It's been 41 years since the publication of Ernst Mayr's Cause and Effect in Biology wherein Mayr most clearly develops his version of the influential distinction between ultimate and proximate causes in biology. In critically assessing Mayr's essay I uncover false statements and red-herrings about biological explanation. Nevertheless, I argue to uphold an analogue of the ultimate/proximate distinction as it refers to two different kinds of explanations, one dynamical the other statistical.
In “Two Ways of Thinking About Fitness and Natural Selection” (Matthen and Ariew ; henceforth “Two Ways”), we asked how one should think of the relationship between the various factors invoked to explain evolutionary change – selection, drift, genetic constraints, and so on. We suggested that these factors are not related to one another as “forces” are in classical mechanics. We think it incoherent, for instance, to think of natural selection and drift as separate and opposed “forces” in evolutionary (...) change – that it makes sense to say, for instance, that selection contributed 80% to the actual evolutionary history of the human eye, and drift only 20%. We proposed instead a statistical view of the Theory of Evolution, a view in which fitness is not a cause of evolution, but rather a measure of growth. We also argued for a “hierarchical realization model” for thinking about the relationship between evolutionary factors such as those mentioned above, and suggested that in a “fully specified model”, as we call it below, there is no distinction between natural selection and evolution. (shrink)
How do fitness and natural selection relate to other evolutionary factors like architectural constraint, mode of reproduction, and drift? In one way of thinking, drawn from Newtonian dynamics, fitness is one force driving evolutionary change and added to other factors. In another, drawn from statistical thermodynamics, it is a statistical trend that manifests itself in natural selection histories. It is argued that the first model is incoherent, the second appropriate; a hierarchical realization model is proposed as a basis for a (...) statistical treatment. It emerges that natural selection does not cause evolution; it just is evolution. The theory incorporates relations of statistical correlation, but not the kind of causation found in fundamental physical processes. (shrink)
We distinguish dynamical and statistical interpretations of evolutionary theory. We argue that only the statistical interpretation preserves the presumed relation between natural selection and drift. On these grounds we claim that the dynamical conception of evolutionary theory as a theory of forces is mistaken. Selection and drift are not forces. Nor do selection and drift explanations appeal to the (sub-population-level) causes of population level change. Instead they explain by appeal to the statistical structure of populations. We briefly discuss the implications (...) of the statistical interpretation of selection for various debates within the philosophy of biologythe `explananda of selection' debate and the `units of selection' debate. (shrink)
In this paper, we argue that rather than exclusively focusing on trying to determine if an idealized model fits a particular account of scientific explanation, philosophers of science should also work on directly analyzing various explanatory schemas that reveal the steps and justification involved in scientists’ use of highly idealized models to formulate explanations. We develop our alternative methodology by analyzing historically important cases of idealized statistical modeling that use a three-step explanatory schema involving idealization, mathematical operation, and explanatory interpretation.
We have argued elsewhere that: (A) Natural selection is not a cause of evolution. (B) A resolution-of-forces (or vector addition) model does not provide us with a proper understanding of how natural selection combines with other evolutionary influences. These propositions have come in for criticism recently, and here we clarify and defend them. We do so within the broad framework of our own “hierarchical realization model” of how evolutionary influences combine.
