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Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection Reprint Edition
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- Robert Ulanowicz, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland
" This volume by Depew and Weber constitutes an academic contribution of the first rank. What the authors uncover about the past and propose for the future is revolutionary, indeed! They do not pretend to have made a watertight case for extending the Darwinian paradigm, but they certainly lay before the reader a delightful narrative of the possibilities." - Robert Ulanowicz, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland
& quot; This volume by Depew and Weber constitutes an academic contribution of the first rank. What the authors uncover about the past and propose for the future is revolutionary, indeed! They do not pretend to have made a watertight case for extending the Darwinian paradigm, but they certainly lay before the reader a delightful narrative of the possibilities.& quot; - Robert Ulanowicz, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland
"This volume by Depew and Weber constitutes an academic contribution of the first rank. What the authors uncover about the past and propose for the future is revolutionary, indeed! They do not pretend to have made a watertight case for extending the Darwinian paradigm, but they certainly lay before the reader a delightful narrative of the possibilities."- Robert Ulanowicz, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland
This is an important book. It places the recent attempts to apply systems dynamics to evolutionary biology into a new context, and provides an important perspective on the history of Darwinism, on the current turmoil in evolutionary biology, and on the directions in which one might look for a reconciliation between theories of complex systems and (new) Darwinian biology that emerges from Depew and Weber's analysis provides a structure that illuminates evolutionary biology for a wider scholarly audience even as it raises important historical and conceptual issues about the character of Darwinian biology and of Darwinism in its many guises.―Richard M. Burian, Graduate Program in Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Endorsement)
This book is full of sparkling pivotal insights, most deriving from seeing the physical and biological sciences as conceptual allies, rather than partners in an unequal vassalage. This book is also unual in its breathtaking scope, simultaneously bringing us first rate work of philosophy, history, and science. It is a clear narrative of the evolution of evolutionary theory through its trajectory of cultural and scientific environments, emerging from the history to the present adn near future on as well developed and believable trajectory.―William C. Wimsatt, Professor of Philosophy, Evolutionary Biology, and Conceptual Fondations of Science, The University of Chicago (Endorsement)
In this fine book, Depew and Weber trace Darwin's conception of evolution in Newronian terms, its transformation this centruy to the statistical views of the 'Syntheis,' and the possible renewal of the core Darwinian paradigm in the emerging sciences of complexity. This is a deeply thoughtful and cogent work. It merits very serious attention.―Staurt A. Kauffman, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics University of Pennsylvania and the Santa Fe Institute (Endorsement)
David Depew and Bruce Weber have produced a challenging and strong-minded history of evolutionary thought – a history they see leading ineluctably to the incorporation of recent contributions to complex systems dynamics into an expanded evolutionary theory. Their clear prose provides an accurate guide to the evolutionary debates sure to prove stimulating and informative to anyone with an interest in the evolutionary process.―Niles Eldredge, Curator, Department of Invertebrates, American Museum of Natural History (Endorsement)
This volume by Depew and Weber constitutes an academic contribution of the first rank. What the authors uncover about the past and propose for the future is revolutionary, indeed! They do not pretend to have made a watertight case for extending the Darwinian paradigm, but they certainly lay before the reader a delightful narrative of the possibilities.―Robert Ulanowicz, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory of the University of Maryland (Endorsement)
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That is the bad news, it is a very hard read. More than once i wanted to get out a large sheet of paper and begin to diagram the book's information rich structure. Who studied where and with whom? what set of principles did he have? what principles did he invent or significantly modify? what ideas was he principly interested in saving, which was he fighting with? on with words like: transmutation, preformationism, aristotelian embryology etc and names like: democritus, empedocles, von Faer, kant, newton etc etc and that is just 2 paragraphs of a random page. Information dense, detailed, insightful, principled ... again i am at a loss for words.
