Philosophy of Biology

Edited by Manolo Martínez (Universitat de Barcelona)
Assistant editor: Wiseley Wong (University of Western Ontario)
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  1. An Integrated Account of Rosen’s Relational Biology and Peirce’s Semiosis. Part II: Analysis of Protein Synthesis.Federico Vega - forthcoming - Biosemiotics:1-25.
    In a previous paper, an integrated account of Rosen’s relational biology and Peirce’s semiosis has been proposed. Both theories have been compared and basic concepts have been posited for the definition of a unified framework for the study of biology, as well as a method for the identification and analysis of the presence of signs in an organism. The analysis of the existence of semiotic actions in an organism must, without a doubt, begin by considering each of the rules that (...)
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  2. Kinship Revisited.Nicholas Evans, Stephen Levinson & Kim Sterelny - forthcoming - Biological Theory:1-4.
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  3. A Semiotic Modern Synthesis: Conducting Quantitative Studies in Zoosemiotics and Interpreting Existing Ethological Studies through a Semiotic Framework.Amelia Lewis - forthcoming - Biosemiotics:1-33.
    In this paper, I present an argument that quantitative behavioural analysis can be used in zoosemiotic studies to advance the field of biosemiotics. The premise is that signs and signals form patterns in space and time, which can be measured and analysed mathematically. Whole organism sign processing is an important component of the semiosphere, with individual organisms in their Umwelten deriving signs from, and contributing to, the semiosphere, and vice versa. Moreover, there is a wealth of data available in the (...)
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  4. Interactions Within the Holobiont: On the Holobiont’s Interactions of Its Microorganisms.Tamar Schneider - forthcoming - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology.
    I address the question of how we should understand the holobiont and offer to look at it from the perspective of interactions. The debate about the holobiont centers on two issues: where to place its boundaries and what are the criteria for distinguishing inside from outside. By shifting the focus from degrees of cohesion of the host-symbiont interactions to the heterogeneity of interactions, I suggest a different perspective on interactions and their role in shaping the interacting agent (e.g., host-organism/microorganism/holobiont). I (...)
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  5. Teleosemantics and the Hard Problem of Content.Stephen Francis Mann & Ross Pain - 2021 - Philosophical Psychology 34.
    Hutto and Myin claim that teleosemantics cannot account for mental content. In their view, teleosemantics accounts for a poorer kind of relation between cognitive states and the world but lacks the theoretical tools to account for a richer kind. We show that their objection imposes two criteria on theories of content: a truth-evaluable criterion and an intensionality criterion. For the objection to go through, teleosemantics must be subject to both these criteria and must fail to satisfy them. We argue that (...)
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  6. Quantification and Realism: Locating Semiosis in the Description of Biological Systems.Claudio J. Rodríguez Higuera - forthcoming - Biosemiotics:1-12.
    What do we quantify when we attempt to quantify semiotic systems and theories? How sound are potential quantifications in terms of interpretive values within some varieties of semiotic theory? We will make a distinction between formalization and quantification in order to understand what to quantify, how to quantify it and why quantification may be a desirable outcome for semiotic theory. The implications of this stance may be relevant and philosophically interesting in light of the naturalized project of biosemiotics. In this (...)
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  7. Quantum Propensities in the Brain Cortex and Free Will.Danko D. Georgiev - 2021 - Biosystems 208:104474.
    Capacity of conscious agents to perform genuine choices among future alternatives is a prerequisite for moral responsibility. Determinism that pervades classical physics, however, forbids free will, undermines the foundations of ethics, and precludes meaningful quantification of personal biases. To resolve that impasse, we utilize the characteristic indeterminism of quantum physics and derive a quantitative measure for the amount of free will manifested by the brain cortical network. The interaction between the central nervous system and the surrounding environment is shown to (...)
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  8. Do What Darwin Did – How to Deal with Teleological Misconceptions in the Classroom.Ginnobili Santiago, González Galli Leonardo & Ariza Yefrin - 2021 - Science & Education:1-21.
    We argue that teleological thinking plays a central role in biology and, more specifically, in theory of natural selection, and, therefore, the didactic goal cannot be its unnuanced elimination. In this sense, we will suggest that students’ teleological views can be used as the starting point for the construction of knowledge in this area of biology. To establish possible didactic strategies, we will turn to the way Darwin himself dealt with the teleology of former naturalists: Darwin had to modify several (...)
