The theory of evolution is supposed to explain the diversity of biological forms and their fit (adaptation) to their conditions of existence (Lewontin 1978). However, given the conceptual context of the origin of the Darwinian metaphor of natural selection (i.e., artificial selection), the theory of natural selection seems more relevant to explain fit and adaptation rather than the origin of diversity and novelty. This is so, I will argue, because natural selection designates processes that occur after the events that generate variation, i.e., processes where variation undergoes the action of natural selection (i.e., differential fitness and reproduction). Thus, the causality underlying the theory of natural selection is asymmetrical: variation is causally passive, natural selection is causally active. The marginalization of the causal contribution of ontogeny to the evolution follows from this causality, and it is this causality that is being challenged by recent studies providing evidence that individual variation (in particular the variation stemming from development and behavior) plays a role in differentiating fitness and reproduction. Given the obvious significance of individual variation (developmental and behavioral) for the enterprise of understanding the mechanisms of evolution, I will propose some revisions of the asymmetrical causality underlying the notion of natural selection. In particular, I will explore the potential explanatory use of symmetrical causality; an example of such causality will be taken from the theory of general relativity.
Adrianna Wozniak obtained her European Doctorate at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3 in 2006. Her PhD thesis, “Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge: The Phylogenetic Relation from Representation to Object,” was supervised by Dr. A. Reboul. Her research interests are in the philosophy of biology, evolutionary epistemology, and cognitive science. Before joining the KLI as a postdoctoral fellow Dr. Wozniak worked at the School of Computer Science, University of Windsor, Canada, on questions of speciation and biodiversity in simulated ecological communities.