Posts Tagged ‘equilibrium’

Investing By Jerks

Investing By Jerks

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Courtesy of Tim at Psy-Fi Blog 

Punctuated Equilibrium

Back in the early 1970’s a couple of young biologists came up with an suggestion that profoundly annoyed many of their colleagues and has continued to divide their subject ever since. The idea was called “punctuated equilibrium” and argued that evolution doesn’t develop smoothly and continuously over time but proceeds with long stops and short starts, thus making the chances of finding intermediary forms in the fossil record vanishingly small.

The opponents of this, to non-biological eyes, non-controversial extension to evolutionary theory responded sarcastically that this was “evolution by jerks” invoking the rejoinder that the alternative was “evolution by creeps”. Clearly, the world of the evolutionary life sciences is populated by some seriously adult people. However, the idea of punctuated equilibrium is a powerful one and its applicability to other systems characterised as evolutionary, like the world’s economy, is replete with possibilities. After all, can investing by jerks be any worse than everything else we’ve witnessed?

Another Long Argument

The scientists behind the idea of punctuated equilibrium were Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. Subsequently Gould became involved in a series of intellectual spats about the concept up until his death in 2002. Critics included Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and E.O. Wilson which amounts to a fairly serious barrage of opposition given that everyone involved is a committed evolutionist.

Roughly two counterarguments can be discerned. The first is that punctuated equilibrium isn’t really a major idea in its own right, it’s more a minor extension of evolutionary theory which has gained vastly more public attention than it deserves through Gould’s extraordinary ability to make scientific ideas accessible to the general public. Obviously, that’s a bit of a back-handed complement given the opposition.

Reductionism

Flightless cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi

Secondly, though, is a more interesting debate, which is the argument between adaptationists and their opponents. Adaptationists suggest that (nearly) every feature and trait of biological lifeforms can be explained as an evolutionary adaptation.

Gould was firmly opposed to this idea, arguing that not every feature of every living thing is a direct result of evolutionary pressure. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that pursuing this approach to its ultimate conclusion was to substitute a Creator with


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