Richard Dawkins on Constraints on Natural Selection
Richard Dawkins presents a nuanced take on optimality in his seminal work The Extended Phenotype. Dawkins’s central argument is that optimality is not attainable in nature because of constraints on the process of natural selection. He focuses his discussion on six key constraints: time lags, historical constraints, tradeoffs (which he calls constraints of costs and materials), constraints due to available genetic variation, imperfection due to selection operating at different levels, and constraints due to environmental unpredictability.
Together, these six constraints on optimality offer a deeper understanding of how natural selection works and the kinds of outcomes it produces. They also help lay to rest the erroneous view that evolutionists endorse a Panglossian, pan-adaptationist view in which every aspect of animals’ bodies and brains is optimally designed. No credible evolutionist thinks this. Instead, it is widely understood that natural selection builds suboptimal...
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