Blackwell Publishing

What is an adaptation?

"The whole concept of an adaptation is the notion that there is a pre-existing problem and an organism solves it by adapting to the problem. For example, fins are an adaptation for swimming, so what we mean is swimming was a problem before fish had fins. The problem with looking at evolution in that way is swimming is a problem for trees too!

Things only start to find these problems and adapt when they begin to interact with the world. So adaptation cannot be a case of organisms going into pre-existing problems because organisms make the problems by their very existence and change. The real issue in evolution is that organisms are in constant construction of their own worlds, posing the problems which they then have to solve.

Natural selection does not cause adaptations to solve problems given by nature. Natural selection means the improvement in the way in which organisms interact in the world when they've already started to interact in that way."

Richard Lewontin

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