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Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges (Oxford Series in Ecology & Evolution) [Paperback]

George C. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

October 15, 1992 0195069331 978-0195069334
In this work, George C. Williams--one of evolutionary biology's most distinguished scholars--examines the mechanisms and meaning of natural selection in evolution. Williams offers his own perspective on modern evolutionary theory, including discussions of the gene as the unit of selection, clade selection and macroevolution, diversity within and among populations, stasis, and other timely and provocative topics. In dealing with the levels-of-selection controversy, he urges a pervasive form of the replicator-vehicle distinction. Natural selection, he argues, takes place in the separate domains of information and matter. Levels-of-selection questions, consequently, require different theoretical devices depending on the domains being discussed. In addressing these topics, Williams presents a synthesis of his three decades of research and creative thought which have contributed greatly to evolutionary biology in this century.

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Editorial Reviews


"In 1966, Williams published a book with the title Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought that became a classic. It is still widely read and widely recommended to students. This new book could appropriately carry the same title. Comparing the two measures a quarter-century of progress in evolutionary thought . . . . The book constructively critiques central evolutionary ideas. It should be published with the 1966 book in one volume. Together they make a devastating, and exciting, read." --Science

"Ranges widely, and many kinds of specialist could sample it for inspiration and fresh thinking. Only the future can reveal whether it will have as much influence as his previous books, but it does contain several ideas that are big enough to make it a possibility . . . . A delightful book." --Nature

"Interesting discussions of specialized topics." --Choice

"Thoughtful, provocative and pleasantly idiosyncratic. . . . consistently good. There is much new material presented. There is certainly much for the ecologist in this book." --Trends in Ecology & Evolution

"Presents not a challenge for . . . students but a fair collection of the relevant recent literature, some of which could be read concurrently with the book. The array of topics covered by Williams in this work is wide, yet this a physically small book." --American Journal of Physical Anthropology

"Evolutionary biologists will want to consider it carefully." --BioScience

"a bold and original assessment of selected topics in evolutionary biology . . . . Williams confidently dismantles local orthodoxies . . . . Williams' discussion of historicity and constraint is level-headed and commendably bereft of the political overtones that usually accompany this topic . . . . This book, like both of his previous books, deserves careful study." --Mark Pagel, Journal of Animal Ecology

About the Author

George C. Williams, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Series in Ecology & Evolution (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195069331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195069334
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,545,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary domains, levels and lots of challenges September 29, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book starts out with a chapter relating to Universal Darwinism.

It proposes terminology for a general-purpose inherited unit, namely, the codex. Williams talks about the "material domain" and the "cortical domain". The "cortical domain" consists of patterns of information. This terminology seems to have gone nowhere since 1992 - being largely replaced by the concept of a replicator. Williams uses memes as one of his examples of non-nucleic inheritance. Williams recognizes that memes can be deleterious, listing substance abuse among his examples of bad memes.

Unfortunately, Williams makes several comments that suggests that he doesn't really get memetics. For example, he says:

"Genes and memes differ in mode of transmission, genes exclusively from parent to offspring, memes betweeen any associated individuals."

However, this is a fallacy: genes in organic parasites can spread horizontally across generations of their hosts, just as memes can - this is not really a difference between memes and genes at all.

Later in the same paragraph, Williams writes:

"Bonner claims that an inference formally parallel to Fisher's fundamental theorem can be drawn for cultural evolution. I suspect that this is true only for the special case of cultural elements transmitted exclusively to descendants."

Alas, Williams' suspicions here are unfounded. Fisher's fundamental theorem apples equally to memes and genes. It looks as though Williams is only considering memes in the context of their host organisms. However, memes have their own associated cultural organisms - where groups of memes cooperate, reproduce together and typically die together. These can have different life cycles from their hosts. An example would be a bible.
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