Peter Godfrey-Smith

Peter Godfrey-Smith
CUNY Graduate Center | CUNY · Program in Philosophy

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103
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Publications (103)
Article
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Birch, Ginsburg, and Jablonka suggest that Unlimited Associative Learning is a “transition marker” in the evolutionary process that produced consciousness, and organizes research by tying together a range of “hallmarks” of consciousness. I argue that the features they recognize as “hallmarks” are indeed important in the evolution of consciousness,...
Preprint
Wild octopuses at an Australian site frequently propel shells, silt, and algae through the water by releasing these materials from their arms while creating a forceful jet from the siphon held under the arm web. These "throws" occur in several contexts, including interactions with conspecifics, and material thrown in conspecific contexts frequently...
Article
Wright’s “adaptive landscape” has been influential in evolutionary thinking but controversial, especially because the landscape that organisms encounter is altered by the evolutionary process itself and the effects organisms have on their environments. Lewontin offered a mathematical heuristic describing the coupling of niche construction and adapt...
Article
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Our understanding of communication and its evolution has advanced significantly through the study of simple models involving interacting senders and receivers of signals. Many theorists have thought that the resources of mathematical information theory are all that are needed to capture the meaning or content that is being communicated in these sys...
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I respond to two of the main arguments in Rosenberg’s commentary on “Mind, Matter, and Metabolism.” Rosenberg’s claim that metabolic activities are “modularized” in a way that sets them apart from cognitive processes is not true given the broad sense of the “metabolic” employed in my paper, and contemporary neuroscience, including the work on navig...
Article
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We previously published a description of discovery of a site where octopuses live in an unusually dense collection of individual dens near one another in a bed of scallop shells amid a rock outcrop. We believe the shell bed is an extended midden, accumulated over time by individual octopuses returning to their dens with food. Here we consider what...
Article
A family of arguments often presented in opposition to mainstream neo-Darwinian views of evolution assert an 'active' role for organisms in determining the course of their evolution and other kinds of biological change. I assess several of these arguments, beginning with an early treatment by Lewontin and moving to more recent discussions. I then l...
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We report wild octopuses (Octopus tetricus) living at high density at a rock outcrop, the second such site known. O. tetricus are often observed as solitary individuals, with the species known to exist at similar densities and exhibiting complex social behaviors at only one site other than that described here. The present site was occupied by 10–15...
Conference Paper
Problems raised by complex life cycles for standard summaries of evolutionary processes, and for concepts of individuality in biology, are described. I then outline a framework that can be used to compare life cycles. This framework treats reproduction as a combination of production and recurrence and organizes life cycles according to the distribu...
Article
We present a dynamic model of the evolution of communication in a Lewis signaling game while systematically varying the degree of common interest between sender and receiver.We showthat the level of common interest between sender and receiver is strongly predictive of the amount of information transferred between them. We also discuss a set of rare...
Article
Cephalopods show behavioral parallels to birds and mammals despite considerable evolutionary distance [1, 2]. Many cephalopods produce complex body patterns and visual signals, documented especially in cuttlefish and squid, where they are used both in camouflage and a range of interspecific interactions [1, 3-5]. Octopuses, in contrast, are usually...
Article
In the context of Wright's adaptive landscape, genetic epistasis can yield a multipeaked or "rugged" topography. In an unstructured population, a lineage with selective access to multiple peaks is expected to fix rapidly on one, which may not be the highest peak. In a spatially structured population, on the other hand, beneficial mutations take lon...
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This paper develops a conceptual framework for addressing questions about reproduction, individuality, and the units of selection in symbiotic associations, with special attention to the origin of the eukaryotic cell. Three kinds of reproduction are distinguished, and a possible evolutionary sequence giving rise to a mitochondrion-containing eukary...
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The Sydney octopus (Octopus tetricus) occurs in unusual numbers on a shell bed of its prey remains that have accumulated as an extended midden where additional octopuses excavate dens. Here, O tetricus are ecosystem engineers, organisms that modulate availability of resources to other species and to their own species by causing physical state chang...
Article
Research in archaeology and anthropology on the evolution of modern patterns of human behavior often makes use of general theories of signs, usually derived from semiotics. Recent work generalizing David Lewis’ 1969 model of signaling provides a better theory of signs than those currently in use. This approach is based on the coevolution of behavio...
Article
An interpretation is given of John Dewey's views about “realism” in metaphysics, and of how these views relate to contemporary debates. Dewey rejected standard formulations of realism as a general metaphysical position, and interpreters have often been taken him to be sympathetic to some form of verificationism or constructivism. I argue that these...
