Willard van Orman Quine once said that he had a preference for a desert ontology. This was in an earlier day when concerns with logical structure and ontological simplicity reigned supreme. Ontological genocide was practiced upon whole classes of upper-level or "derivative" entities in the name of elegance, and we were secure in the belief that one strayed irremediably into the realm of conceptual confusion and possible error the further one got from ontic fundamentalism. In those days, one paid more (...) attention to generic worries about possible errors (motivated by our common training in philosophical scepticism) than to actual errors derived from distancing oneself too far from the nitty-gritty details of actual theory, actual inferences from actual data, the actual conditions under which we posited and detected entities, calibrated and "burned in" instruments, identified and rejected artifacts, debugged programs and procedures, explained the mechanisms behind regularities, judged correlations to be spurious, and in general, the real complexities and richness of actual scientific practice. The belief that logic and philosophy were prior to any possible science has had a number of distorting effects on philosophy of science. One of these was that for ontology, we seemed never to be able to reject the null hypothesis: "Don't multiply entities beyond necessity.". (shrink)
Richard Levins’ distinction between aggregate, composed and evolved systems acquires new significance as we recognize the importance of mechanistic explanation. Criteria for aggregativity provide limiting cases for absence of organization, so through their failure, can provide rich detectors for organizational properties. I explore the use of failures of aggregativity for the analysis of mechanistic systems in diverse contexts. Aggregativity appears theoretically desireable, but we are easily fooled. It may be exaggerated through approximation, conditions of derivation, and extrapolating from some conditions (...) of decomposition illegtimately to others. Evolved systems particularly may require analyses under alternative complementary decompositions. Exploring these conditions helps us to better understand the strengths and limits of reductionistic methods. (shrink)
Mesoudi et al.'s new synthesis for cultural evolution closely parallels the evolutionary synthesis of Neo-Darwinism. It too draws inspiration from population genetics, recruits other fields, and, unfortunately, also ignores development. Enculturation involves many serially acquired skills and dependencies that allow us to build a rich cumulative culture. The newer synthesis, evolutionary developmental biology, provides a key tool, generative entrenchment, to analyze them. (Published Online November 9 2006).
Methodological reductionists practice ‘wannabe reductionism’. They claim that one should pursue reductionism, but never propose how. I integrate two strains in prior work to do so. Three kinds of activities are pursued as “reductionist”. “Successional reduction” and inter-level mechanistic explanation are legitimate and powerful strategies. Eliminativism is generally ill-conceived. Specific problem-solving heuristics for constructing inter-level mechanistic explanations show why and when they can provide powerful and fruitful tools and insights, but sometimes lead to erroneous results. I show how traditional metaphysical (...) approaches fail to engage how science is done. The methods used do so, and support a pragmatic and non-eliminativist realism. (shrink)
Most philosophical accounts of emergence are incompatible with reduction. Most scientists regard a system property as emergent relative to properties of its parts if it depends upon their mode of organization-a view consistent with reduction. Emergence is a failure of aggregativity, in which ``the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts''. Aggregativity requires four conditions, giving powerful tools for analyzing modes of organization. Differently met for different decompositions of the system, and in different degrees, the structural conditions (...) can provide evaluation criteria for choosing decompositions, ``natural kinds'', and detecting functional localization fallacies, approximations, and various biases of vulgar reductionisms. This analysis of emergence and use of these conditions as heuristics is consistent with a broader reductionistic methodology. (shrink)
Gigerenzer et al.'s is an extremely important book. The ecological validity of the key heuristics is strengthened by their relation to ubiquitous Poisson processes. The recognition heuristic is also used in conspecific cueing processes in ecology. Three additional classes of problem-solving heuristics are proposed for further study: families based on near-decomposability analysis, exaptive construction of functional structures, and robustness.
The simple systems methodology is a powerful reductionistic research strategy. It has problems as implemented in developmental genetics because the organisms studied are few and unrepresentative. Stronger inferences require independent arguments that key traits are widely distributed phylogenetically. Evolutionary and developmental mechanisms of generative entrenchment and self-organization provide possible support, and are also necessary components of a developmental systems approach.
Most philosophical accounts of emergence are incompatible with reduction. Most scientists regard a system property as emergent relative to properties of the system's parts if it depends upon their mode of organization--a view consistent with reduction. Emergence can be analyzed as a failure of aggregativity--a state in which "the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts." Aggregativity requires four conditions, giving tools for analyzing modes of organization. Differently met for different decompositions of the system, and in different (...) degrees, these conditions provide powerful evaluation criteria for choosing decompositions, and heuristics for detecting biases of vulgar reductionisms. This analysis of emergence is compatible with reduction. (shrink)
The role of pictures and visual modes of presentation of data in science is a topic of increasing interest to workers in artificial intelligence, problem solving, and scientists in all fields who must deal with large quantities of complex multidimensional data. Drawing on studies of animal motion, aerodynamics, morphological transformations, the history of linkage mapping, and the analysis of deterministic chaos, I focus on the strengths and limitations of our visual system, the analysis of problems particularly suited to visualization-the analysis (...) of similarities and differences between complex objects, and problems making conjoint use of information from several complex images. (shrink)
The generative entrenchment of an entity is a measure of how much of the generated structure or activity of a complex system depends upon the presence or activity of that entity. It is argued that entities with higher degrees of generative entrenchment are more conservative in evolutionary changes of such systems. A variety of models of complex structures incorporating the effects of generative entrenchment are presented and we demonstrate their relevance in analyzing and explaining a variety of developmental and evolutionary (...) phenomena, both on a macroscopic developmental and evolutionary scale, and using models and strategies pioneered by Kauffman, on the more microscopic scale appropriate to the analysis of the structure and behavior of gene control networks. The resulting picture suggests that generative entrenchment acts as a powerful and constructive developmental constraint on the course of evolutionary processes. Since virtually any system exhibits varying degrees of generative entrenchment among its parts and activities, these studies and results have in addition broad potential application for the analysis of generative structures in other areas. (shrink)
The reductionistic vision of evolutionary theory, "the gene's eye view of evolution" is the dominant view among evolutionary biologists today. On this view, the gene is the only unit with sufficient stability to act as a unit of selection, with individuals and groups being more ephemeral units of function, but not of selection. This view is argued to be incorrect, on several grounds. The empirical and theoretical bases for the existence of higher-level units of selection are explored, and alternative analyses (...) discussed critically. The success of a multi-level selection theory demands the recognition and development of a multi-level genetics. The way to accomplish this is suggested. The genotype/phenotype distinction also requires further analysis to see how it applies at higher levels of organization. This analysis provides a way of defining genotype and phenotype for cultural evolution, and a treatment of the innate-acquired distinction which are both generalizeable to analyze problems of the nature and focus of scientific change. (shrink)