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Profile: Brett Calcott (Johns Hopkins University)
  1. Wimsatt and the Robustness Family: Review of Wimsatt's Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings. [REVIEW]Brett Calcott - 2011 - Biology and Philosophy 26 (2):281-293.
    This review of Wimsatt’s book Re-engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings focuses on analysing his use of robustness, a central theme in the book. I outline a family of three distinct conceptions of robustness that appear in the book, and look at the different roles they play. I briefly examine what underwrites robustness, and suggest that further work is needed to clarify both the structure of robustness and the relation between it various conceptions.
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  2. Lineage Explanations: Explaining How Biological Mechanisms Change.Brett Calcott - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (1):51-78.
    This paper describes a pattern of explanation prevalent in the biological sciences that I call a ‘lineage explanation’. The aim of these explanations is to make plausible certain trajectories of change through phenotypic space. They do this by laying out a series of stages, where each stage shows how some mechanism worked, and the differences between each adjacent stage demonstrates how one mechanism, through minor modifications, could be changed into another. These explanations are important, for though it is widely accepted (...)
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  3.  52
    Cooperation and its Evolution.Kim Sterelny, Richard Joyce, Brett Calcott & Ben Fraser (eds.) - 2013 - MIT Press.
    This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans. -/- Part I (“Agents and Environments”) investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make (...)
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  4.  18
    Engineering and Evolvability.Brett Calcott - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):293-313.
    Comparing engineering to evolution typically involves adaptationist thinking, where well-designed artifacts are likened to well-adapted organisms, and the process of evolution is likened to the process of design. A quite different comparison is made when biologists focus on evolvability instead of adaptationism. Here, the idea is that complex integrated systems, whether evolved or engineered, share universal principles that affect the way they change over time. This shift from adaptationism to evolvability is a significant move for, as I argue, we can (...)
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  5.  43
    Why How and Why Aren't Enough: More Problems with Mayr's Proximate-Ultimate Distinction.Brett Calcott - 2013 - Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):767-780.
    Like Laland et al., I think Mayr’s distinction is problematic, but I identify a further problem with it. I argue that Mayr’s distinction is a false dichotomy, and obscures an important question about evolutionary change. I show how this question, once revealed, sheds light on some debates in evo-devo that Laland et al.’s analysis cannot, and suggest that it provides a different view about how future integration between biological disciplines might proceed.
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  6.  56
    The Other Cooperation Problem: Generating Benefit.Brett Calcott - 2008 - Biology and Philosophy 23 (2):179-203.
    Understanding how cooperation evolves is central to explaining some core features of our biological world. Many important evolutionary events, such as the arrival of multicellularity or the origins of eusociality, are cooperative ventures between formerly solitary individuals. Explanations of the evolution of cooperation have primarily involved showing how cooperation can be maintained in the face of free-riding individuals whose success gradually undermines cooperation. In this paper I argue that there is a second, distinct, and less well explored, problem of cooperation (...)
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  7.  20
    The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited.Brett Calcott & Kim Sterelny (eds.) - 2011 - MIT Press.
    Drawing on recent advances in evolutionary biology, prominent scholars return to the question posed in a pathbreaking book: how evolution itself evolved.
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  8.  42
    Measuring Causal Specificity.Paul E. Griffiths, Arnaud Pocheville, Brett Calcott, Karola Stotz, Hyunju Kim & Rob Knight - 2015 - Philosophy of Science 82 (4):529-555.
    Several authors have argued that causes differ in the degree to which they are ‘specific’ to their effects. Woodward has used this idea to enrich his influential interventionist theory of causal explanation. Here we propose a way to measure causal specificity using tools from information theory. We show that the specificity of a causal variable is not well defined without a probability distribution over the states of that variable. We demonstrate the tractability and interest of our proposed measure by measuring (...)
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  9.  67
    Mechanistic Models of Population-Level Phenomena.John Matthewson & Brett Calcott - 2011 - Biology and Philosophy 26 (5):737-756.
    This paper is about mechanisms and models, and how they interact. In part, it is a response to recent discussion in philosophy of biology regarding whether natural selection is a mechanism. We suggest that this debate is indicative of a more general problem that occurs when scientists produce mechanistic models of populations and their behaviour. We can make sense of claims that there are mechanisms that drive population-level phenomena such as macroeconomics, natural selection, ecology, and epidemiology. But talk of mechanisms (...)
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  10.  10
    Causal Specificity and the Instructive–Permissive Distinction.Brett Calcott - 2017 - Biology and Philosophy 32 (4):481-505.
