History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Kauffman and self-organization

November 21st, 2006 · No Comments

BEYOND REDUCTIONISM. In all the obsession with natural selection, Kauffman’s redirected focus toward self-organization has remained in the background. It is a reminder that in fact we don’t have a theory of evolution as yet.

While it may sound as if ‘order for free’ is a serious challenge to Darwinian evolution, it’s not so much that I want to challenge Darwinism and say that Darwin was wrong. I don’t think he was wrong at all. I have no doubt that natural selection is an overriding, brilliant idea and a major force in evolution, but there are parts of it that Darwin couldn’t have gotten right. One is that if there is order for free — if you have complex systems with powerfully ordered properties — you have to ask a question that evolutionary theories have never asked: Granting that selection is operating all the time, how do we build a theory that combines self-organization of complex systems — that is, this order for free — and natural selection? There’s no body of theory in science that does this. There’s nothing in physics that does this, because there’s no natural selection in physics — there’s self organization. Biology hasn’t done it, because although we have a theory of selection, we’ve never married it to ideas of self-organization. One thing we have to do is broaden evolutionary theory to describe what happens when selection acts on systems that already have robust self-organizing properties. This body of theory simply does not exist.” (Chapter 20, “Order for Free”, The Third Culture, 1995)

Tags: Evolution

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