’s “spooky-action-at-a-distance” and the preference for Democritus’ “everything is particles bouncing in the void”.
But now physicists are getting comfortable with global coherence, economists are talking about public goods, and evolutionists are beginning to appreciate ecology.
I do believe the 21st century will be the century we leave behind 19th century local, atomistic, diffusive, incoherent, random, contact-force-only Darwinian competitive systems and begin to master global, teleological, non-diffusive, coherent, non-random, entangled-force Designed cooperative systems.
See also: Separating Darwin from his mentor Malthus? Why called “Darwinian Explanation of Malthusian Trap”? Because correct title, ” Malthusian Explanation of Darwinian Trap” would be banned.
New book: Does Darwinism explain higher taxa? A bold new take on the history of life. But what new take?
Hmmm. There’s been a lot of this about in recent months. Could a hit on Darwin be in the works?
O’Leary for News is glad for the opportunity to thank Rob Sheldon for the many helpful insights he has shared with us in recent years.
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