Article
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Explaining the maintenance of communicative behavior in the face of incentives to deceive, conceal information, or exaggerate is an important problem in behavioral biology. When the interests of agents diverge, some form of signal cost is often seen as essential to maintaining honesty. Here, novel computational methods are used to investigate the r...
Article
Formal methods developed for modeling levels of selection problems have recently been applied to the investigation of major evolutionary transitions. We discuss two new tools of this kind. First, the ‘near-variant test’ can be used to compare the causal adequacy of predictively equivalent representations. Second, ‘state-variable gestalt-switching’...
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Evolutionary models of cultural change have acquired an important role in attempts to explain the course of human evolution, especially our specialization in knowledge-gathering and intelligent control of environments. In both biological and cultural change, different patterns of explanation become relevant at different 'grains' of analysis and in...
Article
Methods and goals in philosophy are discussed by first describing an ideal, and then looking at how the ideal might be approached. David Lewis’s work in metaphysics is critically examined and compared to analogous work by Mackie and Carnap. Some large-scale philosophical systematic work, especially in metaphysics, is best treated as model-building,...
Article
We report observations of wild octopuses (Octopus tetricus) living in close proximity at a site centered on a single den that has been occupied since at least November 2009. Numbers observed on survey dives range from 2 to 11 (average of 5.48). We hypothesize that long-term occupation of the site has led to its physical modification through the acc...
Article
This chapter criticizes a familiar group of ideas about “inductive” inference, and uses that criticism to promote a different group. Many hold on to the position that induction is rational because, if not, factual knowledge will collapse. For the purposes of this chapter, induction is regarded as a pattern of arguments used to answer questions of p...
Article
The commentaries by Dennett, Sterelny, and Queller on Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (DPNS) are so constructive that they make it possible to extend and improve the book’s framework in several ways. My replies will focus on points of disagreement, and I will pick a small number of themes and develop them in detail. The three replies be...
Article
Mercier and Sperber (M&S) claim that the main function of reasoning is to generate support for conclusions derived unconsciously. An alternative account holds that reasoning has a deliberative function even though it is an internalized analogue of public discourse. We sketch this alternative and compare it with M&S's in the light of the empirical p...
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We present observations of mating by Octopus tetricus Gould, 1852 and Amphioctopus marginatus (Taki, 1964) in the wild. Males of both species mated in the open using the 'reach' position, however one male O. tetricus also incorporated the 'mount' position when copulating with a smaller female. A small male Octopus tetricus copulated by stretching t...
Article
This chapter identifies and criticizes assumptions about reductive explanation that are common in philosophy of mind. It argues that there is a serious disconnect between the picture of reduction that philosophers of mind tend to employ, and actual practice in the parts of science that are most relevant to their problems (psychology, biology, neuro...
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A model of "ephemeral" population structure is presented that applies not only to biological systems in which discrete groups form but also to networks without group boundaries. The evolution of altruistic behaviors is discussed. Nonrandom interaction and nonlinear fitness structures are modeled; together, these factors can produce stable polymorph...
Article
“Triviality arguments” against functionalism in the philosophy of mind hold that the claim that some complex physical system exhibits a given functional organization is either trivial or has much less content than is usually supposed. I survey several earlier arguments of this kind, and present a new one that overcomes some limitations in the earli...
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Debates over adaptationism can be clarified and partially resolved by careful consideration of the ‘grain’ at which evolutionary processes are described. The framework of ‘adaptive landscapes’ can be used to illustrate and facilitate this investigation. We argue that natural selection may have special status at an intermediate grain of analysis of...
Article
The Price equation is recognized as a general statistical description of evolutionary change with the potential to represent diverse processes. Here we present a new structurally symmetric equation for change that allows for arbitrary causal connectivity between ancestors and descendants, accounts for previously unaddressed processes (such as migra...
Article
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Non-actual model systems discussed in scientific theories are compared to fictions in literature. This comparison may help with the understanding of similarity relations between models and real-world target systems. The ontological problems surrounding fictions in science may be particularly difficult, however. A comparison is also made to ontologi...
Chapter
Many philosophers agree that idealization and abstraction are key aspects of science, especially scientific work based on the construction and assessment of models. And while much of the initial philosophical work in this area was concerned with physics, it has become clear that biology, especially evolutionary biology, is another area in which the...
Chapter
IntroductionThe Development of the DebateVarieties of AdaptationismThe Role of Zoom and GrainReferences
Article
This chapter examines the idea that innateness can be understood in terms of genetic coding or genetic programming. A distinction is made between characteristics that are coded for or programmed for by the genes, and characteristics that are not. It is argued that the defensible versions of this distinction line up badly with the idea of innateness...
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Group-structured populations, of the kind prominent in discussions of multilevel selection, are contrasted with ‘neighbor-structured’ populations. I argue that it is a necessary condition on multilevel description of a selection process that there should be a nonarbitrary division of the population into equivalence classes (or an approximation to t...
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Kyle Stanford’s arguments against scientific realism are assessed, with a focus on the underdetermination of theory by evidence. I argue that discussions of underdetermination have neglected a possible symmetry which may ameliorate the situation.
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The concept of information has acquired a strikingly prominent role in contemporary biology. This trend is especially marked within genetics, but it has also become important in other areas, such as evolutionary theory and developmental biology, especially where these fields border on genetics. The most distinctive biological role for informational...
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"multi-level" view of natural selection, in which group selection can play a significant role, and argue that group selection was involved in the evolution of altruistic behavior in humans. The book is entirely persuasive in its argument that attempts to marginalize group-selectionist ideas in the latter part of the 20th century were mistaken. Sobe...
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Jablonka and Lamb's claim that evolutionary biology is undergoing a ‘revolution’ is queried. But the very concept of revolutionary change has uncertain application to a field organized in the manner of contemporary biology. The explanatory primacy of sequence properties is also discussed.
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Group-structured and neighbor-structured populations are compared, especially in relation to multilevel selection theory and evolutionary transitions. I argue that purely neighbor-structured populations, which can feature the evolution of altruism, are not properly described in multilevel terms. The ability to “gestalt switch” between individualist...
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My title refers to Richard Levins'famous paper on models in population biology (1966). Here Levins presented his three-way distinction between kinds of model-building, and also introduced a set of more fundamental ideas about trade-offs that constrain and guide scientific work. For Levins, these trade-offs derive from the relationships between thre...
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have not so much been satisfactorily answered, as shouldered aside by the vigorous development of the field. Some focused meta-theoretic discussion has recently arisen within mainstream metaphysics., The present paper is written more from an outsider's vantage point. I attempt to give a new meta-theory for some parts of metaphysics. The central cla...
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I take "folk psychology" to be the basis-whatever it is-of our ability to describe, interpret, and predict each other by attributing beliefs, desires, hopes, feelings, and other familiar mental states. The nature of folk psychology has been the topic of extensive debate. Much of this debate has been structured by an opposition between the "theory-t...
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This chapter presents an overview of folk psychology and mental representation. Dretske, Fodor and many others think that some organisms, including people, contain inner states and structures which represent the world, and do so as a matter of objective fact. Philosophy should aim to describe the connections between facts about the use of difficult...
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Altruism is generally understood to be behavior that benefits others at a personal cost to the behaving individual. However, within evolutionary biology, different authors have interpreted the concept of altruism differently, leading to dissimilar predictions about the evolution of altruistic behavior. Generally, different interpretations diverge o...
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My commentary on Hurley is concerned with foundational issues. Hurley's investigation of animal cognition is cast within a particular framework—basically, a philosophically refined version of folk psychology. Her discussion has a complicated relationship to unresolved debates about the nature and status of folk psychology, especially debates about...
Article
How does science work? Does it tell us what the world is "really" like? What makes it different from other ways of understanding the universe? In Theory and Reality, Peter Godfrey-Smith addresses these questions by taking the reader on a grand tour of one hundred years of debate about science. The result is a completely accessible introduction to t...
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Recent years have seen a renewed debate over the importance of groupselection, especially as it relates to the evolution of altruism. Onefeature of this debate has been disagreement over which kinds ofprocesses should be described in terms of selection at multiple levels,within and between groups. Adapting some earlier discussions, we presenta math...
Article
An interpretation of John Dewey's views about realism, science, and naturalistic phi- losophy is presented. Dewey should be seen as an unorthodox realist, with respect to both general metaphysical debates about realism and with respect to debates about the aims and achievements of science. 1. Introduction. Everyone believes that their favorite phil...
Article
A number of recent discussions have argued that George Price's equationfor representing evolutionary change is a powerful and illuminatingtool, especially in the context of debates about multiple levels ofselection. Our paper dissects Price's equation in detail, and comparesit to another statistical tool: the calculation and comparison ofaverage fi...
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The concepts of information and coding are the most widely used semantic or quasi-semantic concepts in genetics. Throughout this paper I use the term "semantic" in a very general way, to capture a wide range of properties that involve meaning and representation. To code for something is an example of a semantic property. The concept of information...
Article
Debate about adaptationism in biology continues, in part because within "the" problem of assessing adaptationism, three distinct problems are mixed together. The three problems concern the assessment of three distinct adaptationist positions, each of which asserts the central importance of adaptation and natural selection to the study of evolution,...
Article
Hull et al. argue that information and replication are both essential ingredients in any selection process. But both information and replication are found in only some selection processes, and should not be included in abstract descriptions of selection intended to help researchers discover and describe selection processes in new domains.