Lorenz proposed in his (1935) articulation of a theory of behavioral instincts that the objective of ethology is to distinguish behaviors that are innate from behaviors that are learned (or acquired). Lorenzs motive was to open the investigation of certain adaptive behaviors to evolutionary theorizing. Accordingly, since innate behaviors are genetic, they are open to such investigation. By Lorenzs light an innate/acquired or learned dichotomy rested on a familiar Darwinian distinction between genes and environments. Ever since Lorenz, ascriptions of innateness (...) have become widespread in the cognitive, behavioral, and biological sciences. The trend continues despite decades of strong arguments that show, in particular, the dichotomy that Lorenz invoked in his theory of behavioral instincts is literally false: no biological trait is the product of genes alone. Some critics suggest that the failure of Lorenzs account shows that innateness is not well-defined in biology and the practice of ascribing innateness to various biological traits should be dropped from respectable science. Elsewhere (Ariew 1996) I argued that despite the arguments of critics, there really is a biological phenomenon underlying the concept of innateness. On my view, innateness is best understood in terms of C.H. Waddingtons concept of canalization, i.e. the degree to which a trait is innate is the degree to which its developmental outcome is canalized. The degree to which a developmental outcome is canalized is the degree to which the developmental process is bound to produce a particular endstate despite environmental fluctuations both in the developments initial state and during the course of development. The canalization account differs in many ways to the traditional ways that ethologists such as Konrad Lorenz originally understood the concept of innateness. Most importantly, on the canalization account the distinction between innate and acquired is not a dichotomy, as Konrad Lorenz had it, but rather a matter of degree difference that lies along a spectrum with highly canalized development outcomes on the one end and highly environmentally sensitive development outcomes on the other end. Nevertheless, I justified the canalization account on the basis of a set of desiderata or criteria that I suggested falls-out of what seemed uncontroversial about Lorenzs account of innateness (briefly): innateness is a property of a developing individual, innateness denotes environmental stability, and innate-ascriptions are useful in certain natural selection explanations (more below). From that same set of desiderata I argued (in my 1996) that neither the concept of heritability nor of norms of reactionstwo concepts from population geneticssuffice to ground innateness. In this essay, I wish to provide further support of the canalization account in two ways. First, I wish to better motivate the desiderata by revisiting a debate between Konrad Lorenz and Daniel Lehrman over the meaning and explanatory usefulness of innate ascriptions in ethology. Second, I wish to compare my canalization account of innateness with accounts proposed by contemporary philosophers, one by Stephen Stich (1975), another by Elliott Sober (forthcoming), and a third by William Wimsatt (1986). (shrink)
Over the past fifteen years there has been a considerable amount of debate concerning what theoretical population dynamic models tell us about the nature of natural selection and drift. On the causal interpretation, these models describe the causes of population change. On the statistical interpretation, the models of population dynamics models specify statistical parameters that explain, predict, and quantify changes in population structure, without identifying the causes of those changes. Selection and drift are part of a statistical description of population (...) change; they are not discrete, apportionable causes. Our objective here is to provide a definitive statement of the statistical position, so as to allay some confusions in the current literature. We outline four commitments that are central to statisticalism. They are: 1. Natural Selection is a higher order eﬀect; 2. Trait fitness is primitive; 3. Modern Synthesis (MS)-models are substrate neutral; 4. MS-selection and drift are model-relative. (shrink)
The central point of this essay is to demonstrate the incommensurability of ‘Darwinian fitness’ with the numeric values associated with reproductive rates used in population genetics. While sometimes both are called ‘fitness’, they are distinct concepts coming from distinct explanatory schemes. Further, we try to outline a possible answer to the following question: from the natural properties of organisms and a knowledge of their environment, can we construct an algorithm for a particular kind of organismic life-history pattern that itself will (...) allow us to predict whether a type in the population will increase or decrease relative to other types? Introduction Darwinian fitness Reproductive fitness and genetical models of evolution The models of reproductive fitness 4.1 The Standard Viability Model 4.2 Frequency-dependent selection 4.3 Fertility models 4.4 Overlapping generations Fitness as outcome 5.1 Fitness as actual increase in type 5.2 Fitness as expected increase in type 5.2.1 Expected increase within a generation 5.2.2 Expected increase between generations 5.2.3 Postponed reproductive fitness effects The book-keeping problem Conclusion. (shrink)
Shapiro and Sober claim that Walsh, Ariew, Lewens, and Matthen give a mistaken, a priori defense of natural selection and drift as epiphenomenal. Contrary to Shapiro and Sober’s claims, we first argue that WALM’s explanatory doctrine does not require a defense of epiphenomenalism. We then defend WALM’s explanatory doctrine by arguing that the explanations provided by the modern genetical theory of natural selection are ‘autonomous-statistical explanations’ analogous to Galton’s explanation of reversion to mediocrity and an explanation of the diffusion (...) ofgases. We then argue that whereas Sober’s theory of forces is an adequate description of Darwin’s theory, WALM’s explanatory doctrine is required to understand how themodern genetical theory of natural selection explains large-scale statistical regularities. 1 Introduction2 Shapiro and Sober’s ‘Epiphenomenalism Do’s and Don’ts’3 WALM’s Explanatory Doctrine4 Galton’s Autonomous-Statistical Explanation5 A Second Example: The Statistical Explanation of the Diffusion of Gases6 Distinguishing Two Theories of Evolution by Natural Selection7 A Possible Objection: Are Statistical Laws Sufficient for Explanation?8 Conclusion. (shrink)
Recently advocates of the propensity interpretation of fitness have turned critics. To accommodate examples from the population genetics literature they conclude that fitness is better defined broadly as a family of propensities rather than the propensity to contribute descendants to some future generation. We argue that the propensity theorists have misunderstood the deeper ramifications of the examples they cite. These examples demonstrate why there are factors outside of propensities that determine fitness. We go on to argue for the more general (...) thesis that no account of fitness can satisfy the desiderata that have motivated the propensity account. (shrink)
There are two general approaches to characterising biological functions. One originates with Cummins. According to this approach, the function of a part of a system is just its causal contribution to some specified activity of the system. Call this the ‘C-function’ concept. The other approach ties the function of a trait to some aspect of its evolutionary significance. Call this the ‘E-function’ concept. According to the latter view, a trait's function is determined by the forces of natural selection. The C-function (...) and E-function concepts are clearly quite different, but there is an important relation between them which heretofore has gone unnoticed. The purpose of this paper is to outline that relation.This is not the first paper to discuss the relation of C-function and E-function. Previous attempts all follow either one of two strategies. The first proposes that the two concepts are ‘unified.’ The other proposes that they are radically distinct and apply to wholly different fields within biology. (shrink)
As Paul Griffiths  puts it, “innateness” is associated with different clusters of related ideas where each cluster depends on different historical, cultural and intellectual contexts. In psychology innateness is typically opposed to learning while the biological opposite of innate is ‘acquired’. ‘Acquired’ and ‘learned’ have different extensions. Learning is one way to acquire a character but there are others. Cuts and scratches are unlearned yet acquired; if we could acquire languages by popping a pill, then languages would be unlearned (...) yet acquired according to the wide biological application of the term [Sober, 1998]. Further, in psychology and philosophy innateness is often associated with both “universality” (or species-specificity), and, relatedely, innate traits are often thought to be “fixed” or “unmodifiable”. But, biologists recognize a range of developmental patterns that a specific trait may take. Some are universal, but others are not, as in the case of innate diseases. Some are “fixed” in the sense that once we develop them we have them for the rest of our lives; some innate diseases are like this, but others, are modifiable. Sober  cites a case of an Egyptian vulture that when first confronted with an ostrich egg and a stone, will break the egg with the stone, but if the vulture repeatedly comes to find broken eggs to be empty, it will eventually stop breaking eggs. These examples lend support to Griffiths’s thesis, since the concept of innateness in psychology appears to be in several ways distinct from the concept of innateness in biology. (shrink)
Teleology in biology is making headline news in the United States. Conservative Christians are utilizing a teleological argument for the existence of a supremely intelligent designer to justify legislation calling for the teaching of "intelligent design" (ID) in public schools. Teleological arguments of one form or another have been around since Antiquity. The contemporary argument from intelligent design varies little from William Paley's argument written in 1802. Both argue that nature exhibits too much complexity to be explained by 'mindless' natural (...) forces alone. We need to postulate the existence of an intelligent designer, a creator with forethought and purpose. The inference to an intelligent creator harkens back to Plato’s teleological argument for the order of the cosmos. Plato’s demiurge is a creator that imposes order on the cosmos. Yet, as we shall see when we analyze the distinctly biological form of the more contemporary teleological arguments we will find remanants of Aristotle’s distinctive argument from functional arrangement, but without his distinctive form of telos which is unconscious and immanent rather than intelligent and creative from on high. The aim of this article is to survey various teleological arguments since Antiquity. Since a variant on Paley's argument—ID—is getting so much recent press I will start with a discussion on the nature of Paley’s teleology. (shrink)
Several philosophers of science have advanced an instrumentalist thesis about the use of probabilities in evolutionary biology. I investigate the consequences of instrumentalism on evolutionary explanations. I take issue with Barbara Horan's (1994) argument that probabilities are unnecessary to explain evolutionary change given the underlying deterministic character of evolutionary processes. First, I question Horan's deterministic assumption. Then, I attempt to undermine her Laplacian argument by demonstrating that whether probabilities are necessary depends upon the sort of questions one is asking.
