Generative Entrenchment and Evolution

PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1986:33 - 60 (1986)
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Abstract

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.

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William C. Wimsatt
University of Minnesota

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