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Darwin-L Message Log 1:44 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:44>From jacobsk@ERE.UMontreal.CA  Mon Sep  6 22:35:06 1993

From: jacobsk@ERE.UMontreal.CA (Jacobs Kenneth)
Subject: Re: Evolution and Change, Take II
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1993 23:33:42 -0400 (EDT)

Robert Guralnick  on Mon, 6 Sep 1993 17:49:35 -0500, writes:

>...Is evolution somehow different from change over time?  Are
>these terms synonymous?  ...  Here is my own take on the matter.
>Evolution implies more than change over time; it implies some kind
>of ordering of change.  In weaker moments, I consider evolution a
>necessary outgrowth of information systems.  Does evolution imply
>direction?  For example, we have no notion, even in Biology, where it
>has been studied best, of devolution, while change in time implies that
>we could go back to primitive states.

1-  If evolution = ordering of change, would there then be *no*
"evolution" in a biological system upon which there were no selective
pressures, but in which mutations continued apace?  It seems to me that
such a restriction on the use of the term would fly in the face of one of the
more commonly understood connotations of the term.  That evolution
should/must produce "order from chaos" seems a holdover from the way
in which the term was first used in embryology, to describe the "unfolding"
of the pre-ordained organism (these etymological roots of "evolution" are
clearer in most non-English languages; Peter Bowler has some good stuff
on this).  More 19th century roots are showing too in the commonplace
that directionality is part of evolution,"Progress" and all that being so
important in the Victorian world view.

2-  I wonder about your notion that change in time implies the
ability to return to primitive states.  Are you suggesting that evolution,
in contrast, does not imply this?  It seems to me that it might almost be
the reverse.  Historical change is change in time, yet because historical
events are complex sets of huge quantities of unique factors (personalities,
environments, etc etc), "reversing time" so as to revert to a prior moment
in history---a previous [hence, more primitive] state---seems highly im-
probable if not impossible.  Yet reverting to a previous genotype occurs all
the time with back mutations, while only technological hassles for the most
part [at least in principle, and ignoring lost DNA information] impede back
breeding to species such as the East-European steppe horse or the aurochs.

In any case, just some thoughts too late at night to keep the discussion
going.

Cheers,
	Ken Jacobs
jacobsk@ere.umontreal.ca

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