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Linnean Society is sponsoring a meeting on teleonomy in living systems 28th – 29th June 2021


It’s called Evolution on Purpose: Teleonomy in Living Systems

From the Linnean Society in London:

Living systems exhibit an internal teleology, the full implications of which have not been explored. This meeting will address various aspects of this phenomenon, including its scope and meaning, and its many forms and facets.

Further to that:

Although it is now widely accepted that living systems exhibit an internal teleology, or teleonomy, the full implications of this distinctive biological property have yet to be explored. This online conference will seek to address various aspects of this important phenomenon, including the origins and history of the teleonomy concept, its scope and meaning, and its many forms and facets. Possible topics may include: an historical review of teleological thinking; teleology (and entelechy) versus teleonomy in evolutionary theory; the nature of teleonomy (who/what is in control, and how?); agency and teleonomy; semiotics and teleonomy; modeling teleonomic processes; teleonomy in the genome, in epigenesis, in physiology, and in behaviour; teleonomy and natural selection; teleonomy in human evolution; and, especially significant, how teleonomy has influenced the evolutionary process.


The Programme Committee includes Peter CorningEva JablonkaStuart KauffmanDennis NobleSamir OkashaJames ShapiroDick Vane-Wright, and Denis Walsh. The organisers are Peter Corning and Dick Vane-Wright.

Teleonomy? That would be teleonomy vs. teleology, right? This came up on a DuckDuckGo search: With respect to an open access paper by Jonathan Bartlett on teleonomy, Ann Gauger writes,

Pittendrigh and Mayr sought a way to deal with the problem of apparent function in biologists’ use of language:

In order to alleviate the situation, Pittendrigh and later Mayr suggested using the term teleonomy instead of teleology to describe this sort of purposive behavior.

Mayr suggested that we can use the term teleonomy to represent something that operates according to a purpose because of a program. Specifically, Mayr says, “It would seem useful to restrict the term teleonomic rigidly to systems operating on the basis of a program, a code of information. Teleonomy in biology designates ‘the apparent purposefulness of organisms and their characteristics,’ as Julian Huxley expressed it.”

That is, to the extent that organisms operate according to their genetic programming, “purpose” can simply refer to the actions of the program behind the organism. [Emphasis in the original.]

And of course, the program was, to their minds, an inherited program, the result of variation, natural selection, and drift. Mayr was concerned that the idea of teleonomy might be turned back toward the idea of design or purpose, so he made it abundantly clear:

Only three processes are known to [change the genetic pool]: mutation, fluctuation in genetic frequencies, and differential reproduction. The first two of those processes are not oriented toward adaptation. They are in that sense essentially random, and are usually inadaptive, although they may rarely and coincidentally be adaptive. By “differential reproduction” is meant the consistent production of more offspring, on an average, by individuals with certain genetic characteristics than by those without those particular characteristics…

If an organism is well adapted, if it shows superior fitness, this is not due to any purpose of its ancestors or of an outside agency, such as “Nature” or “God,” who created a superior design or plan.

“Note that here, Mayr explicitly decries not only the influence of outside purposes (i.e., divine teleology) in evolution, but also the influence of inside purposes (i.e., biological purposes present within ancestors),” says Bartlett.

Ann Gauger, “Teleonomy and Evolution” at Evolution News and Science Today (December 1, 2017)

Are the Linneans trying to come to grips with design in nature within a framework they can handle?

You may also wish to read: Why some think emergence is replacing materialism in science. Materialism, in the form of reductionism, posits a world without novelty — but that is not the world we live in. Philosophers and scientists who champion emergence over reductionism argue that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

So purpose isn't purpose if it's written down? Inserting a program or written plan between the purpose and the action turns the action back into a random coinflip? A lot of contract lawyers and programmers would have trouble with that. polistra

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