Inheritance Systems and the Extended Synthesis; Picturing the Mind

I will be completing a book in the Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology series, to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2019; this is co-authored by Marion Lamb. The book examines the status of the current theory of evolution that is based on a version of the theory called the Modern Synthesis (MS), which was forged in mid-20th century and is still dominating evolution textbooks. Following a growing minority of biologists and philosophers of biology, we argue that recent discoveries and ideas in biology present challenges to the MS, and that a new version of evolutionary theory, an Extended Evolution Synthesis (EES), is due. The starting point of evolutionary analysis, according to the EES, is heritable phenotypic variation of active organisms that employ multiple routes of information transmission – genetic, epigenetic, behavioural and behavioural-symbolic.

Starting with a short historical introduction to evolutionary ideas in the 20th century, we describe the MS and the EES. In the first part of the book we argue that what has been learned about the origins of heritable variation is changing our view of heredity and its relation to development. Hence, our view of evolution must also change, and recognize, among other things, a Lamarckian dimension to Darwinian evolutionary theory. The second part of the book is devoted to the way in which the EES, and especially the revised notion of heredity, makes a difference to traditional answers to philosophical questions. We address major issues such as the status of mechanical explanations in biology; the status of the distinctions between proximate and ultimate causes; the change in the notionsof individual and organism; the concept of functional information; and the kind of modelling required by the EES and the ethical issues that it raises. We end our analysis by addressing the nature of the theoretical change that we are witnessing. Is the proposed change a modest set of extensions, or does the EES challenge the MS in a way comparable to the challenge the MS presented to classical Darwinism? Which criteria should we use to evaluate the nature of the nascent change?

I will also work on completing an illustrated manuscript that presents ideas about the evolution of consciousness and the nature of mental representations; this is work carried out jointly with Simona Ginsburg and artist Anna Zeligowski. The project is based on an academic book, written with Simona Ginsburg, to be published in 2019 by MIT Press, The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul: Learning and the Origins of Consciousness. In the book we argue that consciousness emerged in the context of the evolution of learning, and we maintain that by figuring out how the evolutionary transition to subjectively-experienced living occurred we can gain an insight into the nature of mental representations. The illustrated manuscript will present the ideas in a way that is accessible to a wide, educated public, making use of the power of visual art (and aesthetic judgment more generally) to convey complex ideas.


Project leader(s):
  • Eva Jablonka (The Cohn Institute, Tel-Aviv University)

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