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Probability in Biology: The Case of Fitness

Millstein, Roberta L. (2014) Probability in Biology: The Case of Fitness. [Preprint]

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I argue that the propensity interpretation of fitness, properly understood, not only solves the explanatory circularity problem and the mismatch problem, but can also withstand the Pandora’s box full of problems that have been thrown at it. Fitness is the propensity (i.e., probabilistic ability, based on heritable physical traits) for organisms or types of organisms to survive and reproduce in particular environments and in particular populations for a specified number of generations; if greater than one generation, “reproduction” includes descendants of descendants. Fitness values can be described in terms of distributions of propensities to produce varying number of offspring and can be modeled for any number of generations using computer simulations, thus providing both predictive power and a means for comparing the fitness of different phenotypes. Fitness is a causal concept, most notably at the population level, where fitness differences are causally responsible for differences in reproductive success. Relative fitness is ultimately what matters for natural selection.

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Item Type: Preprint
Millstein, Roberta
Additional Information: Forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Probability and Philosophy; the final version may deviate somewhat from this version. There are small changes between this version and the version previously uploaded to PhilSci-Archive.
Keywords: probability, biology, fitness, natural selection, propensity interpretation, Mills, Beatty, Finsen, Gillespie, Rice
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Depositing User: Dr. Roberta L. Millstein
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2014 12:50
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2014 12:50
Item ID: 10901

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