Article ID: CBB983912213

Contingency, convergence and hyper-astronomical numbers in biological evolution (2016)


Counterfactual questions such as “what would happen if you re-run the tape of life?” turn on the nature of the landscape of biological possibilities. Since the number of potential sequences that store genetic information grows exponentially with length, genetic possibility spaces can be so unimaginably vast that commentators frequently reach of hyper-astronomical metaphors that compare their size to that of the universe. Re-run the tape of life and the likelihood of encountering the same sequences in such hyper-astronomically large spaces is infinitesimally small, suggesting that evolutionary outcomes are highly contingent. On the other hand, the wide-spread occurrence of evolutionary convergence implies that similar phenotypes can be found again with relative ease. How can this be? Part of the solution to this conundrum must lie in the manner that genotypes map to phenotypes. By studying simple genotype–phenotype maps, where the counterfactual space of all possible phenotypes can be enumerated, it is shown that strong bias in the arrival of variation may explain why certain phenotypes are (repeatedly) observed in nature, while others never appear. This biased variation provides a non-selective cause for certain types of convergence. It illustrates how the role of randomness and contingency may differ significantly between genetic and phenotype spaces.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Merlin, Francesca; (2013)
Mutations et aléas: le hasard dans la théorie de l'évolution (/isis/citation/CBB001510451/)

Article George R. McGhee; (2016)
Can evolution be directional without being teleological? (/isis/citation/CBB533310319/)

Article Leonore Fleming; Robert Brandon; (2015)
Why flying dogs are rare: A general theory of luck in evolutionary transitions (/isis/citation/CBB161586470/)

Book Subramaniam, Banu; (2014)
Ghost Stories for Darwin. The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity (/isis/citation/CBB001500575/)

Article Andrea Sullivan-Clarke; (2019)
Misled by Metaphor: The Problem of Ingrained Analogy (/isis/citation/CBB181919885/)

Article Sylvain Billiard; Alexandra Alvergne; (2017)
Stochasticity in Cultural Evolution: A Revolution yet to Happen (/isis/citation/CBB554015405/)

Article Wagner, Andreas; (2012)
The Role of Randomness in Darwinian Evolution (/isis/citation/CBB001210577/)

Essay Review Ariel Jonathan Roffé; (2018)
Contemporary Perspectives on the Meaning, Roles, and Implications of Chance in Evolution (/isis/citation/CBB603381812/)

Book D. Ceccarelli; G. Frezza; (2018)
Predictability and the unpredictable. Life, evolution and behavior (/isis/citation/CBB278694832/)

Book Grant Ramsey; Charles H. Pence; (2016)
Chance in Evolution (/isis/citation/CBB545855239/)

Article Jean Gayon; Richard M. Burian; Laurent Loison; (2017)
The Contributions – and Collapse – of Lamarckian Heredity in Pasteurian Molecular Biology: 1. Lysogeny, 1900–1960 (/isis/citation/CBB496049162/)

Book Hull, David L.; (2001)
Science and Selection: Essays on Biological Evolution and the Philosophy of Science (/isis/citation/CBB000100243/)

Book Marianne Sommer; (2016)
History Within: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules (/isis/citation/CBB646077894/)

Book Gáspár Jékely; (2017)
The Story of Genetics, Development and Evolution: A Historical Dialogue (/isis/citation/CBB587565770/)

Book Brown, William; Fabian, Andrew C.; (2010)
Darwin (/isis/citation/CBB001023129/)

Book Margulis, Lynn; Sagan, Dorion; (2002)
Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (/isis/citation/CBB000201471/)

Book Tudge, Colin; (2001)
Impact of the Gene: From Mendel's Peas to Designer Babies (/isis/citation/CBB000102136/)

Article Winnie, John; (2000)
Information and structure in molecular biology: Comments on Maynard Smith (/isis/citation/CBB000110641/)

Authors & Contributors
Roffé, Ariel Jonathan
Alvergne, Alexandra
Frezza, Giulia
Jékely, Gáspár
Ceccarelli, David
Billiard, Sylvain
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Philosophy of Science
Science and Education
Perspectives on Science
Journal of the History of Biology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
University of Chicago Press
University of California, Riverside
World Scientific
Hill & Wang
Basic Books
Stochastic or random processes
Philosophy of biology
Darwin, Charles Robert
Müller, Hermann Joseph
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Stepan, Nancy Leys
Mendel, Gregor Johann
Glass, Bentley
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
Early modern
United States
Great Britain

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment