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Survival of the Fittest Laws of Nature: Peirce and the Paradox of Hybrids

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Charles Carlson
Texas A&M University
United States

Peirce’s scientific metaphysics has significant potential for contribution to discussions in contemporary biology. This essay will specifically address interactions between Peirce’s Tychism and his work on the law of large numbers as applied to hybridization. The paradoxical problem of hybridization concerns, on one hand, its ubiquitous presence across all areas of life and on the other hand, the high individual fitness cost that is thought to be associated with hybridizing. Stated simply, if a strict understanding of natural selection had its way it should not occur, but it does occur, and in high frequency. Peirce’s non-reductionist understanding of evolution provides a more satisfactory explanation than Darwinian evolutionary theory, and does so by breaking from the mechanistic paradigm of many versions of natural selection. Peirce can account for the perceived randomness of individual hybrid encounters by applying the law of large numbers. It is no more unnatural to hybridize than it is to get four ‘tails’ in a row when flipping a coin. The general telos of biological life tends toward survival, and taking into account probabilistic tendencies that act as a guiding final cause; we can explain seemingly random occurrences such as genetic mutation and hybridization. Placing these concerns within the discussion of contemporary biology, I hope to make that case that Peirce has a great deal of helpful ways to aid our explanations of evolutionary theory.


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