First, this is obviously not a book for beginners into the field of evolutionary biology, or for that matter, philosophy, history or even math. It presupposes a graduate level vocabulary, and an undergrad smattering of the sciences. Even then it is a joy to discover new words and new worlds, new friends and old acquaintances in new clothing. Simply one of the best books i've read. Or more precisely, the best 3 books i've read. For it is divided into 3 parts, with the common theme the treatment of the history of Darwinian thought and the separation is roughly something like but not quite as broad as a Kuhnian paradigm revolution.
So to reflect that division, i thought of writing 3 reviews. But figured that only those with the desire to read the book would finish even one. So to them i address the rest of this review, an unabased desire to encourage you to get and read this book.
The book is a historical analysis of Darwinian evolutionary biology's(EB) THEORY. "this book is about the intellectual constructs by which discoveries about evolution are guided, assembled, and justified as contributions to knowledge." 1st page introduction.
What is the big picture?
Darwinism as (metaphysical) research program.
It begins with the idea of natural selection(NS) as the core concept of a research tradition that is to be judged on its explanatory power, fruitfulness, and dynamics. The secondary big issue is common descent, which doesnt play nearly as big a role as NS. Its history is to be understood in the scientific context of the day, and the changes that occur over the 150 years between us and Darwin. In particular what was the model science of Newtonian physics and its philosophic principles, to be emulated in EB, that was Darwin's big contribution, he built a system that was seen by the various factions in biology as a biology in the manner of Newton.
From there the authors take off running. A very complex but terribly interesting story emerges from Darwin's education, his family, his Voyage of the Beagle, his social and cultural milieu. Not in general hand-waving platitudes but in detailed, closely watched, carefully argued specifics. Something like the division of labor in Adam Smith and the relationship of it to adaptions of creatures into biological niches in the midst of a general construction of adaption and transformation takes 4 pages.With a whole chapter 5 "The newton of a blade of grass: darwin and the political economists", my initial reason for picking up the book.
The three parts represent a watershed change(paradigm revolution?) in the way math fed into physics and then into EB. Newton and calculus for part 1, Boltzmann, and statistics for part 2, and chaos theory/non linear dynamics for part 3. (deterministic, probabilistic, chaotic)
The nicest thing about the book is to see the effect of the world on EB theory. Not just things like the analogy of capitalist competition compared to biological competition. But things like fruit flies to Russia, then Russia becoming a huge outdoors genetics lab contributor to the world and sending people back to the US to carry on the insights and feed them back into biology theory. Just neat stuff, insightful, a human story of science that you don't often get from a textbook.
So get the book. just leave a week to read it....worth every minute. i ended up wishing i had diagrammed the book, or was a fraction as smart or as clever as these authors.
Be forewarned: Darwinism Evolving is not an easy read. It requires diligence and sheer work at understanding the concepts presented. The reader who has a good grounding in biology, evolutionary theory, mathematics, and philosophy will be most comfortable with this book. If you're a bit light in one or more of those areas, be prepared to supplement your reading with outside material so you will be able to follow the topics discussed. Darwinism Evolving's scope is epic and wide-ranging, yet still very thorough. It can be looked at as a survey on the subject, but a very in-depth one, and one conducted at the graduate level. That is, this is not the sort of book you can expect to sit down with and start with the basics. It assumes you know a good deal more than the basics already.
After finishing the class, I went on to study evolutionary theory in considerable depth, and I deeply appreciated the solid foundation Darwinism Evolving provided as I delved deeper into this complex subject. My Master's thesis was on Human Evolution and the Biological Origins of Language, which, at the time it was written, was a subject on which not much research was being conducted. It's a much hotter topic now, but back then there were just a few of us at work on the topic of language evolution. So I was doing a lot of original research, having to assemble my findings and make sense of the data such that my thesis would present a compelling argument. The perspective I gained from having studied Darwinism Evolving was invaluable, and it's difficult for me to imagine my being able to complete my work without the knowledge I gained from this book.