PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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An Engineering Approach to the Major Transitions in Individuality

I propose a new theme for the study of major transitions, one that treats them as an engineering problem rather than a levels-of-selection problem. In this approach, we ask: what are the structural features common to successful origins of higher-level individuals? I offer some partial answers, showing that in higher-level individuals, degree of individuation is greatest when connectedness among components is intermediate. Also, higher levels control their components by stripping them down, and by imposing large-scale “fields” on them, a tactic that confers considerable suppleness on the whole. Finally, I raise doubts about whether human societies constitute a major transition.

Author Information:

Daniel McShea    
Biology Department
Duke University


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