Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Spandrels/Exaptations vs Adaptations

  1. Jul 16, 2013 #1
    Some scientists question the use of the term "natural selection" arguing that its use (really over-use) has become a vacuous tautology. They argue that other forces such as physical and chemical laws/constraints are at work shaping evolution. From my understanding, it's like why Helium came after Hydrogen during the evolution of our universe: there are serious constraints based on physical laws that shape evolution that often don't have much to do with natural selection/adaptation. In a classic paper, Gould and Lewontin warned against "naive adaptationism," the inappropriate use of adaptive theorizing to explain traits that have emerged for other reasons. The argument is illustrated by an analogy with the mosaics on the dome and spandrels of the San Marco basilica in Venice:
    The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist program

    Now a recent paper just published in Nature seems to support their criticism of adaptationism:
    A latent capacity for evolutionary innovation through exaptation in metabolic systems

    Other write-ups on that paper:
    Great Exaptations: Most Traits Emerge for No Crucial Reason, Scientists Find

    Simulated metabolic networks show exaptations far outnumber adaptations

    Gould along with some other scientists like Lewontin, Chomsky, etc. have even suggested that many of our mental systems (e.g. language) may have also arose as nonadaptations:
    Evolution: The Pleasures of Pluralism
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2013 #2
    Wow, some really great ideas here! It will take me some time to look through them. One thing I've always thought was that biology/evolution should be a required class in high school. There is so much misconception about even the basic fundamentals.
  4. Jul 31, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think one of the more annoying and simultaneously intriguing examples of over-use is evolutionary psychology. Without a concrete molecular story, you can make up anything you like to explain human behaviors as an evolutionary adaptation.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook