How Can Evolution Learn?

Richard A. Watson, Eörs Szathmáry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

74 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The theory of evolution links random variation and selection to incremental adaptation. In a different intellectual domain, learning theory links incremental adaptation (e.g., from positive and/or negative reinforcement) to intelligent behaviour. Specifically, learning theory explains how incremental adaptation can acquire knowledge from past experience and use it to direct future behaviours toward favourable outcomes. Until recently such cognitive learning seemed irrelevant to the 'uninformed' process of evolution. In our opinion, however, new results formally linking evolutionary processes to the principles of learning might provide solutions to several evolutionary puzzles - the evolution of evolvability, the evolution of ecological organisation, and evolutionary transitions in individuality. If so, the ability for evolution to learn might explain how it produces such apparently intelligent designs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-157
Number of pages11
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Volume31
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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