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Representing Evolution

Project description

A closer look at biological evolution representation

Scientific theorising involves constructing representations of the world, such as a diagram of the solar system, an epidemiological model of the spread of a disease, or a taxonomy of Alpine flora. The ERC-funded REVOLT project will examine how biological evolution has been represented – diagrammatically, linguistically and mathematically – in past and present scientific literature, from an overarching philosophical perspective. The project will also explore representations of evolution in the context of pedagogy and science communication. This interdisciplinary project will bring together philosophical ideas about the nature of representation and idealisation, linguistic ideas about metaphor and analogy, psychological ideas about reasoning and cognitive biases, and educational ideas about science communication.

Objective

A central part of scientific enquiry involves constructing representations of the world. Representations can take many forms, including diagrams, taxonomies, verbal descriptions, physical models, and abstract mathematical models. Thus a diagram of the solar system, a taxonomy of Alpine flora, a ball-and-stick model of a chemical substance, and a mathematical model of the spread of a disease are all examples of representations. Different though they are, each of these scientific constructs aims to represent some system in the world (the “target system”) and can be assessed for how well they achieve this aim.

The aim of my project is to examine how biological evolution has been represented – diagrammatically, verbally and mathematically – in the scientific literature, past and present. A further aim is to examine representations of evolution in the context of pedagogy and science communication. “Biological evolution” is taken to include the process of descent with modification that Darwin first described; the mechanisms that drive the evolutionary process such as natural selection; and the products to which the process has given rise, such as adaptation and diversity. Scientists have constructed representations of each of these elements in their quest to understand how evolution works. My project will offer a systematic study of these representations from an overarching philosophical perspective.

The importance of the project lies in its integrative ambition. The project will bring together philosophical ideas about the nature of representation and idealization, linguistic ideas about metaphor and analogy, psychological ideas about reasoning and cognitive biases, and educational ideas about science communication. By drawing on such a diverse range of ideas, the project will deepen our understanding of how evolution is, has been, and should be represented. The results will of interest to both philosophers of science and scientific practitioners.

Host institution

UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Net EU contribution
€ 1 592 522,00
Address
BEACON HOUSE QUEENS ROAD
BS8 1QU Bristol
United Kingdom

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Region
South West (England) Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area Bristol, City of
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Total cost
€ 1 592 522,00

Beneficiaries (1)