Evolvability as a Disposition: Philosophical Distinctions, Scientific Implications
Em: Evolvability. A Unifying Concept in Evolutionary Biology?
Editor: The MIT Press
A disposition or dispositional property is the capacity, ability, or potential to exhibit some outcome. Evolvability refers to a disposition to evolve. This chapter discusses why the dispositional nature of evolvability matters—why philosophical distinctions about dispositions can have scientific implications. To that end, we build a conceptual toolkit with vocabulary from prior philosophical analyses using a different disposition (protein foldability) and then apply this toolkit to address several methodological questions related to evolvability. What entities are the bearers of evolvability? What features causally contribute to the disposition of evolvability? How does evolvability manifest? The various possible answers to these questions available from philosophical distinctions suggest implications for why the concept of evolvability as a disposition is useful in evolutionary research. These include (1) securing scientific virtues (e.g., explanatory depth and generalization, prediction or retrodiction, and control or manipulation) and (2) fostering interdisciplinary collaboration through the coordination of definitional diversity and different types of inquiry. Together these implications facilitate concentration on a variety of research questions at different levels of organization and on distinct timescales, all of which should be expected for a complex dispositional property such as evolvability.