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  9. The Search for Ourselves in the Universe: A Review of 'Contingency and Convergence: Toward a Cosmic Biology of Body and Mind'. [REVIEW]Letitia Meynell - 2021 - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 13.
    The basic thesis of Russell Powell’s Contingency and Convergence: Toward a Cosmic Biology of Body and Mind is that law-like evolutionary processes produce humanlike cognitive capacities, rendering such capacities common in the universe. There is an important caveat; key aspects of human cognition, those that undergird cumulative culture, are entirely contingent and likely very rare. To defend this thesis, Powell marshals a wealth of evidence from a variety of disciplines and develops some singular theoretical tools. Unfortunately, at a number of (...)
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  10. Four Epistemological Gaps in Alloanimal Episodic Memory Studies.Oscar S. Miyamoto Gómez - forthcoming - Biosemiotics:1-19.
    Experimental studies show that some corvids, apes, and rodents possess a common long-term memory system that allows them to take goal-directed actions on the basis of absent spatiotemporal contexts. In other words, evidence supports the hypothesis that Episodic Memory —far from being uniquely human— has evolved as a cross-species meaning making system. However, within this zoosemiotic breakthrough, neurocognitive studies now struggle characterizing the relations between teleological factors and phenomenological factors that would account for the episodic behavior displayed by these living (...)
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  11. Carving the mind at its homologous joints.Vincent Bergeron - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (4):1-16.
    My aim in this paper is twofold. First, I provide an analysis of the notion of cognitive homology. In contrast with the well-known concept of structural homology in biology—defined as the same structure in different animals regardless of form and function—the notion of cognitive homology captures the idea that the basic cognitive contribution of a given homologous brain structure tends to remain stable over long evolutionary time scales. Second, I argue that this notion provides a powerful conceptual tool for the (...)
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  12. A Tribute to Karen Neander.Christopher Hill & Carlotta Pavese - forthcoming - Biological Theory:1-8.
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  13. COVID-19 and inequalities: the need for inclusive policy response.Farah Naz, Muhammad Ahmad & Asad Umair - 2021 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (3):1-5.
    In this essay, the authors analyze the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of inequalities and socio-economic vulnerabilities. We argue that the current pandemic has been looked at mainly through the lens of biology, leaving sociological blind spots in the response to this pandemic that have had adverse effects. We conclude with the suggestion that apart from recommendations from health sciences, policy makers must also take into account local societal structures in order to design effective policies to control the contagion.
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  14. On the Epistemological Significance of Arguments From Non Transitive Similarity.Friedrich Wilhelm Grafe - 2021 - Archive.Org.
    This paper aims to argue for, else illustrate the epistemological significance of the use of non transitive similarity relations, mapping only to "types", as methodologically being on a par with the use of transitive similarity relations (equivalence relations), mapping as well to "predicates".
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  15. (Cat)egory mistake: the invalidity of animal shelter behavior assessments.Derek Halm - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (4):1-13.
    Animal shelters face diverse challenges, which often necessitate making life-or-death decisions for animals in their care. One strategy used to determine whether admitting, adoption, or euthanasia is appropriate is to assess an animal’s in-shelter or pre-admission behavior to infer its “personality.” Shelters do this because potential adopters are often interested in knowing an animal’s personality as it provides information about whether the animal will fit in their home. However, shelter behavior assessments are a broad topic. To narrow focus, I explore (...)
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  16. Development and microbiology.Aja Watkins - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (4):1-30.
    On the basis of findings from developmental biology, some researchers have argued that evolutionary theory needs to be significantly updated. Advocates of such a “developmental update” have, among other things, suggested that we need to re-conceptualize units of selection, that we should expand our view of inheritance to include environmental as well as genetic and epigenetic factors, that we should think of organisms and their environment as involved in reciprocal causation, and that we should reevaluate the rates of evolutionary change. (...)
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  17. Environment, Equivalence Inferences, and the Twins: A Reply to Sober.T. Y. William Wong - 2021 - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 13.
    Within the philosophy of biology, Michael Scriven’s twins has become a well-known thought experiment, due to its being the impetus for various lines of discussion concerning the contentious definition of evolutionary fitness, the distinction between natural selection and genetic drift, and evolutionary environments. As one version of the story goes: two twins who, ex hypothesi, are genotypically and phenotypically the same are located side by side on a mountain. An unfortunate event ensues whereby a lightning strike kills one of the (...)