    I use some recent formal work on measuring causation to explore a suggestion by James Woodward: that the notion of causal specificity can clarify the distinction in biology between permissive and instructive causes. This distinction arises when a complex developmental process, such as the formation of an entire body part, can be triggered by a simple switch, such as the presence of particular protein. In such cases, the protein is said to merely induce or "permit" the developmental process, whilst the (...)
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  11.  9
    Engineering and Biology: Counsel for a Continued Relationship.Brett Calcott, Arnon Levy, Mark L. Siegal, Orkun S. Soyer & Andreas Wagner - 2015 - Biological Theory 10 (1):50-59.
    Biologists frequently draw on ideas and terminology from engineering. Evolutionary systems biology—with its circuits, switches, and signal processing—is no exception. In parallel with the frequent links drawn between biology and engineering, there is ongoing criticism against this cross-fertilization, using the argument that over-simplistic metaphors from engineering are likely to mislead us as engineering is fundamentally different from biology. In this article, we clarify and reconfigure the link between biology and engineering, presenting it in a more favorable light. We do so (...)
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  12. Mechanistic Explanation Without Mechanisms.John Matthewson & Brett Calcott - manuscript
    We provide an account of mechanistic representation and explanation that has several advantages over previous proposals. In our view, explaining mechanistically is not simply giving an explanation of a mechanism. Rather, an explanation is mechanistic because of particular relations that hold between a mechanical representation, or model, and the target of explanation. Under this interpretation, mechanistic explanation is possible even when the explanatory target is not a mechanism. We argue that taking this view is not only coherent and plausible, it (...)
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  13.  39
    Assessing the Fitness Landscape Revolution.Brett Calcott - 2008 - Biology and Philosophy 23 (5):639-657.
    According to Pigliucci and Kaplan, there is a revolution underway in how we understand fitness landscapes. Recent models suggest that a perennial problem in these landscapes—how to get from one peak across a fitness valley to another peak—is, in fact, non-existent. In this paper I assess the structure and the extent of Pigliucci and Kaplan’s proposed revolution and argue for two points. First, I provide an alternative interpretation of what underwrites this revolution, motivated by some recent work on model-based science. (...)
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  14. Lineage Explanations: Explaining How Biological Mechanisms Change: Articles.Brett Calcott - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (1):51-78.
    This paper describes a pattern of explanation prevalent in the biological sciences that I call a ‘lineage explanation’. The aim of these explanations is to make plausible certain trajectories of change through phenotypic space. They do this by laying out a series of stages, where each stage shows how some mechanism worked, and the differences between each adjacent stage demonstrates how one mechanism, through minor modifications, could be changed into another. These explanations are important, for though it is widely accepted (...)
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  15.  19
    The Creation and Reuse of Information in Gene Regulatory Networks.Brett Calcott - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (5):879-890.
    Recent work on the evolution of signaling systems provides a novel way of thinking about genetic information, where information is passed between genes in a regulatory network. I use examples from evolutionary developmental biology to show how information can be created in these networks and how it can be reused to produce rapid phenotypic change.
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  16.  20
    Why the Proximate–Ultimate Distinction Is Misleading, and Why It Matters for Understanding the Evolution of Cooperation.Brett Calcott - 2013 - In Kim Sterelny, Richard Joyce, Brett Calcott & Ben Fraser (eds.), Cooperation and its Evolution. MIT Press. pp. 249.
  17.  31
    Manfred D. Laubichler and Gerd B. Müller (Eds): Modeling Biology: Structures, Behaviors, Evolution (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology). [REVIEW]Brett Calcott - 2009 - Acta Biotheoretica 57 (3):383-387.
  18.  1
    Modeling Biology: Structures, Behaviors, Evolution. [REVIEW]Brett Calcott - 2009 - Acta Biotheoretica 57 (3):383-387.
  19. Manfred D. Laubichler and Gerd B. Müller : Modeling Biology: Structures, Behaviors, Evolution.Brett Calcott - 2009 - Acta Biotheoretica 57 (3):383-387.
  20. Signals That Make a Difference.Brett Calcott, Paul E. Griffiths & Arnaud Pocheville - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    Recent work by Brian Skyrms offers a very general way to think about how information flows and evolves in biological networks — from the way monkeys in a troop communicate, to the way cells in a body coordinate their actions. A central feature of his account is a way to formally measure the quantity of information contained in the signals in these networks. In this paper, we argue there is a tension between how Skyrms talks of signalling networks and his (...)
     
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