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From Groups to Individuals

From Groups to Individuals: Evolution and Emerging Individuality

Frédéric Bouchard
Philippe Huneman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    From Groups to Individuals
    Book Description:

    Our intuitive assumption that only organisms are the real individuals in the natural world is at odds with developments in cell biology, ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and other fields. Although organisms have served for centuries as nature's paradigmatic individuals, science suggests that organisms are only one of the many ways in which the natural world could be organized. When living beings work together -- as in ant colonies, beehives, and bacteria-metazoan symbiosis -- new collective individuals can emerge. In this book, leading scholars consider the biological and philosophical implications of the emergence of these new collective individuals from associations of living beings. The topics they consider range from metaphysical issues to biological research on natural selection, sociobiology, and symbiosis. The contributors investigate individuality and its relationship to evolution and the specific concept of organism; the tension between group evolution and individual adaptation; and the structure of collective individuals and the extent to which they can be defined by the same concept of individuality. These new perspectives on evolved individuality should trigger important revisions to both philosophical and biological conceptions of the individual. Contributors:Frédéric Bouchard, Ellen Clarke, Jennifer Fewell, Andrew Gardner, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Charles J. Goodnight, Matt Haber, Andrew Hamilton, Philippe Huneman, Samir Okasha, Thomas Pradeu, Scott Turner, Minus van Baalen

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31344-5
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Gerd B. Müller, Günter P. Wagner and Werner Callebaut

    Biology is becoming the leading science in this century. As in all other sciences, progress in biology depends on interactions between empirical research, theory building, and modeling. But whereas the techniques and methods of descriptive and experimental biology have evolved dramatically in recent years, generating a flood of highly detailed empirical data, the integration of these results into useful theoretical frameworks has lagged behind. Driven largely by pragmatic and technical considerations, research in biology continues to be less guided by theory than seems indicated. By promoting the formulation and discussion of new theoretical concepts in the biosciences, this series intends...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Frédéric Bouchard and Philippe Huneman

    Since Darwin, biology has in various ways weakened the assumption that only organisms may be the real individuals in the natural world, in stark contrast to both past lay and scientific intuitions concerning the ontology of the biological world. Organisms have, for centuries, served as the paradigmatic individuals inhabiting the natural world. The priority of organisms over other entities has structured most scientific developments in biology. Physiology has investigated how the parts of organisms interact to maintain the integrity of individual organisms, ecology has examined how organisms as wholes interact with each other, and natural history has tried to establish...


    • 1 Darwinian Individuals
      (pp. 17-36)
      Peter Godfrey-Smith

      The theme of “individuality” has become a point of contact between biology and philosophy. The contact began when biologists themselves were often rather philosophical, and at a time when biological evolution was no more than a vague speculation, especially around the beginning of the nineteenth century. What is the living individual? What is the basic unit of life or living organization? Questions like this were pursued by J. W. Goethe, Erasmus Darwin, Rudolph Leuckart, T. H. Huxley, and others. Plants were often the initial spur to discussion, followed by newly described marine organisms with strange life cycles. The discussion was...

    • 2 Defining the Individual
      (pp. 37-54)
      Charles J. Goodnight

      We have an intuitive understanding of what an individual is; however, this intuitive understanding is difficult to formalize in a way that makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Consider two people: the first is home in bed with a bad flu, the second is lying in a lounger next to a pool drinking beer. From one perspective, both of these people are missing work for the same ostensible reason: they are too “lazy” to get up and go to work. Yet we absolve the sick person of responsibility, since they are sick and it’s not their fault, but do assign...

    • 3 Species and Organisms: What Are the Problems?
      (pp. 55-76)
      Ellen Clarke and Samir Okasha

      Why do we sometimes have trouble deciding whether something is an individual organism? Or how many species of, say, birds, there are in a particular genus?

      A non-biologist’s first response to these questions might reasonably be to deny that we do have such troubles. Intuition will be on her side, because both concepts—that of an organism and of a species—are among the most well-entrenched in our folk-scientific repertoire. We do not tend to have much trouble, on a day-to-day basis, differentiating between organisms and non-organisms. We know that dogs are organisms, while their tails are not. Children grasp...

    • 4 Immunity and the Emergence of Individuality
      (pp. 77-96)
      Thomas Pradeu

      It is crucial for biologists and philosophers alike to define what an individual is in the living world (Huxley 1912; Hull 1978, 1980, 1992; Buss 1987; Michod 1999; Santelices 1999; Wilson 1999; Wilson 2007; Godfrey-Smith 2009; Clarke 2010). Biological individuality is certainly one of the hottest topics nowadays in philosophy of biology and theoretical biology, with both predominantly or exclusively evolutionary approaches (Godfrey-Smith 2009; Gardner & Grafen 2009; Queller & Strassmann 2009; Folse III & Roughgarden 2010; Clarke 2012), and approaches mixing evolution with the study of physiological or “metabolic” processes (Dupré & O’Malley 2009; Dupré 2010; Pradeu 2010, 2012). It seems likely that...


