Selection in a Complex World: Deriving Causality from Stable Equilibrium

Erkenntnis 83 (2):265-286 (2018)
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It is an ongoing controversy whether natural selection is a cause of population change, or a mere statistical description of how individual births and deaths accumulate. In this paper I restate the problem in terms of the reference class problem, and propose how the structure of stable equilibrium can provide a solution in continuity with biological practice. Insofar natural selection can be understood as a tendency towards equilibrium, key statisticalist criticisms are avoided. Further, in a modification of the Newtonian-force analogy, it can be suggested that a better metaphor for natural selection is that of an emergent force, similar in nature to entropic forces: with magnitude and direction, but lacking a spatiotemporal origin or point of application.

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Hugh Desmond
Leibniz Universit├Ąt Hannover


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