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Darwin-L Message Log 5:125 (January 1994)

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.


<5:125>From ferragu@imiucca.csi.unimi.it  Mon Jan 24 10:52:31 1994

Date: Mon, 24 Jan 94 16:12:27 +0100
From: Ferraguti Biodip <ferragu@imiucca.csi.unimi.it>
To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

I am quite new to the List, so I introduce myself. I teach Evolutionary
Biology since 15 years to advanced students at the University of Milano,
Italy, at the Faculty of Natural Sciences. My research interests are
on Gamete Biology.

Even if I have never published a theoretical paper on evolution, for
obvious reasons I have read a lot of them in the last years. My impres-
sion is that much of the relevant literature is too "radical", and
so are often the messages on the List.

I try to explain myself with an exemple: suppose we are studying the
devlopment of a recently built town. A town is a complex object made
of people, houses, streets, gardens, water, power supply... So you can
study this town from the point ov view of an architect, a gardener, a
an ecologist... If you try to find a single cause of a certain phe-
nomenon that you actually SEE in the town under study, probably every
specialist will find a different one.

Does this means that there is a single cause of the observed pheno-
nomenon and that a single researcher is right whereas all the
others are wrong? Certinly not. Urban phenomena are are complex
so have complex (and multiple) explanations. A town can be under-
stood only through a pluralistic approach.

So is with evolution. Debates between the supporters of internalism
versus externalism (see the message by William Kimler) were typical
of the turn of the century. We biologists know now that both were
not mutually exclusive explanations.

Back to my former exemple: the discussion of punctuated equilibria
VERSUS gradualism as mutually exclusive explanations of the
evolution is incorrect the same as to say that the causes of
criminality in a town are urbanistic or sociological or any-
thing else. Evolution is by far a too complex phenomenon to
find simple (single) explanations.

We should try to understand as deeply as possible the work of
people studying evolution from different points of view (in
this sense I find simply exceptional the idea of Darwin-L:
thanks to Bob O'Hara!). The best picture of evolution will
certainly come out from a pluralistic approach.

Let me end with a suggestion to improove understanding: Why
each of us do not tryes to add something to the term "con-
straint" to clarify his sense of the term. If we specify
"constraints on natural selection" we say something very
different from "constraints on biological evolution".
Sexual selection is a constraint on natural selection.
Laws of physics are a constraint on biological evolution.
(gravity, thermal dispersion...).

I think that most of the misunderstanding about the term
"constraint" are due to a lack of clarity. Similarly to
say that someone is "a brother" means nothing if one does
not add "to someone".

Marco Ferraguti
Dipartimento di Biologia
Universita' di Milano
Via Celoria 26
20133, Milano, Italy
ferragu@imiucca.csi.unimi.it

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