The nature/nurture debate is not dead. Dichotomous views of development still underlie many fundamental debates in the biological and social sciences. Developmental systems theory offers a new conceptual framework with which to resolve such debates. DST views ontogeny as contingent cycles of interaction among a varied set of developmental resources, no one of which controls the process. These factors include DNA, cellular and organismic structure, and social and ecological interactions. DST has excited interest from a wide range of researchers, from (...) molecular biologists to anthropologists, because of its ability to integrate evolutionary theory and other disciplines without falling into traditional oppositions. The book provides historical background to DST, recent theoretical findings on the mechanisms of heredity, applications of the DST framework to behavioral development, implications of DST for the philosophy of biology, and critical reactions to DST. (shrink)
The Developmental Systems approach to evolution is defended against the alternative extended replicator approach of Sterelny, Smith and Dickison (1996). A precise definition is provided of the spatial and temporal boundaries of the life-cycle that DST claims is the unit of evolution. Pacé Sterelny et al., the extended replicator theory is not a bulwark against excessive holism. Everything which DST claims is replicated in evolution can be shown to be an extended replicator on Sterelny et al.s definition. Reasons are given (...) for scepticism about the heuristic value claimed for the extended replicator concept. For every competitive, individualistic insight the replicator theorist has a cooperative, systematic blindspot. (shrink)
Developmental systems theory (DST) is a general theoretical perspective on development, heredity and evolution. It is intended to facilitate the study of interactions between the many factors that influence development without reviving `dichotomous' debates over nature or nurture, gene or environment, biology or culture. Several recent papers have addressed the relationship between DST and the thriving new discipline of evolutionary developmental biology (EDB). The contributions to this literature by evolutionary developmental biologists contain three important misunderstandings of DST.
Debates in animal cognition are frequently polarized between the romantic view that some species have human-like causal understanding and the killjoy view that human causal reasoning is unique. These apparently endless debates are often characterized by conceptual confusions and accusations of straw-men positions. What is needed is an account of causal understanding that enables researchers to investigate both similarities and differences in cognitive abilities in an incremental evolutionary framework. Here we outline the ways in which a three-dimensional model of causal (...) understanding fulfills these criteria. We describe how this approach clarifies what is at stake, illuminates recent experiments on both physical and social cognition, and plots a path for productive future research that avoids the romantic/killjoy dichotomy. (shrink)
Developmental systems theory is an attempt to sum up the ideas of a research tradition in developmental psychobiology that goes back at least to Daniel Lehrman’s work in the 1950s. It yields a representation of evolution that is quite capable of accommodating the traditional themes of natural selection and also the new results that are emerging from evolutionary developmental biology. But it adds something else - a framework for thinking about development and evolution without the distorting dichotomization of biological processes (...) into gene and non-gene and the vestiges of the ‘black-boxing’ of developmental processes in the modern synthesis, such as the asymmetric use of the concept of information. Phenomena that are marginalized in current gene-centric conceptions, such as extra-genetic inheritance, niche construction and phenotypic plasticity are placed center stage. (shrink)
Current debates about “Darwinizing culture” have typically focused on the validity of memetics. In this article we argue that meme-like inheritance is not a necessary requirement for descent with modification. We suggest that an alternative and more productive way of Darwinizing culture can be found in the application of phylogenetic methods. We review recent work on cultural phylogenetics and outline six fundamental questions that can be answered using the power and precision of quantitative phylogenetic methods. However, cultural evolution, like biological (...) evolution, is often far from treelike. We discuss the problems reticulate evolution can cause for phylogenetic analyses and suggest ways in which these problems can be overcome. Our solutions involve a combination of new methods for the study of cultural evolution , and the triangulation of different lines of historical evidence. Throughout we emphasize that most debates about cultural phylogenies can only be settled by empirical research rather than armchair speculation. (shrink)
Clarke and Beck's defense of the theoretical construct “approximate number system” is flawed in serious ways – from biological misconceptions to mathematical naïveté. The authors misunderstand behavioral/psychological technical concepts, such as numerosity and quantical cognition, which they disdain as “exotic.” Additionally, their characterization of rational numbers is blind to the essential role of symbolic reference in the emergence of number.
Ramsey et al. attempt to clarify methodological issues for identifying innovative behaviour. Their effort is seriously weakened by an underlying presumption that the behavior of primates is generally learned and that of non-primates is generally This presumption is based on a poor grasp of the non-primate literature and a flawed understanding of how learned behaviour is genetically assimilated.
We welcome Norenzayan et al.’s claim that the prosocial effects of beliefs in supernatural agents extend beyond Big Gods. To date, however, supporting evidence has focused on the Abrahamic Big God, making generalisations difficult. We discuss a recent study that highlights the need for clarity about the causal path by which supernatural beliefs affect the evolution of big societies.