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Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles

Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles

(p.84) 3 Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles
Biological Individuality
Beckett Sterner
University of Chicago Press

Evolutionary transitions in individuality occur when units of evolution at one level, such as single cells, associate together and evolve into higher-level units. I argue that multi-level selection theory, the leading method for explaining how and why evolutionary transitions happen, is not sufficient in itself. In particular, knowledge of the material and causal structure of the particular case is crucial for specifying the appropriate units and parameters for multi-level models and for explaining the evolvability of the higher-level unit after the transition. I develop a complementary approach based on the concept of a demarcator—a material entity or causal process responsible for determining what is and is not a part of the individual. I also show how demarcators provide a potentially level-neutral account of inheritance based on the concepts of material overlap and scaffolding and give examples from the inheritance of differentiated cell types (Griesemer 2000a; Wimsatt and Griesemer 2007).

Keywords:   mereology, cell differentiation, multicellularity, major transitions, scaffolding, material overlap, multilevel selection

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