Tag Archives: biology

International Meeting “Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective”

Presentation of:

Eldredge N, Pievani T, Serrelli E, Tëmkin I, eds. (2016). Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

With Telmo Pievani, Ilya Tëmkin, Warren D. Allmon, Gregory Cooper, T. Ryan Gregory, Stefan Linquist, William Miller III, Mihaela Pavlicev, Andrea Parravicini, Francesco Suman, Alejandro Fabregas Tejeda.

Organized by: The Hierarchy Group

Venues: National Academy of Sciences and NOVA Northern Virginia Community College

See event program on Academia.

Evolution: Selfish Genes or Universal Cooperation?

A worker Harpegnathos saltator (a jumping ant) engaged in battle with a rival colony's queen. From WIKIPEDIA. Uploaded by Waldir, June 3, 2006.
A worker Harpegnathos saltator (a jumping ant) engaged in battle with a rival colony’s queen. From WIKIPEDIA. Uploaded by Waldir, June 3, 2006.

Life has been evolving on Earth for billions years. Explaining evolution drives scientists towards entities that are far from our everyday experience. We will ask: are organisms vehicles for their genes competing “egoistically” and incessantly with each other to be replicated in future generations? Is there an “Earth system” that maintains equlibrium through the birth, metabolism, and death of all living beings? We will compare influent pictuers by great thinkers – Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis. By discussing them, we will look into contemporary research in evolutionary biology.


Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2015, Feb 10 (h.20:00) – Circolo UAAR di Varese, Globe Cafè, Varese, IT: Evoluzione: geni egoisti o cooperazione universale?. Scientific Cafè.

Understanding variation beyond the Modern Synthesis

In 2013 Emanuele Serrelli organized the session “Understanding variation beyond the Modern Synthesis” at the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology Sunday, 7-11 July, Montpellier, France. The session, supported by AppEEL, includes Pablo Razeto-Barry and Davide Vecchi (Instituto de Filosofía y Ciencias de la Complejidad, Santiago, Chile) and Nathalie Gontier (University of Lisbon).

Emanuele’s paper:

Serrelli E (2013). Phenotypic variation in ecological setting: a challenge for evolutionary modeling beyond the Modern Synthesis. Meeting of the International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB), Montpellier, France, July 7-11. [BOA] [Ac]

Other talks in the session:

Variation in a world with multiple levels, mechanisms, and units of evolution: The Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Approach
Nathalie Gontier

Scholars working within the units and levels of selection debate have been developing more and more refined heuristics of how evolution by means of natural selection works. A motivation of such endeavor has been the question whether individual organisms are the only, or the most appropriate, units of natural selection, or whether groups, traits, a (set of) genes or behaviors, developmental systems, population, species can also be considered as units of selection. Heuristics based on natural selection have also been applied in order to assess whether evolution by natural selection can occur within phenomena that are traditionally understood to be extra-biological, such as cultural units, artifacts, neural maps, cognitive traits, altruistic rules etc. This abstraction and extension of natural selection to the sociocultural domain, provides a unified scientific methodology that enables scholars to study the evolution of life as well as the evolution of cognition, science, culture and any other phenomenon displayed by living organisms by means of natural selection theory. Today, with the several pleas there exist to extend the Modern Synthesis, evolutionary biologists are acknowledging the importance of mechanisms such as lateral gene transfer, symbiogenesis, drift, etc. Applied Evolutionary epistemology is a methodology that provides more open heuristics to assess how these mechanisms associated with an extended synthesis work, what their units and levels, and where they are active. Associated with this endavour is not only the recognition of multiple units, levels and mechanisms of evolution, but also to acknowledgement that there are different kinds of evolution (the evolution of the brain, of languages, of culture, of niches, etc). This talk takes the debate a step further, asking how important inter-unit, inter-level and inter-mechanism variation is for a general understanding of evolution.

Mutational Lamarckism and the Modern Synthesis view of mutational randomness as conditional independence
Pablo Razeto-Barry and Davide Vecchi
Current evolutionary biology is based on the legacy of the modern evolutionary synthesis (Huxley 1942). Nevertheless, the Modern Synthesis enshrined natural selection as the director of adaptive evolution not by providing evidence that it did, or could, account for observed adaptations (Leigh 1999), but rather by eliminating competing explanations (Mayr 1993). One of the eliminated competitors was Lamarckism, particularly “mutational Lamarckism”, a hypothesis according to which mutations may be directed towards producing phenotypes that improve the performance of the organism in a particular environment. Contrary to this hypothesis, the Modern Synthesis’ view claims that mutations are “random” (Lenski and Mittler 1993, Merlin 2010). Possibly because Lamarckism had largely felt into disrepute several decades before the eventual success of the Modern Synthesis, the precise meaning of the term “random mutation” was never deeply analyzed. However, current evidence of possibly legitimate cases of Lamarckism (Jablonka and Lamb 2005, Koonin and Wolf 2009) has revitalized the interest for clarifying the meaning of the term “random” in this context (Sarkar 2007, Jablonka and Lamb 2005, Millstein 1997, Merlin 2010). In this contribution we aim to analyze previous definitions of random mutations based on the concepts of statistical independence and correlation (e.g., Millstein 1997, Sarkar 2005, Jablonka and Lamb, Merlin 2010) and to show that they are deficient. We argue that the term “random mutation” refers to a triadic rather than dyadic relationship, that neither correlation nor independence are good concepts to formalize the neo-Darwinian concept of genetic randomness, and that as a consequence neither of them is suitable to define mutational Lamarckism. In this contribution we will illustrate our alternative proposal, show a way to formalize the concept of mutational randomness and provide some examples of its application.

The challenge of tree-thinking and network-thinking

This talk gives a reflexive outlook on the employment of tree and network thinking to conceptualize and model vertical descent and horizontal transmission of cultural traits. In biology, evolutionary trees are more than tools for researchers across disciplines: they are the main framework within which evidence for evolution is evaluated (Baum et al. 2005). However, several biologists have recognized “tree thinking” as a challenge for students (Gregory 2008, Meisel 2010), lay people (Baum, cit.), and scientists alike (O’Hara 1992), going against our spontaneous cognitive tendencies, e.g., reading along the tips, locating evolution only at nodes, projecting living species backwards to internal nodes. Moreover, common descent, represented by trees, is not the only way in which biological traits are shared: the ubiquity of phenomena like lateral gene transfer is increasing the need for network-based analyses, introducing the conceptual challenge of “network thinking” (Proulx et al. 2005), and the further complexity of conceiving trees and networks together. I focus on which strategies, used and developed in biology, can be implemented in anthropology to address cultural relatedness and common ancestry relationships.

Baum DA et al. (2005). The tree-thinking challenge. Science 310(5750):979-980.
Gregory TR (2008). Understanding evolutionary trees. Evolution: Education and Outreach 1(2):121-137.
Meisel RP (2010). Teaching tree-thinking to undergraduate biology students. Evolution: Education and Outreach 3(4):621-628.
O’Hara RJ (1992). Telling the tree: Narrative representation and the study of evolutionary history. Biology and Philosophy 7(2):p.135–160.
Proulx SR et al. (2005). Network thinking in ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20(6):345-53.

Emanuele is also moderator and, with Nathalie Gontier, co-organizer of the session: Tree and network models in San Francisco.


Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (2012). The challenge of tree-thinking and network-thinking: conceptual issues across biological and cultural domains. Paper at 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, CA, November 14-18. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/39794]

Guiding extrapolation from model to target

Monika Piotrowska thanks me in her paper:

Piotrowska M (2012). From humanized mice to human disease: guiding extrapolation from model to target. Biology and Philosophy. DOI 10.1007/s10539-012-9323-5.

“I would like to thank Matt Haber, Anya Plutynski, Emanuele Serrelli, Mike Wilson, Rasmus Winther, members of the audience at ISHPSSB 2011 in Salt Lake City, and the editor of this journal for valuable comments”

Thanks to Monika, great friend and admired colleague.

Continue reading Guiding extrapolation from model to target

Cultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1The reflection on human cultures delivers more and more a critical and complex vision that makes it difficult to imagine ourselves counting, describe or analytically decompose cultures. Bypassing questions like “what is a culture”, “which and how many cultures are there”, and “how important is each culture”, anthropology and ethnography give scientific form to the comparative impetus that puts diversities – the many colors of a caleidoscope – in relation and dialogue. This is an open enterprise that drops any aim of completeness and systematicity, in favor of critical reflection on what does it mean to be human and to inhabit the Earth together. By the way, diversity can be studied and understood from different points of view, e.g. borrowing methods and concepts from evolutionary biology in order to reconstruct the world tree of common descent of cultures, with migrations and diasporas, where similarities (inherited or convergent) and differences among peoples got channeled. Meanwhile, however, in face of the insufficiency of analysis, the disappearance of cultural varieties is more and more evident. What’s worst, this happens in parallel to growing awareness of their importance for the survival of our species. Locating, measuring, and contrasting the loss of cultural diversity is a challenge which, for example, the UN have tried to address through the definition of “intangible cultural heritage”. Biocultural diversity, a young and promising field, promotes an integrated approach to the conservation of diversity, comprising cultural and biological aspects.

Serrelli E (2010). L’evoluzione delle culture: come fermare l’estinzione. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra vol. 1. Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 320-333. ISBN 978-88-02-08379-7 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/9928]

Biocultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1Biodiversity shapes cultural diversity. Culture shapes the environment. But according to the biocultural paradigm of the “inextricable link”, such bidirectional co-determination in fact prevents the analytical distinction of the two. We must, indeed, talk about a unified type of diversity: biocultural diversity. The field aims to conserve, defend rights of indigenous people, and obtain political decisions that respect them. A field explicitly “militant”, giving up the conventional academic neutrality to embrace strong ethical commitments concerning human rights, seen in intimate connection with the responsibilities about the natural and cultural heritage of humanity.

Serrelli E (2010). Diversità bioculturale. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 143-148. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/16655]