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Notes on Sewall Wright: the Adaptive Landscape

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanSep 1, 2008 12:37 PM

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Notes on Sewall Wright: the Adaptive Landscape:

My series of posts on the work of Sewall Wright is now approaching its (anti?)climax. The next post, on the shifting balance theory, should be the last. The present note deals with a closely related subject. Wright introduced the concept of the 'adaptive landscape' largely in order to illustrate the shifting balance theory. It does however have great interest in its own right, and there is a substantial literature on the concept of adaptive landscapes. [Note 1] Wright's own treatment of the subject has attracted some controversy following the biography of Wright by William B. Provine. Provine pointed out that Wright used two different interpretations of the 'landscape', which in Provine's view were inconsistent with each other: 'One of Wright's two versions of the fitness surface is unintelligible, and even if one were to escape this problem and put the gene combinations on continuous axes, the two versions would be mathematically wholly incompatible and incommensurable, and there would be no way to transform one into the other' (Provine, p.313). I believe that Provine's criticisms are overstated, but he was right to point out that Wright's concept of the landscape is problematic. This note examines the issues. It is long.

Related:Notes on Sewall Wright: Migration, Notes on Sewall Wright: Population Size, Notes on Sewall Wright: the Measurement of Kinship, Notes on Sewall Wright: Path Analysis and On Reading Wright.

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