Article
Some central ideas associated with developmental systems theory (DST) are outlined for non-specialists. These ideas concern the nature of biological development, the alleged distinction between "genetic" and "environmental" traits, the relations between organism and environment, and evolutionary processes. I also discuss some criticisms of the DST...
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this paper I isolate an idea in Quine which continues an old line of empiricist thought, and I argue against this idea. The idea is as follows:
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Dans le cadre du debat sur la fonction semantique et informationnelle des genes en biologie moleculaire, l'A. mesure, en reference a Maynard Smith, le role de l'arbitraire et de la selection naturelle dans les processus causaux de transmission de l'ADN et dans les mecanismes de la synthese proteinique.
Article
The role played by the concept of genetic coding in biology is discussed. I argue that this concept makes a real contribution to solving a specific problem in cell biology. But attempts to make the idea of genetic coding do theoretical work elsewhere in biology, and in philosophy of biology, are probably mistaken. In particular, the concept of gene...
Article
I distinguish different versions of the “niche construction” idea. Some are primarily scientific, while others are more philosophical. Laland, Odling-Smee & Feldman's is mostly scientific, but given that fact, there are some changes they could make to their account. I also compare the target article to Lewontin's classic 1983 paper.
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The history and theoretical role of the concept of a ``replicator''is discussed, starting with Dawkins' and Hull's classic treatmentsand working forward. I argue that the replicator concept is still auseful one for evolutionary theory, but it should be revised insome ways. The most important revision is the recognition that notall processes of evol...
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Revue critique de l'ouvrage de D. C. Dennett intitule «L'idee dangereuse de Darwin: l'evolution et la signification de la vie» (1995), qui presente une version de la theorie de l'evolution proche de celle de R. Dwakins, et qui propose de rendre accessible le darwinisme aux non-specialistes. Soulevant la question de l'equilibre ponctuel, de la selec...
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A wide range of ecological and evolutionary models predict variety in phenotype or behavior when a population is at equilibrium. This heterogeneity can be realized in different ways. For example, it can be realized through a complex population of individuals exhibiting different simple behaviors, or through a simple population of individuals exhibi...
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Biological functions are dispositions or effects a trait has which explain the recent maintenance of the trait under natural selection. This is the "modem history" approach to functions. The approach is historical because to ascribe a function is to make a claim about the past, but the relevant past is the recent past; modem history rather than anc...
Article
Neyman-Pearson methods in statistics distinguish between Type I and Type II errors. Through rigid control of Type I error, the "null" hypothesis typically receives the benefit of the doubt. I compare philosophers' interpretations of this feature of Neyman-Pearson tests with interpretations given in statistics textbooks. The pragmatic view of the te...
Article
Wright's article did not answer all the questions philosophers have asked about functions, but it did answer some of them, and it showed the way forward to answering more. Much of the literature since 1973 has, in effect, engaged in the refinement of Wright's original idea. Many writers do not think of themselves as doing this; indeed, several have...
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Abstract Proponentsof ge nic selectionismha vec laimed thate volutionary processes normally viewed ass election on individualsc an be" represented"a ss election on alleles. Thispa perdi scussest her elationship between mathematicalque stions aboutt hef ormalr equirementsupon,states paces necessary fort her epresentation ofdi fferentt ypesof evoluti...
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This paper examines the relationship between a family of concepts involving reliable correlation, and a family of concepts involving adaptation and biological function, as these concepts are used in the naturalistic semantic theory of Dretske's Explaining Behavior. I argue that Dretske's attempt to marry correlation and function to produce represen...
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"Additive variance in fitness" is an important concept in the formal apparatus of population genetics. Wimsatt and Lloyd have argued that this concept can also be used to decide the "unit of selection" in an evolutionary process. The paper argues that the proposed criteria of Wimsatt and Lloyd are ambiguous, and several interpretations of their vie...
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ing about A' - and folk psychological explanations of behaviour trade freely in such semantic properties. This outlook on ourselves, and the explanatory apparatus which accompanies it, can look intuitively irresistible. But it is worth exploring the question of whether this commonsense talk of the content and truth of mental states will find any pl...
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One problem faced in discussions of the evolution of intelligence is the need to get a precise fix on what is to be explained. Terms like "intelligence," "cognition" and "mind" do not have simple and agreed-upon meanings, and the differences between conceptions of intelligence have consequences for evolutionary explanation. I hope the papers in thi...
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William Dembski holds that "the origin of information is best sought in intelligent causes" ("Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information", 1997). In particular, Dembski argues that Darwinism is not able to explain the existence of biological structures that contain a certain kind of information-"complex specified information" (CSI). To explain t...

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