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Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries”

In notes on January 25, 2010 by ariew

As leader of Tuesday’s (1/26) seminar, my task is to articulate the differences between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the modern theories of natural selection that formed in the early part of the 20th century.  I want to convince you that these are two distinct theories: they differ in what they want to explain and how they come to explain it.  Darwin’s is a Newtonian universal law approach to a specific ecological phenomena–extinction and speciation within the “economy of nature”.  Modern versions of natural selection is a statistical approach to solving several different problems within Darwin’s economy of nature: a. speciation, b. changes in trait frequency over time, c. well-adaptedness of traits to their local ecological conditions.

Modern theorists have rejected a lot of Darwin’s ideas: 1. they reject that the economy of nature is a universal ecological condition (and I have to explain to you what economy of nature is). 2. they reject that the struggle for existence due to overpopulation is necessary for evolution by natural selection (they have replaced it with a statistical parameter called “fitness”).  3. They have rejected Darwin’s Newtonian universal law approach for a statistical methodology of analyzing evolving populations.

This is the essence of the claims in the book that I am struggling to write (and have been struggling to write for the last, what, six years?). The bulk of what I’ve written so far is on: a. Darwin’s theory of natural selection. It is surprisingly unlike the natural selection that we read in textbooks. b. the development of the statistical methodology (during the 19th century by Darwin’s contemporaries) that is foundational to the modern versions of natural selection.

I am just starting to publicize little bits of my ideas from my book.  Here’s a tiny tidbit which might be useful to look at ahead of the seminar.

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One Response to “Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries””

  1. Since I will not be there to share in the discussion, I hope all y’all will spend as much time as necessary on the economy of nature. My reading of ecology is that there is something that looks like economy to me, but not in the mechanical sense that I think is meant above. So I hope to join the discussion late(r).

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