Biological Views of Adaptation — Some Historical Accounts

  • F. Eugene Yates
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 16)


Simple, inanimate systems can give a false impression of adaptability and intentionality. For example, consider a candle flame in the bottom of a tall, cylindrical chimney, but without a port for air at the bottom. It will “seek to stay alive” by leaning steadily to one side, as a baffle is lowered down the center of the chimney. By so doing the flame spontaneously (and to us cleverly) organizes the airflow into a downdraft of fresh air, and an updraft of exhaust. It seems to adapt its behavior to its circumstances, in order to persist. Failing to do this, it would gutter and die. This “adaptation” invokes the illusion of intentionality, but it gains us little, and risks unnecessary confusions, to apply the terms “adaptation” and “intention” to the candle in this circumstance. These terms should be reserved for truly complex system behavior (see the discussion of intentionality by 0. Selfridge, in this volume).


General System Theory Anal Papilla Biological View Lamarckian Inheritance Candle Flame 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Eugene Yates
    • 1
  1. 1.Crump Institute for Medical EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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