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  18. Adaptive Regeneration Across Scales: Replicators and Interactors From Limbs to Forests.S. Andrew Inkpen & W. Ford Doolittle - 2021 - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 13.
    Diverse living systems possess the capacity for regeneration; that is, they can under some circumstances repair, re-produce, and maintain themselves in the face of disturbance or damage. Think of systems as diverse as forests, microbial biofilms, corals, salamanders, hydra, and human skin cells. This capacity is fundamental to life—without it, many biological systems would be too fragile to cope with stress and would frequently collapse—but because it is multiply realized in wildly different living systems at many scales, finding a common (...)
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  19. Ecoacoustics and Multispecies Semiosis: Naming, Semantics, Semiotic Characteristics, and Competencies.Almo Farina, Alice Eldridge & Peng Li - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):141-165.
    Biosemiotics to date has focused on the exchange of signals between organisms, in line with bioacoustics; consideration of the wider acoustic environment as a semiotic medium is under-developed. The nascent discipline of ecoacoustics, that investigates the role of environmental sound in ecological processes and dynamics, fills this gap. In this paper we introduce key ecoacoustic terminology and concepts in order to highlight the value of ecoacoustics as a discipline in which to conceptualise and study intra- and interspecies semiosis. We stress (...)
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  20. Expanding the Reach of Biosemiotics.Yogi Hale Hendlin - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):1-4.
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  21. Response to Denis Noble’s Article “The Illusions of the Modern Synthesis,” Biosemiotics.James A. Shapiro - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):73-78.
    The Modern Synthesis was based on Darwin’s gradualist view of evolution and early twentieth Century Mendelian and population genetics. Although early results in microbial and molecular genetics seemed to solidify MS views through the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, accepting their basic concepts as permanent truths blinded MS proponents to the importance of incompatible discoveries in the second half of the 20th and early 21st Centuries. Discoveries based largely on the DNA record have provided a radically different view of genome (...)
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  22. Making the Umwelt Bubble of the Modern Synthesis Burst.Morten Tønnessen - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):121-125.
    Noble rightly emphasizes that some modern evolutionary biologists´ neglect of agency is consequential with regard to our understanding of the natural world and real-world ecological developments. I elaborate on biosemiotic ideas on semiotic agency and explain how organisms can change the environment by way of semiotic causation. I also comment on the human language’s role in human Umwelten, and how our linguistically mediated reality can be self-deceptive – as if we lived in a bubble of our own making. Finally, I (...)
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  23. To the End of Dogmatism in Molecular Biology.Guenther Witzany - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):67-72.
    Denis Nobel looks at four important misinterpretations of molecular biology concerning evolutionary processes and demonstrates that the new synthesis today looks rather outdated. The modern synthesis is nearly 80 years old. The proponents who worked out the modern synthesis had no access to the current knowledge on cell biology, genetics, epigenetics, RNA biology and virology. Therefore this contribution adds several aspects which Nobel’s article does not explicitly mention, providing some examples for a better understanding of evolutionary novelty.
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  24. Natural Selection and Self-Organization Do Not Make Meaning, while the Agent’s Choice Does.Kalevi Kull - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):49-53.
    Demonstration of illusiveness of basic beliefs of the Modern Synthesis implies the existence of evolutionary mechanisms that do not require natural selection for the origin of adaptations. This requires adaptive changes that occur independently from replication, but can occasionally become heritable. Plastic self-organizational changes regulated by genome are largely incorporable into the old theory. A fundamentally different source of adaptability is semiosis which includes the agent’s free choice. Adding semiosis into the theory of Extended Evolutionary Synthesis completes the distancing from (...)
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  25. Evolution without History?Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):131-134.
    This essay is a response to Denis Noble’s argument that the evolutionary synthesis was based on illusory science and that it itself is a kind of illusion. The response includes an historical examination of the relationship between evolutionary biology and molecular biology, along with the importance of history in evolutionary biology, which is an historical science. It raises concerns about adherence to one standard evolutionary theory, and urges the reader to consider a more contextualist and historicist approach, one that adopts (...)
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  26. A Humanist’s Response to Denis Noble’s “The Illusions of the Modern Synthesis”.Louise Westling - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):31-34.
    Denis Noble suggests that biologists who created the Modern Synthesis were taken in by conceptual traps and illusions hidden in the language they used. Rather than blame language itself, my response counters that all writers are responsible for careful attention to the implications of the metaphors they use, and that Richard Dawkins deliberately chose “the selfish gene.” Noble’s concept of biological relativity restores Darwin’s fuller and more nuanced definition of natural selection and shows how it also accounts for Lamarck’s assertion (...)
