Filling Some Epistemological Gaps: New Patterns of Inference in Evolutionary Theory

Contemporary evolutionary theory, derived from the intellectual marriage of Darwin's and Mendel's discoveries, leads us to view organisms as successful, but essentially ad hoc, responses to chance and necessity. Biological universals, the code, the pentadactyl limb, are frozen accidents shared by descent. The source of biological order has come to be seen as selection itself. This paper argues that this view is fundamentally inadequate. It ignores those underlying sources of biological order which derive from the generic self-organizing properties of the biological building blocks. Among these generic properties are almost universal aspects of phase resetting responses in biological rhythmic systems, fascinating properties of continuity, symmetry and handedness seen in pattern regeneration across distant phyla; and statistically robust properties expected of eukaryotic gene regulatory systems persistently subject to mutations which "scramble" regulatory interactions. These examples suggest that many properties in organisms reflect a balance between selection, and the rich generic properties which would occur in the absence of selection. Where the balance is "close" to generic, a new pattern of evolutionary inference, and an ahistorical source of biological universals may be found: Those properties reflect, not selection, but the self-organizing features of the building blocks
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