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On evolutionary causes and evolutionary processes

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Abstract

In this essay I consider how biologists understand 'causation' and 'evolutionary process', drawing attention to some idiosyncrasies in the use of these terms. I suggest that research within the evolutionary sciences has been channeled in certain directions and not others by scientific conventions, many of which have now become counterproductive. These include the views (i) that evolutionary processes are restricted to those phenomena that directly change gene frequencies, (ii) that understanding the causes of both ecological change and ontogeny is beyond the remit of evolutionary biology, and (iii) that biological causation can be understood by a dichotomous proximate-ultimate distinction, with developmental processes perceived as solely relevant to proximate causation. I argue that the notion of evolutionary process needs to be broadened to accommodate phenomena such as developmental bias and niche construction that bias the course of evolution, but do not directly change gene frequencies, and that causation in biological systems is fundamentally reciprocal in nature.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-104
JournalBehavioural Processes
Volume117
Early online date13 Jun 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015

    Research areas

  • Causation, Developmental bias, Evolutionary process, Niche construction, Reciprocal causation

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