After not having written throughout this year, I will take the chance for a quick summary of my own path in the philosophy of biology as a condensation of what this blog aims for. A core issue that I see is that our current paradigm has a naive view of the nature of life. Whatever life is has been reduced to a living thing or better, the collection of living things. But what is a living thing? No such concept comes out of physics in its terms of mass, length, time, and forces. But biology is just as clueless; so evolutionary theory conveniently begins with the first living thing, presumably a first cell, or maybe a collection of protocells in what amounts to undefined almost living things. This is astounding when put in context. Many people today get excited about the “mysteries” at the edge of physics such as dark matter or string theory, but why is life not a much more important mystery as we are of it and it is all around us? While science has generally been considered to be mature and to have done a formidable job of
In 2017 two books by renowned biologists came out strongly against the neo-Darwinist synthesis. They both share the positive message of moving towards homeostasis, physiology, and systems biology as complementary to the role of genes. The times they are a changing in evolutionary theory.
The books are Purpose and Desire by Scott Turner (of SUNY Syracuse) and Dance to the Tune of Life by Denis Noble (of Oxford). Both are clear and easy reading. Scott Turner comes down hard: “I have come to believe that there is
Did humans create civilization and discover all its technology? Or, did evolution and life’s patterns provide avenues into which human behavioral adaptability stumbled? In my estimation the former of these is the default answer of most of us and even of evolutionary theorists. However, it is hard to answer with the second option above since it has hardly been explored. My own answer is the second of these, and I want to do as much as possible to investigate this alternative in order to put the two choices above at least on an equal footing.
The upshot of this second option is that recent human evolution signals an incipient and huge pattern change in evolution on the order of the formation of some type of superorganism. The collective dynamics such as the obvious massive coevolution with domesticated species herald an unknown pattern such as a super-society of multiple species. Instead of “revolutions” like the
While the winds of change are stirring across evolutionary theory, there is larger, long-term current of change approaching from chemistry. The chemists have a claim that chemical evolution is the real basis of evolution while species evolution is a secondary process (Williams & Frausto da Silva 2006; Williams & Rickaby 2012). At the same time there are many origin-of-life researchers who are studying how prebiotic chemistry could lead to life, and they are making rapid progress. They are effectively studying a chemical evolution that occurred for hundreds of millions of years before the first cell or before any life as we know it. And some of these same researchers see the species concept as a secondary phenomenon to the biosphere as a whole (Smith & Morowitz 2016).
Most of us assume that chemistry is what living organisms use for their lives. This suite of ideas from chemical evolution, biosphere primacy, and prebiotic chemistry sees evolution as a big, changing current driven by energy that gets its chemical energy organized and partitioned by different forms of life. Chemical evolution is seen to be primary, and the evolution of organisms or
Too many years of writing and researching. It’s time to travel and talk. Seeking all those interested in evolutionary theory, its potential “extension,” origin-of-life studies and their potential effects on evolutionary theory, evolutionary understandings of the modern world of humans, the history of science as it relates to the life sciences, and the repercussions of the probable advances in the life sciences to philosophy and theology. A process view of life is a (potentially) significant major shift in our views of life/living and of our places in the cosmos.
Looking forward to talks, criticism, advice, and new breakthroughs!