F&PPs were wrong about much if not most of the petty details that their book included about natural selection (NS), evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and about what students of NS and EBNS can and cannot disentangle; but they got the most important thing right:
Game-theory(GT)-based narratives about nature (like those invoking the principle of NS and its obvious implications for the evolution and the diversity of the living) are exercises in math rather than “scientific theories” if their legitimacy derives only from their being backed by proper GTal analysis and assumptions. Sex-ratio theory is an example (see below).
Such narratives cannot be compared to a true scientific theory like that of gravitation if they do not appeal to unifiable natural-historical facts, entities, and processes.
NS narratives fall between these two extremes because they mobilize a firework of circumstantial and non-unifiable natural-historical details that are GTally relevant (in ceteris-paribus or dynamically positive ways), and yet at least abstractly speaking they assume, almost always implicitly, a unifiable background “force field”.
Indeed in any NS event the “winners” are always “the result” of the Bauplan’s cybernetic potential to be altered (due to mutation, etc) so that modified “units” can show up that deal with the specific selective agent/regime better than other co-occurring units do.
This *non-exhausted* cybernetic potential is also a big part of the unifying “gravity-like” force driving EBNS and is part of what Van Valen went after when he proposed what he called “the 3rd law of natural selection” (1976; he meant EBNS when writing “natural selection”).
Current GT-oriented evol.bio models have nothing “ontologically” comparable to offer (i.e., they have no obligate links to the ultimate unifying natural entities and quantities that cause NS and EBNS “force fields”).
These stories are indeed “different for each case” (let’s celebrate diversity!) because they are ontologically truncated and make a mockery of science: Imagine people discussing cases of selection imposed by a predator and hearing them talk non-stop about faster muscle fibers, better camouflage, favorable shifts in activity pattern, better olfactory detection of the predator, etc, i.e., a litany of sufficient but *not* necessary things under selection, but never witnessing anybody mention the necessary thing which is “to avoid being killed by the predator” (but note that a narrative that stops at the latter statement would still be “ontologically truncated” because it would not apply to all living systems!).
Like many others before, F&PP had the gut feeling that the unifying “gravity-like” forces driving NS and EBNS are unknown and neglected. Indeed, in the recent bloggingheads exchange between Fodor and Sober ( http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/26848 ), Sober won every exchange but was strangely silent when towards the end Fodor lambasted NS-based narratives as tirades listing “one damned thing after another”.
Ironically, Sober in his masterpiece, The Nature of Selection (1984; in which Lewontin’s greasy fingers left marks in every other page), tried to canonize such explanatory “diversity” by positing the “supervenience” of fitness with respect to its material causation (two individuals may have the same fitness even if one is say a bird and the other a bacterium, which “implies” that *obviously* the material causation of the two fitnesses is not even worth being compared let alone worth being considered for unification).
Any serious scientist would cringe at this schizophrenic claim for epistemologico-ontological “singularity” for evolutionary-biology narratives, and with good reason: The world is only one and natural phenomenologies that are not unifiable are best studied by French charlatans [already seen Leotard's idiocies about life, evolution, and "la condition humaine" ? ;) ]
Van Valen with his “3rd law of natural selection” and several authors with earlier efforts never considered elevating such transient helplessness and ignorance to an intrinsic “almost-merit” of evolutionary-biology narratives.
Take a look at vV’s paper (cit. below) and ask yourself if the “idiot-savants” F&PP (boy if they say stupid things otherwise!) would be able to disparage vV’s effort as one more instance of an ad-hoc narrative full of “one damned thing after another” (even if the law were wrong).
Imagine if physicists now were still stuck describing free and not-so-free falls, of various bodies of disparate nature in the most various media, of varying spatio-temporal heterogeneity, etc, etc, and telling us that they need to “find the atoms” in order to make “even more sense!” of the “holy fact of free fall” discovered by the ancient Newton!
Yes, in his tired recent NYRB piece on this affair, Lewontin mentions that F&PP stated somewhere that they are not asking for such a unifying force, but the real question is whether they would have anything to grumble about if the unifying force was already a central focus of research in evol.bio.
All in all, the trailer-park-level understanding of what a scientific theory should be that has been put on display by too many phil.of biol and evol.biol establishment frauds who have fallen upon each other to denounce apoplectically the many moronic errors in the “idiot-savant” book by F&PP rivals not necessarily favorably with that of the peddler of puerilo-retarded animistico-suggestive anthropomorphizations, r.dawkins (written small), and their arguments are barely less misguided and heuristically less pernicious that d’s trademark syllogistic imbecility about “DNA with intentionality”.
Truly, it’s shocking to see –among “professional” philosophers of science– such ignorance of the deep epistemological canons that distinguish better-developed/-grounded scientific theories, and to see –among “professional” evolutionary biologists– such ignorance of deep evolutionary biology.
This whole debate shows one more time what kind of dysfunctional charade the american system of promotion of self-complacent paper-churner/grant-chaser/research-university-bureaucrat-pleasing hybrid frauds has generated…
[ Leigh Van Valen: ENERGY AND EVOLUTION; Evol. Theory 1: 179-229 (April, 1976) and citations therein]
posted by er piu
June 24, 2010