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Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles

Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles

Chapter:
(p.84) 3 Individuality and the Control of Life Cycles
Source:
Biological Individuality
Author(s):
Beckett Sterner
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226446592.003.0004

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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