In Chapter Five of The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way, Jerry Fodor argues that since it is likely that human minds evolved quickly as saltations rather than gradually as the product of an accumulation of small mutations, evolutionary psychologists are wrong to think that human minds are adaptations. I argue that Fodor’s requirement that adaptationism entails gradualism is wrongheaded. So, while evolutionary psychologists may be wrong to endorse gradualism—and I argue that they are wrong—it does not follow that they are (...) wrong to endorse an adaptationist explanation for how the human mind evolved. (shrink)
In the epigraph, Fisher is blaming two generations of theoretical biologists, from Darwin on, for ignoring Quetelet's statistical techniques and hence harboring confusions about evolution and natural selection. He is right to imply that Darwin and his contemporaries were aware of the core of Quetelet's work. Quetelet's seminal monograph, Sur L'homme, was widely discussed in Darwin's academic circles. We know that Darwin owned a copy (Schweber 1977). More importantly, we have in Darwin's notebooks two entries referring to Quetelet's work on (...) the cause of a large-scale global phenomenon where each year more boys were born than girls. The first entry is written sometime between April and July 1838. Darwin writes "Find out from the Statistical Society—where M. Quetelet has published his laws about sexes relative to age of Marriages" (C 268, Barrett et al., 1987, p. 324). The second is written sometime after October 16, 1838: "In the Atheneum Numbers 406, 407, 409, Quetelet papers are given, & I think facts there mentioned about proportion of sexes, at birth & causes" (Ibid, p. 379). So, even if Darwin did not read Sur L'homme directly it is likely (though not certain) that he read its review in the Atheneum. There is no doubt that Darwin eventually became familiar with Quetelet's work in statistics. The smoking gun is an essay that Darwin writes in 1874, entitled, "On the Males and Complemental Males of Certain Cirripedes, and on Rudimentary Structures" where he discusses Quetelet's laws of variation. (shrink)
AristotleÕs central argument for teleologyÑthough not necessarily his conclusionÑis repeated in the teleological arguments of Isaac Newton, Immanuel Kant, William Paley, and Charles Darwin. To appreciate AristotleÕs argument and its influence I assert, first, that AristotleÕs naturalistic teleology must be distinguished from PlatoÕs anthropomorphic one; second, the form of AristotleÕs arguments for teleology should be read as instances of inferences to the best explanation. On my reading, then, both NewtonÕs and PaleyÕs teleological arguments are Aristotelian while their conclusions are Platonic. (...) Kant and DarwinÕs arguments are likewise Aristotelian while their conclusions are unique. (shrink)
Several philosophers of science have advanced an instrumentalist thesis about the use of probabilities in evolutionary biology. I investigate the consequences of instrumentalism on evolutionary explanations. I take issue with Barbara Horan's argument that probabilities are unnecessary to explain evolutionary change given the underlying deterministic character of evolutionary processes. First, I question Horan's deterministic assumption. Then, I attempt to undermine her Laplacian argument by demonstrating that whether probabilities are necessary depends upon the sort of questions one is asking.