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  27. Illusions of Linguistics and Illusions of Modern Synthesis: Two Parallel Stories.Alexander Bolshoy & Ľudmila Lacková - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):115-119.
    Metaphors involve immense explanatory power and positive impact predominantly in the scientific education and popularization. Still the use of metaphors in science might be a double-edged sword. Introduction of the computer metaphor to many scientific fields in the last century resulted in reductionist approaches, oversimplifications and mechanistic explanations in science as well as in humanities. In this short commentary we developed further the computer metaphor by prof. Noble and the illusions this metaphor led to in genetics, linguistics and consequently DNA (...)
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  28. Criticizing the Modern Synthesis: between Phenomenal Characteristics and Synthetic Principles.Bohang Chen, Joris Van Poucke & Gertrudis Van de Vijver - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):135-140.
    Starting from Denis Noble’s criticism on the modern synthesis, this article argues that the author’s presentation of the modern synthesis focusses too one-sidedly on the phenomenal characteristics of the living, whereby it is made easily suitable to his criticisms, but risks to remain trapped in a territory-struggle; this criticism lacks an explicit focus on logical matters, and more in particular on the synthetic principles required to situate the relevancy or irrelevancy of phenomenal characteristics beyond territory-struggles. A brief sketch of how (...)
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  29. On the Use of “Illusion”.Tyler Volk - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):127-129.
    In this commentary on Denis Noble’s paper, I focus on his use of the term “illusion,” and juxtapose it with other potential terms, in particular several others he has used for similar points in his book, Dance to the Tune of Life. His use of “illusion,” if more fully explicated, might be of even broader applicability than in his paper. I ask about potential classes of errors in science and remark about his “principle of biological relativity.”.
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  30. Signs of Consciousness?Eva Jablonka - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):25-29.
    In this commentary I expand on the first of Noble’s illusions, the selection metaphor. Building on my work with Simona Ginsburg on the evolution of minimal consciousness, I argue that the existence of some complex sensory and motor patterns in the living world can be accounted for only through the evolution of conscious choice.
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  31. Towards a Biosemiotic Theory of Evolution.Alexei A. Sharov - 2021 - Biosemiotics 14 (1):101-105.
    The target article by Denis Noble is an excellent overview of the illusions of the Modern Synthesis that still remains in textbooks despite of the recent criticism. Overcoming these illusions shows the active role of organisms in the evolutionary process and accounts for additional mechanisms such as plasticity of embryo development, epigenetic heredity, multilevel selection, Baldwin effect, and niche construction, which are components of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. Adding these mechanisms is certainly an important step forward, but I argue that (...)
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  32. Semiotic Function of Empathy in Text Emotion Assessment.Anastasia Kolmogorova, Alexander Kalinin & Alina Malikova - forthcoming - Biosemiotics:1-16.
    The focus of this paper is to discuss the semiotic aspects of our findings from a project we conducted in the frame of Emotional Text Analysis paradigm. In the project, we intended to create a computer text classifier capable of effectively classifying texts into emotional categories. We agreed that we would need discrete data samples to input into it. For this, we asked 178 informants to give a verdict on the dominant emotion of 48 sample texts. Prior to their assessment (...)
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  33. Kin Against Kin: Internal Co-selection and the Coherence of Kinship Typologies.Sam Passmore, Wolfgang Barth, Kyla Quinn, Simon J. Greenhill, Nicholas Evans & Fiona M. Jordan - forthcoming - Biological Theory:1-18.
    Across the world people in different societies structure their family relationships in many different ways. These relationships become encoded in their languages as kinship terminology, a word set that maps variably onto a vast genealogical grid of kinship categories, each of which could in principle vary independently. But the observed diversity of kinship terminology is considerably smaller than the enormous theoretical design space. For the past century anthropologists have captured this variation in typological schemes with only a small number of (...)
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  34. Model Organisms for Studying Decision-Making: A Phylogenetically Expanded Perspective.Linus Ta-Lun Huang, Leonardo Bich & William Bechtel - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.