    • 5 Adaptation of Individuals and Groups
      (pp. 99-116)
      Andy Gardner

      Natural selection explains the apparent design of the living world. However, there remains considerable disagreement as to who wields this design, and for what purpose it is employed. The conventional view is to regard biological adaptation as occurring at the level of the individual organism, who appears designed to maximize her inclusive fitness (Hamilton 1963, 1964, 1970, 1996; Grafen 2006). This individual-adaptationist view has enjoyed huge empirical success, for example in the field of behavioral evolutionary ecology (Krebs & Davies 1978, 1984, 1991, 1993, 1997; Alcock 2005; Westneat & Fox 2010; Davies, Krebs, & West 2012).

      However, in recent years there has been...

    • 6 The Unit of Adaptation, the Emergence of Individuality, and the Loss of Evolutionary Sovereignty
      (pp. 117-140)
      Minus van Baalen

      In the course of evolution, originally independently functioning units may merge to form new, persistent associations. This is not a new insight: the symbiont theory for lichens was proposed in 1867 by the Swiss botanist Simon Schwendener, while the Russian Konstantin Mereschkowsky suggested that chloroplasts were derived from bacteria in 1905 (Sapp 1994). However, when Margulis (1970) suggested that all eukaryotic cells were the result of an association of different kinds of bacteria, she met with widespread skepticism. Nonetheless a large body of evidence in favor of the symbiotic origin of many structures has been amassed, and the hypothesis is...

    • 7 Adaptations in Transitions: How to Make Sense of Adaptation When Beneficiaries Emerge Simultaneously with Benefits?
      (pp. 141-172)
      Philippe Huneman

      Biological individuals are the bearers of adaptation. What concept of adaptation is necessary to make sense of the fact that some adaptations create genuinely new individuals? Though the question of the nature of adaptation permeated much of the development of evolutionary theory in the last century, this specific formulation of the question was formalized in one particular research project, which I will examine here in order to derive broader consequences for our understanding of biological individuality.

      The “evolutionary transitions” (ET) research program, initiated by Buss (1987) and carried on more formally by Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1995) and Michod 1999),...


    • 8 Groups, Individuals, and the Emergence of Sociality: The Case of Division of Labor
      (pp. 175-194)
      Andrew Hamilton and Jennifer Fewell

      Emergent phenomena have been a subject of considerable recent discussion in several disciplines. In sociobiology, emergence is commonly understood as the phenomenon in which multiple local interactions collectively generate group-level phenotypes through a positive-feedback process (Camazine, Deneubourg, Franks, Sneyd, et al. 2001; Jeanson & Deneubourg 2009). These diverse interaction processes are collectively termed “self-organization,” and the resultant higher-order phenomena are termed “emergent properties.” The processes of self-organization and consequent emergence advance our understanding of how social groups organize and evolve, because they provide mechanisms by which large-scale social complexity can be generated by way of relatively simple rules and components (Anderson...

    • 9 Colonies Are Individuals: Revisiting the Superorganism Revival
      (pp. 195-218)
      Matt Haber

      Social colonies present a challenge to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Namely, these colonies are constituted, in varying degrees, by individuals that do not reproduce (and, in many cases, have no capacity for reproduction). How might this be explained by a theory of natural selection? Though Darwin addresses this “special difficulty” inThe Origin of Species(1964/1859, pp. 236–242), the question persists and remains illuminating to ponder (Herbers 2009). More recently, Wynne-Edwards (1962) proposed a theory of group selection to explain the presence of eusocial colonies, though this went into disfavor following accounts of altruism and colony...

    • 10 Superorganisms and Superindividuality: The Emergence of Individuality in a Social Insect Assemblage
      (pp. 219-242)
      Scott Turner

      Individuality is conventionally thought to be a defining attribute of the organism, so much so that there is an assumed equivalence between the two: individuals exist as organisms, and organisms can only exist as individuals. A striking feature of the evolution of life on Earth, however, is the emergence of a variety of “organism-like” systems, in which the equivalence with individuality is less firm. The foremost example of such a system is the social insect colony, which has long been likened to a “superorganism,” because the colony, consisting of an assemblage of undoubtedly individual organisms, nevertheless exhibits many organism-like traits,...

    • 11 What Is a Symbiotic Superindividual and How Do You Measure Its Fitness?
      (pp. 243-264)
      Frédéric Bouchard

      Two questions have surfaced on a repeated basis throughout the history of philosophy and the history of biology:

      1. What is an organism?

      2. What is an individual?

      Both questions may seem somewhat strange, given that many assume they are synonyms and that we all know what an organism is. In fact, in most contexts, the word “individual” is a stand-in for “individual organism.” But various biological research projects have put tension on these concepts. Sociobiology and social insect natural history research have argued that the apparent division of labor between individual ants or termites is often a function of the emergence...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 265-266)
  10. Index
    (pp. 267-278)