Philosophers of biology have been absorbed by the problem of defining evolutionary fitness since Darwin made it central to biological explanation. The apparent problem is obvious. Define fitness as some biologists implicitly do, in terms of actual survival and reproduction, and the principle of natural selection turns into an empty tautology: those organisms which survive and reproduce in larger numbers, survive and reproduce in larger numbers. Accordingly, many writers have sought to provide a definition for ‘fitness’ which avoid this outcome. (...) In particular the definition of fitness as a probabilistic propensity has been widely favored.1 Others, recognizing that no definition both correct and complete can actually be provided, have accepted the consequence that the leading principle of the theory is a definitional truth and attempted to mitigate the impact of this outcome for the empirical character of the theory.2 Still others have argued that ‘fitness’ is properly viewed as a term undefined in the theory of natural selection (on the model of mass—a term undefined in Newtonian mechanics).3 But few have contemplated the solution to this problem proposed by Mohan Matthen and André Ariew (hereafter, MA), in.. (shrink)
Ascriptions of innateness are ubiquitous in the cognitive, behavioral and biological sciences. For example, some linguists think that humans possess an "innate" language aquisition device. Some ethologists think that a great number of animal behaviors are "innate". Implicit in these ascriptions is the belief that innateness is a well-understood biological phenomenon. The question I would like to address in this dissertation is, what makes a morphological, physiological or behavioral feature "innate"? ;According to some nay-sayers, innateness is not well-defined in biology (...) and the practice of ascribing innateness to various biological traits should be dropped from respectable science. Proponents of this view think that the notion of innateness rests on a dichotomous conception of development that has been, through decades of powerful criticism, proven to be mistaken. Accordingly the burden of proof rests on those who employ the innateness concept to demonstrate that despite the criticisms there really is a biological phenomenon underlying the concept. In this dissertation I will attempt to shoulder this burden. (shrink)
I object to eliminativism about innateness and André Ariew’s identification of innateness with canalization, and I propose a new treatment of innateness. I first argue that the concept of innateness is serving a valuable function in a diverse set of research contexts, and in these contexts, claims about innateness are best understood as claims about the insensitivity of the appearance of a trait to certain variations in the environment. I then argue that innateness claims, like claims about canalization, should (...) be explicitly relativized to the specific range of environmental variations of interest to the scientist. My account characterizes an important way in which scientists are employing the concept and offers a way for scientists to carry on using the concept in their research while minimizing confusion and miscommunication. There is a fruitful research program, I claim, in which scientists employ the concept of innateness to help distinguish environmental factors of interest that have a causal influence on the appearance of a trait from those that do not. (shrink)
One controversy about the existence of so called evolutionary forces such as natural selection and random genetic drift concerns the sense in which such “forces” can be said to interact. In this paper I explain how natural selection and random drift can interact. In particular, I show how population-level probabilities can be derived from individual-level probabilities, and explain the sense in which natural selection and drift are embodied in these population-level probabilities. I argue that whatever causal character the individual-level probabilities (...) have is then shared by the population-level probabilities, and that natural selection and random drift then have that same causal character. Moreover, natural selection and drift can then be viewed as two aspects of probability distributions over frequencies in populations of organisms. My characterization of population-level probabilities is largely neutral about what interpretation of probability is required, allowing my approach to support various positions on biological probabilities, including those which give biological probabilities one or another sort of causal character. ‡This paper has benefited from feedback on and discussions of this and earlier work. I want to thank André Ariew, Matt Barker, Lindley Darden, Patrick Forber, Nancy Hall, Mohan Matthen, Samir Okasha, Jeremy Pober, Robert Richardson, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Seidel, Denis Walsh, and Bill Wimsatt. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, HB 414A, 900 13th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35294-1260; e-mail: [email protected] (shrink)
The phenomenon of regression toward the mean is notoriously liable to be overlooked or misunderstood; regression fallacies are easy to commit. But even when regression phenomena are duly recognized, it remains perplexing how they can feature in explanations. This article develops a philosophical account of regression explanations as “statistically autonomous” explanations that cannot be deepened by adducing details about causal histories, even if the explananda as such are embedded in the causal structure of the world. That regression explanations have statistical (...) autonomy was first suggested by Ian Hacking and has recently been defended and elaborated by André Ariew, Yasha Rohwer, and Collin Rice. However, I will argue that these analyses fail to capture what regression’s statistical autonomy consists in and how it sets regression explanations apart from other kinds of explanation. The alternative account I develop also shows what is amiss with a recent denial of regression’s statistical autonomy. Marc Lange has argued that facts that can be explained as regression phenomena can in principle also be explained by citing a conjunction of causal histories. The account of regression explanation developed here shows that his argument is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of statistical autonomy. (shrink)
Occasions of Identity is an exploration of timeless philosophical issues about persistence, change, time, and sameness. Andre Gallois offers a critical survey of various rival views about the nature of identity and change, and puts forward his own original theory. He supports the idea of occasional identities, arguing that it is coherent and helpful to suppose that things can be identical at one time but distinct at another. Gallois defends this view, demonstrating how it can solve puzzles about persistence dating (...) back to the Ancient Greeks, and investigates the metaphysical consequences of rejecting the necessity and eternity of identities. (shrink)
Descartes and the last Scholastics: objections and replies -- Descartes and the Scotists -- Ideas, before and after Descartes -- The Cartesian destiny of form and matter -- Descartes, Basso, and Toletus: three kinds of Corpuscularians -- Scholastics and the new astronomy on the substance of the heavens -- Descartes and the Jesuits of La Fleche: the Eucharist -- Condemnations of Cartesianism: the extension and unity of the universe -- Cartesians, Gassendists, and censorship -- The cogito in the seventeenth century.
