Complexity and evolution: What everybody knows

Abstract

The consensus among evolutionists seems to be (and has been for at least a century) that the morphological complexity of organisms increases in evolution, although almost no empirical evidence for such a trend exists. Most studies of complexity have been theoretical, and the few empirical studies have not, with the exception of certain recent ones, been especially rigorous; reviews are presented of both the theoretical and empirical literature. The paucity of evidence raises the question of what sustains the consensus, and a number of suggestions are offered, including the possibility that certain cultural and/or perceptual biases are at work. In addition, a shift in emphasis from theoretical to empirical inquiry is recommended for the study of complexity, and guidelines for future empirical studies are proposed.

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McShea, D.W. Complexity and evolution: What everybody knows. Biol Philos 6, 303–324 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00132234

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Key words

  • Complexity
  • entropy
  • evolution
  • evolutionary trends
  • Herbert Spencer
  • progress