New book on participatory evolution

Counterpunch this week features an interview with molecular biologist James Shapiro, whose new book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, seeks to offer a comprehensive view of current work in evolutionary biology and concludes that concepts of innovation, self-organization, and self-directed evolution have now overtaken traditional Darwinian views of evolution driven by random mutations.

The book begins:

How does novelty arise in evolution? Innovation, not selection, is the critical issue in evolutionary change. Without variation and novelty, selection has nothing to act upon. So this book is dedicated to considering the many ways that living organisms actively change themselves. Uncovering the molecular mechanisms by which living organisms modify their genomes is a major accomplishment of late 20th century molecular biology.

There’s much resonance here with concepts of participatory evolution that were advanced by Murray Bookchin in the 1990s, and on page 2, Shapiro references the work of molecular biologist Barbara McClintock, who was widely discussed at the ISE during that period.

One serious difficulty is that Shapiro appears to have latched onto the phrase “natural genetic engineering” to describe some of the underlying processes. If the book catches on, the biotech industry could have a field day promoting this oxymoronic phrase.  Also unusual is that the book is published by FT Press, the publishing arm of the Financial Times.

For further background, developmental biologist Stuart Newman discussed the implications of these ideas for ongoing debates – both scientific and political – about the nature of evolution, in an important article in the journal Capitalism/Nature/Socialism (19:1, March 2008), titled “Evolution: The Public’s Problem, and the Scientists’.”

2 Replies to “New book on participatory evolution”

  1. HI,
    I wasn’t aware of the ongoing debate in evolutionary science, or not aware that it had reached such a feverish pitch.
    I think the term “natural genetic engineering” is conceding to the rhetoric of the evolutionists, if a line can be drawn there.
    It occurs to me that there is nothing “engineering” about life, and it’s the wrong word, indicating the wrong type of thinking, which has been injected into biology for at least 50 years now?
    It is interesting that the interviewer brought up the hierarchical nature of Evolutionary science. It is undeniably religious in its temperament, and its reliance on dogmas.
    . . . I will read more of the interview, but it seems that Shapiro’s faith in science is justified, and his doubts stem from an ongoing paradigmatic evolution of the social role of science brought on by Khun himself. This relates to the decentering of subjectivity in the modern period; In other words, the divided-subject phenomenon that is mirrored in the philosophy of Deleuze, who describes the transformation of knowledge from an arborescent model, a tree, to a rhizomatic one, resembling a network.
    Thanks for this link.

  2. The guidance from the heart would suggest that the evolution of the mind, at some point, attain proportionality from and with the extent of its environmental distributions.

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