Descartes' image of the tree of knowledge from the preface to the French edition of the Principles of Philosophy is usually taken to represent Descartes' break with the past and with the fragmentation of knowledge of the schools. But if Descartes' tree of knowledge is analyzed in its proper context, another interpretation emerges. A series of contrasts with other classifications of knowledge from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries raises some puzzles: claims of originality and radical break from the past do (...) not seem warranted. Further contrasts with Descartes' unpublished writings and with school doctrines lead to the ironic conclusion that, in the famous passage, Descartes is attempting to appeal to conventional wisdom and trying to avoid sounding novel. (shrink)
This paper critically examines the forays into metaphysics of The Dual Nature of Technical Artifacts Program (henceforth, DNP). I argue that the work of DNP is a valuable contribution to the epistemology of certain aspects of artifact design and use, but that it fails to advance a persuasive metaphysic. A central problem is that DNP approaches ontology from within a functionalist framework that is mainly concerned with ascriptions and justified beliefs. Thus, the materiality of artifacts emerges only as the external (...) conditions of realizability of function ascription. The work of DNP has a strong programmatic aspect and much of its foray into metaphysics is tentative, so the intent of my argument is partly synthetic: to sum up these issues as they are presented in the literature and highlight some recognized problems. But I also go beyond that, suggesting that these problems are foundational, arising from the very way in which DNP poses the question of artifact metaphysics. Although it sets out to incorporate objective aspects of technology, DNP places a strong focus on the intentional side of the purported matter-mind duality, bracketing off materiality in an irretrievable manner. Thus, some of the advantages of dualism are lost. I claim that DNP is dualistic, not merely based on “duality”, but that its version of dualism does not appropriately account for the material “nature” of artifacts. The paper ends by suggesting some correctives and alternatives to Dual Nature theory. (shrink)
No single text could be considered more important in the history of philosophy than Descartes' Meditations. This unique collection of background material to this magisterial philosophical text has been translated from the original French and Latin. The texts gathered here illustrate the kinds of principles, assumptions, and philosophical methods that were commonplace when Descartes was growing up. The selections are from: Francisco Sanches, Christopher Clavius, Pierre de la Ramee, Francisco Suárez, Pierre Charron, Eustachius a Sancto Paulo, Scipion Dupleix, Marin Mersenne, (...) Pierre Gassendi, Jean de Silhon, François de la Mothe le Vayer, Charles Sorel, and Jean-Baptiste Morin. (shrink)
Radical enactivism, an increasingly influential approach to cognition in general, has recently been applied to memory in particular, with Hutto and Peeters New directions in the philosophy of memory, Routledge, New York, 2018) providing the first systematic discussion of the implications of the approach for mainstream philosophical theories of memory. Hutto and Peeters argue that radical enactivism, which entails a conception of memory traces as contentless, is fundamentally at odds with current causal and postcausal theories, which remain committed to a (...) conception of traces as contentful: on their view, if radical enactivism is right, then the relevant theories are wrong. Partisans of the theories in question might respond to Hutto and Peeters’ argument in two ways. First, they might challenge radical enactivism itself. Second, they might challenge the conditional claim that, if radical enactivism is right, then their theories are wrong. In this paper, we develop the latter response, arguing that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, radical enactivism in fact aligns neatly with an emerging tendency in the philosophy of memory: radical enactivists and causal and postcausal theorists of memory have begun to converge, for distinct but compatible reasons, on a contentless conception of memory traces. (shrink)
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