Genetic Evolvability: Using a Restricted Pluralism to Tidy Up the Evolvability Concept

London, UK: Springer Nature (forthcoming)
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Advances in the empirical sectors of biology are beginning to reveal evolvability as a major evolutionary process. Yet evolvability’s theoretical role is still intensely debated. Since its inception nearly thirty years ago, the evolvability research front has put a strong emphasis on the non-genetic mechanisms that influence the short-term evolvability of individuals within populations by causing phenotypic heterogeneity, such as developmental trait plasticity, phenotypic plasticity, modularity, the G-P map, robustness, and/or epigenetic variation. However, genetic evolvability mechanisms such as mutation or recombination have a deeper history in evolutionary thought that is often overlooked by those in the evolvability research front, with recent evidence suggesting that species switch to genetic evolvability mechanisms when short-term evolvability strategies fail to relieve selective pressures. For this reason, a causal distinction must be made between genetic evolvability and the more recently emphasized non-genetic (or evo-devo) evolvability to allow for its maturation as a central explanatory concept. I conclude by arguing that the anachronisms of the scientific process are the main culprit behind recent divisions in biology and likely beyond. To streamline theoretical progress, we need to build a new science with new underlying philosophies like restricted pluralism.

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Mitchell Ryan Distin
Universitat de Valencia


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