Great results of the Evolvability Workshop

Great results of the Evolvability Workshop
Group of Participants to the event - photo courtesy R.Brown
Thursday 29 June 2023

A cake is only as good as the ingredients used to make it, and so too the outcomes of evolution are constrained by the traits that are present in populations. The evolution of multicellular organisms, for example, was only made possible by the origination of various cell types such as muscle and nerves. Without those ingredients, our species would never have evolved. Despite the centrality of the evolutionary potential of populations (or their 'evolvability') to understanding the tree of life -and even our own existence- its nature remains contested. Is it one thing, or many? What generates it? How does it relate to natural selection? How should we represent it in evolutionary models? These all were questions discussed at a meeting entitled 'Evolvability: A Bridge Between the Proximate and the Ultimate?' held at the Centre for Philosophy of the Sciences at the School of Philosophy from 26 to 28 June, 2023.


The meeting brought together philosophers of biology, historians of biology and working biologists from across the globe for what was a unique and lively three days of discussion. Talks ranged over topics as diverse as the explosive evolutionary radiation of the Hydrophis sea snake genus in Northern Australia, to the question of whether natural selection is creative, and the ways that biological practice and philosophical analysis can mutually inform and drive progress in the field.


A highlight was the attendance of audience members from right across the university from the College of Asia-Pacific, to the College of Arts and Social Sciences and the Research School of Biology.  Such interdisciplinary meetings can be uninspiring talk-fests, each speaker presenting to their own tribe and little actual engagement across the disciplinary divide eventuating. Not so this interdisciplinary gathering. The vehemence and colour of the discussions only grew across the three days and ended with plans for more engagement over the months (and hopefully years) to come.


Updated:  13 July 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications