Holistic Darwinism Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution
by Peter Corning
University of Chicago Press, 2005
Cloth: 978-0-226-11613-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-11616-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-11633-4
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

In recent years, evolutionary theorists have come to recognize that the reductionist, individualist, gene-centered approach to evolution cannot sufficiently account for the emergence of complex biological systems over time. Peter A. Corning has been at the forefront of a new generation of complexity theorists who have been working to reshape the foundations of evolutionary theory. Well known for his Synergism Hypothesis—a theory of complexity in evolution that assigns a key causal role to various forms of functional synergy—Corning puts this theory into a much broader framework in Holistic Darwinism, addressing many of the issues and concepts associated with the evolution of complex systems. Corning's paradigm embraces and integrates many related theoretical developments of recent years, from multilevel selection theory to niche construction theory, gene-culture coevolution theory, and theories of self-organization. Offering new approaches to thermodynamics, information theory, and economic analysis, Corning suggests how all of these domains can be brought firmly within what he characterizes as a post–neo-Darwinian evolutionary synthesis.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Peter A. Corning is director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems. He is the author of The Synergism Hypothesis and Nature's Magic, among other books.

REVIEWS

“Corning’s book is a masterpiece of synthesizing the most far-reaching facts and theories of evolutionary biology (and many other fields) and applying them with finesse to a variety of social phenomena. This book is a challenging and path-breaking contribution.”

— John Gowdy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

“This is an exceptionally ambitious and important book that proposes to change the way most of us have thought about ‘Darwinism’ and evolutionary processes. Corning achieves this goal in many ways, but most effectively by integrating both his own diverse work in recent years and citation of just about everyone who has played a major role in scholarly dialogue on evolutionary biology and behavior over the last generation.”

— Roger D. Masters, Dartmouth College

“An extraordinary tour-de-force.”

— Anthony Trewavas FRS, FRSE, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Edinburgh

"Seen as an exploration of the economy of nature and as a challenge to Neo-Darwinism, Holistic Darwinism articulates an alternative that is both broadly convincing and attractive. The collaborative dimension of evolutionary processes has suffered from a poor conceptualization and I see Holistic Darwinism as an important step forward in getting it right."
— Max Boiset, E:CO

"There is clearly a vast amount of challenging and valuable material here and this will certainly be a standard text among biologists, sociologists and economists. It is clearly and entertainingly written, without any mathematics but with precise and careful reasoning."
— Alex Andrew, Kybernetes

"[A] fascinating book on evolution, in which [Corning] uses synergy, cybernetics, and the bioeconomics of complex systems as his organizing principless."
— Mike Knight, PsycCritiques

"All [of the chapters] are important building blocks in setting up the theoretical structure of this new paradigm. A very illuminating read!"
— Biology Digest

TABLE OF CONTENTS

- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0001
[Holistic Darwinism, synergism, evolutionary theory, bioeconomics, evolutionary ethics, Neo-Darwinism]
This introductory chapter discusses the coverage of this volume which is about the so-called Holistic Darwinism. This volume is divided into four parts. This first deals with the role of synergism in evolutionary theory, the second focuses on bioeconomics, the third addresses the theoretical foundations of evolutionary theory and Holistic Darwinism, and the fourth examines the long-standing and vexed debate over evolutionary ethics. This chapter also discusses criticisms against Neo-Darwinism and the key features of Holistic Darwinism. (pages 1 - 8)
This chapter is available at:
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Part I: Synergy and Evolution: From the Origins of Life to Global Governance

- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0002
[synergy, evolution, Synergism Hypothesis, Neo-Darwinian paradigm, functional dynamics, living systems, economics of survival, John Maynard Smith, synergistic selection model, altruistic cooperation]
This chapter discusses trends showing the popularity of the theory on the role of synergy in evolution. This theory was first developed in the 1983 book The Synergism Hypothesis: A Theory of Progressive Evolution. It challenged the dominant Neo-Darwinian paradigm, shifting the focus from competition to cooperation, directed attention away from genes, and stressed the functional dynamics of living systems at various levels of organization. This theory also proposed to shift the explanatory focus to the economics of survival and reproduction. One of the first early of the growing popularity of this theory was biologist John Maynard Smith's development of a synergistic selection model to characterize the interdependent functional effects that may arise from altruistic cooperation. (pages 10 - 15)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0003
[Neo-Darwinism, Holistic Darwinism, modern genetics, population biology, group selection theory, William D. Hamilton, social behavior, George C. Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection]
This chapter presents a critique of Neo-Darwinism and the case for Holistic Darwinism. It discusses the realization of the founding fathers of modern genetics and population biology concerning the flaws of Neo-Darwinism, particularly in relation to group selection theory. These attacks on group selection theory began with William D. Hamilton's The Genetical Evolution of Social Behavior and was fully elaborated in George C. Williams' Adaptation and Natural Selection. This chapter also highlights the key features of Holistic Darwinism and its theoretical superiority over Neo-Darwinism. (pages 16 - 45)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0004
[synergy, evolution, complex systems, synergism hypothesis, Holistic Darwinism, cooperative phenomena]
This chapter explains the concept of synergy and its role in the evolution of complex systems. It describes many different kinds of synergy in the natural world and presents the case for the synergism hypothesis. This chapter states that Holistic Darwinism encourages a multileveled, multidisciplinary research and theory that is free from the intellectual shackles of nineteenth-century Newtonian physics. The synergy concept provides a framework for integrating the research in various disciplines that may be relevant for understanding the broader causal role of cooperative phenomena in nature and evolution. (pages 46 - 87)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0005
[teleonomy, self-determination, evolution, synergy, self-organization, Holistic Darwinism, emergence, emergent phenomena]
This chapter discusses the role of teleonomy and self-determination in evolution and the relationship between synergy and self-organization. It explains that Holistic Darwinism encompasses the phenomena associated with emergence—the recently rediscovered nineteenth-century term for the idea that wholes may have distinct properties that transcend their parts. This chapter also argues that emergent phenomena represent a subset of a much larger universe of combined effects in the natural world and that while there are many different kinds of synergy, not all synergies represent emergent phenomena. (pages 88 - 121)
This chapter is available at:
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0006
[emergence theory, synergy, Synergism Hypothesis, reductionism, holism, functional effects, emergent wholes, selective consequences]
This chapter discusses the re-emergence of the emergence theory and how it relates to synergy and the Synergism Hypothesis. It recounts the history of the term emergence and details some of its current usages. This chapter also explains the difference between the reductionism and holism views about causation. It criticizes the reductionist approach to explaining emergent complexity and highlights the Synergism Hypothesis' focus on the economics or the functional effects produced by emergent wholes and their selective consequences. (pages 122 - 139)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0007
[synergy, cybernetics, bioeconomics of sociality, complex systems, cybernetic control process, Synergism Hypothesis, human societies]
This chapter discusses the relationship between synergy, cybernetics, and the bioeconomics of sociality. It argues that the parallel evolution of cybernetic process has been a major codeterminant of complexification process or the evolution of complex systems over time. This chapter highlights the role of cybernetic control processes in living systems of all kinds and explains how Synergism Hypothesis relates specifically to the evolution of cybernetic systems in human societies. (pages 140 - 163)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0008
[devolution, Synergism Hypothesis, cybernetic political systems, functional synergies, differential selection, complex systems, political devolution]
This chapter explores the concept of devolution and its relation with Synergism Hypothesis and the cybernetic political systems. It argues that devolution provides an opportunity for testing the Synergism Hypothesis and the theory that functional synergies are the very cause of the differential selection and survival of complex systems and their cybernetic subsystems. This chapter cites some studies about political devolution, considers arguments for competing hypotheses, and provides a major example of political devolution. (pages 164 - 185)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0009
[superorganisms, synergy, Herbert Spencer, social organization, functional differentiation, cybernetic processes, political evolution, global governance]
This chapter discusses the concept of superorganisms and its relation to synergy. The term was first used by polymath Herbert Spencer to characterize key properties of social organization in the natural world. He argued that the organismic analogy is justified by the existence of common functional properties at higher levels of biological organization, including functional differentiation and integration. This chapter argues that cybernetic processes are essential concomitants of superorganisms of all kinds and that this broad evolutionary perspective also applies to the ongoing political evolution of human societies, including the prospects for global governance. (pages 186 - 212)
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Part II: Bioeconomics and Evolution

- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0010
[evolutionary economics, Geoffrey Hodgson, Michael Rothschild, economic change, bioeconomics, Darwinian evolutionary concepts]
This chapter presents arguments against the concept of evolutionary economics and the view about the so-called “economic man.” It discusses the works of economist Geoffrey Hodgson and business consultant Michael Rothschild, who are advocating for a relatively new paradigm in economics that has borrowed Darwinian evolutionary concepts and adopts an evolutionary view of economic change. This chapter proposes a bioeconomic paradigm and argues that evolutionary economics, as currently framed, still falls short of a truly integrated bioeconomics. (pages 214 - 235)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0011
[bioeconomics, mainstream economics, life sciences, survival, reproduction, economic growth, economic performance]
This chapter argues that bioeconomics challenges the theoretical foundations of mainstream economics. It explains that bioeconomics is based on the ground-zero premise of life sciences which states that survival and reproduction constitute the basic, continuing, inescapable problem for all living organisms, and argues that economic performance should be measured in these terms and not in relation to economic growth or other conventional economic measures. In effect, bioeconomics provides an alternative set of account books for assessing the performance of an economy, including especially the outcomes. (pages 236 - 251)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0012
[biological adaptation, basic needs, human societies, survival/reproduction problem, survival consequences, predictive tool]
This chapter proposes a more rigorous and systematic approach to the concept of adaptation that is based on basic needs. It applies the concept of biological adaptation specifically to human societies and develops a detailed framework of fourteen basic needs that define the parameters of the survival/reproduction problem for humankind. This chapter suggests that the basic needs paradigm could provide an analytical tool for examining more closely the relationship between our social, economic, and political behaviors and institutions and their survival consequences, as well as providing a predictive tool of some value. (pages 252 - 310)
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Part III: From Thermodynamics and Information Theory to Thermoeconomics and Control Information

- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0013
[biological evolution, thermodynamics, information theory, order, informed functional organization, living systems, control volume frame, available energy]
This chapter focuses on the confusion regarding the use of key concepts from thermodynamics and information theory in various disciplines, particularly in relation to theories of biological evolution. It explains the distinction between order and the informed functional organization that characterizes living systems and outlines what is considered to be the appropriate paradigm for theorizing about the role of energy and information in biological processes. This chapter also discusses thermodynamics with particular reference to its application to living systems and the concepts of control volume frame of reference and available energy. (pages 312 - 333)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0014
[thermodynamics, biological evolution, entropy law, thermoeconomics, energy, economic criteria, bioenergetic technologies]
This chapter discusses the relevance of thermodynamics to biological evolution beyond the entropy law. It proposes the concept of thermoeconomics which is based on the proposition that the role of energy in biological evolution should be defined and understood in terms of economic criteria as productivity, efficiency, and especially the costs and benefits of the various mechanisms for capturing and utilizing available energy to build biomass and carry out work. This chapter argues that economic criteria provide a better account of the advances in bioenergetic technologies than does any formulation derived from entropy law. (pages 334 - 359)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0015
[control information, biological evolution, cybernetic process, Norbert Wiener, Shannon information, functional definition]
This chapter proposes the concept of control information relevant to biological evolution. Control information is an attribute of the relationships between things and is defined as the capacity to control the acquisition, disposition, and utilization of matter/energy in purposive or cybernetic processes. This chapter highlights the lack of functional definition of information in Norbert Wiener's cybernetic paradigm and the inability of Shannon information to measure directly the role of information in cybernetic processes. (pages 360 - 376)
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Part IV: Evolution and Ethics

- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0016
[evolutionary ethics, paradigm shift, evolutionary theory, Neo-Darwinism, Holistic Darwinism, human evolution]
This chapter discusses the history of the long-standing and vexed debate over evolutionary ethics, which is considered an inescapable aspect of any paradigm shift in evolutionary theory. It explains that changes in evolutionary theory have major implications both for our ethics and our understanding of the moral impulses that shape our lives and societies. This chapter suggests that the main theoretical impediment to a robust evolutionary ethics can be removed when Neo-Darwinism is replaced by the more balanced, ecumenical, economically oriented paradigm of Holistic Darwinism. It also provides arguments favoring the proposition that our ethical systems are products of human evolution and are genetically grounded. (pages 378 - 401)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0017
[sociobiology of democracy, authoritarianism, Albert Somit, Steven A. Peterson, Darwinism, dominance, human nature, nurture, reproductive success, Darwinian criterion]
This chapter focuses on the sociobiology of democracy and the genetic aspects of authoritarianism. It criticizes political scientists Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson's Darwinism, Dominance and Democracy: The Biological Bases of Authoritarianism for their failure to consider the elements of human nature and provide a more adequate conception of the role of nurture in political life. This idea argues that modern-day authoritarian regimes bear no resemblance to the small, egalitarian, and mostly kin-based groups that characterized our evolving hominid ancestors and that the relationship between contemporary authoritarian governments and the Darwinian criterion of reproductive success is problematical to say the least. (pages 402 - 415)
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- Peter A. Corning
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226116334.003.0018
[fair shares, political ideology, social justice, capitalism, socialism, John Rawls, fairness, state of nature, social contract theory]
This chapter proposes a political ideology called fair shares. It explains that the fair shares ideology is a biologically grounded approach to social justice that enables definition of a middle ground between capitalism and socialism and the ideological standoff between them. This chapter also comments on philosopher John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness which utilized a variation on the hypothetical “state of nature” in social contract theory to advance a claim for the least advantaged in society. (pages 416 - 448)
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Acknowledgments

Notes

References

Index