    This paper explores the use of model organisms in studying the cognitive phenomenon of decision-making. Drawing on the framework of biological control to develop a skeletal conception of decision-making, we show that two core features of decision-making mechanisms can be identified by studying model organisms, such as E. coli, jellyfish, C. elegans, lamprey, etc. First, decision mechanisms are distributed and heterarchically-structured. Second, they depend heavily on chemical information processing, such as those involving neuromodulators. We end by discussing the implications for (...)
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  35. Memory in Ion Channel Kinetics.M. P. Silva, C. G. Rodrigues, W. A. Varanda & R. A. Nogueira - forthcoming - Acta Biotheoretica.
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  36. Species Transformation Through Reconstruction: Reconstruction Through Active Reaction of Organisms: Translated by Alexander Böhm and Jan Baedke.Hans Böker - 2021 - Biological Theory 16 (2):114-122.
    Comparative biological morphology, incorporating the study of active reaction, is contrasted with genetics as the study of passive mutation. Geneticists investigate anatomical characters, never anatomical constructions, which are capable of reorganization when the biological-morphological equilibrium of the organism has been disturbed. The anatomy of Opisthocomus cristatus and Stringops habroptilus demonstrate that three successive disturbances in the bio-morphological equilibrium are reacted to purposively by anatomical reconstruction. These reactions are no accidental mutations, but are anatomical reactions, related to, and affecting, the organism (...)
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  37. Complementary Oligonucleotides Rendered Discordant by Single Base Mutations May Drive Speciation.Donald R. Forsdyke - forthcoming - Biological Theory:1-5.
    A biological explanation for the dependence of genome-wide mutation-rate variation on local base context is now becoming clearer. The proportions of G + C relative to A + T—expressed as GC%—is a species-specific DNA character. The frequencies of these single bases correlate with frequencies of corresponding oligonucleotides that are more-sensitive indicators of species specificity. Thus, when k = 3 there are 64 possible trinucleotide sequences and a GC%-rich species has a high frequency of GC-rich 3-mers. Closely related species have similar (...)
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  38. Clarifying Misconceptions of the Zone of Latent Solutions Hypothesis: A Response to Haidle and Schlaudt: Miriam Noël Haidle and Oliver Schlaudt: Where Does Cumulative Culture Begin? A Plea for a Sociologically Informed Perspective.Elisa Bandini, Jonathan Scott Reeves, William Daniel Snyder & Claudio Tennie - 2021 - Biological Theory 16 (2):76-82.
    The critical examination of current hypotheses is one of the key ways in which scientific fields develop and grow. Therefore, any critique, including Haidle and Schlaudt’s article, “Where Does Cumulative Culture Begin? A Plea for a Sociologically Informed Perspective,” represents a welcome addition to the literature. However, critiques must also be evaluated. In their article, Haidle and Schlaudt review some approaches to culture and cumulative culture in both human and nonhuman primates. H&S discuss the “zone of latent solutions” hypothesis as (...)
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  39. Revisiting Hans Böker’s "Species Transformation Through Reconstruction: Reconstruction Through Active Reaction of Organisms".Alejandro Fábregas-Tejeda, Abigail Nieves Delgado & Jan Baedke - 2021 - Biological Theory 16 (2):63-75.
    Against the common historiographic narratives of evolutionary biology, the first decades of the 20th century were theoretically far richer than usually assumed. This especially refers to the hitherto neglected role that early theoretical biologists played in introducing visionary research perspectives and concepts before the institutionalization of the Modern Synthesis. Here, we present one of these scholars, the German theoretical biologist and ecomorphologist Hans Böker, by reviewing his 1935 paper “Artumwandlung durch Umkonstruktion, Umkonstruktion durch aktives Reagieren der Organismen”, published in the (...)
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  40. Taking the Historical-Social Dimension Seriously: A Reply to Bandini et al.: E. Bandini, J. S. Reeves, W. D. Snyder, C. Tennie: Clarifying Misconceptions of the Zone of Latent Solutions Hypothesis: A Response to Haidle and Schlaudt.Miriam Noël Haidle & Oliver Schlaudt - 2021 - Biological Theory 16 (2):83-89.
    In our recent article, "Where Does Cumulative Culture Begin? A Plea for a Sociologically Informed Perspective" we commented on a fundamental notion in current approaches to cultural evolution, the “zones of latent solutions”, and proposed a modification of it, namely a social and dynamic interpretation of the latent solutions which were originally introduced within an individualistic framework and as static, genetically fixed entities. This modification seemed, and still seems, relevant to us and, in particular, more adequate for coping with the (...)
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