Physics of evolution: Selection without fitness

  • Thurner S
  • Hanel R
  • Klimek P
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Traditionally evolution is seen as a process where from a pool of possible variations of a population (e.g. biological species or industrial goods) a few variations get selected which survive and proliferate, whereas the others vanish. Survival probabilities and proliferation rates are typically associated with the 'fitness' of particular variations. In this paper we argue that the notion of fitness is an a posteriori concept, in the sense that one can assign higher fitness to species that survive but one can generally not derive or predict fitness per se. Proliferation rates can be measured, whereas fitness landscapes, i.e. the inter-dependence of proliferation rates, cannot. For this reason we think that in a physical theory of evolution such notions should be avoided. In this spirit, here we propose a random matrix model of evolution where selection mechanisms are encoded in interaction matrices of species, thereby extending the previous work of ours by a control parameter describing suppressors in the system. We are able to recover some key facts of evolution dynamics endogenously, such as punctuated equilibrium, i.e. the existence of intrinsic large extinction events, and, at the same time, periods of dramatic diversification, as known e.g. from the fossil record. Further, we comment on two fundamental technical problems of a 'physics of evolution', the non-closedness of its phase space and the problem of co-evolving boundary conditions, apparent in all systems subject to evolution. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Collapse
  • Diversification
  • Evolutionary dynamics
  • Extinction
  • Punctuated equilibrium

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  • Stefan Thurner

  • Rudolf Hanel

  • Peter Klimek

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