On the Origin of Autonomy

A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution

  • Bernd Rosslenbroich

Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 5)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 1-5
  3. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 7-17
  4. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 19-40
  5. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 41-67
  6. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 69-110
  7. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 111-122
  8. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 123-130
  9. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 131-147
  10. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 149-159
  11. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 209-224
  12. Bernd Rosslenbroich
    Pages 225-252
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 253-297

About this book


This volume describes features of biological autonomy and integrates them into the recent discussion of factors in evolution. In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. They include questions about the origin of evolutionary innovation, their genetic and epigenetic background, the role of the phenotype, and of changes in ontogenetic pathways. In the present book, it is argued that it is likewise necessary to question the properties of these innovations and what was qualitatively generated during the macroevolutionary transitions.

The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior.

The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities.

Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed. The text has a clear perspective from the context of systems biology, arguing that the generation of biological autonomy must be interpreted within an integrative systems approach.


Biological autonomy Biological autonomy and integrative systems approach Cambrian explosion Evolution of brains and behavior Evolutionary innovations Extended evolutionary synthesis Fluid management in animals Increasing autonomy in evolution Macroevolution Macroevolutionary innovations Macroevolutionary trends Major transitions in evolution Nervous systems and the flexibility of movements Organismic biology Systems biology

Authors and affiliations

  • Bernd Rosslenbroich
    • 1
  1. 1.Zentrum für biomedizinische Ausbildung und Forschung Fakultät für GesundheitUniversity of Witten/Herdecke, Institut für Evolutionsbiologie und MorphologieWittenGermany

Bibliographic information