•  14
    Pseudorandom number generating algorithms play crucial roles in computer modeling and statistical modeling, but they have received little attention from philosophers of science. I revisit an argument that the success of practices in evolutionary biology using such algorithms in computer simulations provides evidence that evolutionary processes incorporate objective probabilities. I discuss the kind of stochasticity that pseudorandom number generators provide--what I call "pseudochance"--and argu…Read more
  •  40
    A symposium on Michael Strevens' book "Tychomancy", concerning the psychological roots and historical significance of physical intuition about probability in physics, biology, and elsewhere.
  • Probabilistic Foundations of Teleology and Content
    Dissertation, The University of Chicago. 2002.
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content in terms of functions, where the latter are in turn based in part on facts concerning past natural selection. While I support basing content on functions which are constituted by facts about the past, I argue that it is a mistake to base content on selection. This dissertation works out an alternative concept of function which is a more appropriate basis for a theory of mental content. In particular, I def…Read more
  •  99
    Fitness and Propensity’s Annulment?
    Biology and Philosophy 22 (1): 115-130. 2007.
      Recent debate on the nature of probabilities in evolutionary biology has focused largely on the propensity interpretation of fitness (PIF), which defines fitness in terms of a conception of probability known as “propensity”. However, proponents of this conception of fitness have misconceived the role of probability in the constitution of fitness. First, discussions of probability and fitness have almost always focused on organism effect probability, the probability that an organism and its env…Read more
  •  368
    Teleosemantics without natural selection
    Biology and Philosophy 20 (1): 97-116. 2005.
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content (e.g. beliefs
  •  62
    Infinite populations and counterfactual frequencies in evolutionary theory
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37 (2): 256-268. 2006.
    One finds intertwined with ideas at the core of evolutionary theory claims about frequencies in counterfactual and infinitely large populations of organisms, as well as in sets of populations of organisms. One also finds claims about frequencies in counterfactual and infinitely large populations—of events—at the core of an answer to a question concerning the foundations of evolutionary theory. The question is this: To what do the numerical probabilities found throughout evolutionary theory corre…Read more
  •  42
    I define a concept of causal probability and apply it to questions about the role of probability in evolutionary processes. Causal probability is defined in terms of manipulation of patterns in empirical outcomes by manipulating properties that realize objective probabilities. The concept of causal probability allows us see how probabilities characterized by different interpretations of probability can share a similar causal character, and does so in such way as to allow new inferences about rel…Read more
  •  132
    It’s recently been argued that biological fitness can’t change over the course of an organism’s life as a result of organisms’ behaviors. However, some characterizations of biological function and biological altruism tacitly or explicitly assume that an effect of a trait can change an organism’s fitness. In the first part of the paper, I explain that the core idea of changing fitness can be understood in terms of conditional probabilities defined over sequences of events in an organism’s life. T…Read more
  •  116
    Organisms' environments are thought to play a fundamental role in determining their fitness and hence in natural selection. Existing intuitive conceptions of environment are sufficient for biological practice. I argue, however, that attempts to produce a general characterization of fitness and natural selection are incomplete without the help of general conceptions of what conditions are included in the environment. Thus there is a "problem of the reference environment"—more particularly, proble…Read more
  •  18
    Smaldino suggests that patterns that give rise to group-level cultural traits can also increase individual-level cultural diversity. I distinguish social roles and related social network structures and discuss ways in which each might maintain diversity. I suggest that cognitive analogs of “cohesion,” a property of networks that helps maintenance of diversity, might mediate the effects of social roles on diversity.
  •  55
    I investigate the structure of an argument that culture cannot be maintained in a population if each individual acquires a given cultural variant from a single person. I note two puzzling consequences of the argument: It appears to conflict with many models of cultural transmission and real-world cases of cultural transmission. I resolve the first puzzle by showing that one of the models central to the argument is conceptually analogous and mathematically equivalent to one used to investigate th…Read more
  •  36
    Populations and pigeons: Prosaic pluralism about evolutionary causes
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3): 294-301. 2013.
    and was correct to conclude that the way a biological population is described should affect conclusions about whether natural selection occurs, but wrong to conclude that natural selection is therefore not a cause. After providing a new argument that ignored crucial biological details, I give a biological illustration that motivates a fairly extreme dependence on description. I argue that contrary to an implication of , biologists allow much flexibility in describing populations, as contemporary…Read more
  •  138
    How Do Natural Selection and Random Drift Interact?
    Philosophy of Science 74 (5): 666-679. 2007.
    One controversy about the existence of so called evolutionary forces such as natural selection and random genetic drift concerns the sense in which such “forces” can be said to interact. In this paper I explain how natural selection and random drift can interact. In particular, I show how population-level probabilities can be derived from individual-level probabilities, and explain the sense in which natural selection and drift are embodied in these population-level probabilities. I argue that w…Read more
  •  74
    Mechanistic probability
    Synthese 187 (2): 343-375. 2012.
    I describe a realist, ontologically objective interpretation of probability, "far-flung frequency (FFF) mechanistic probability". FFF mechanistic probability is defined in terms of facts about the causal structure of devices and certain sets of frequencies in the actual world. Though defined partly in terms of frequencies, FFF mechanistic probability avoids many drawbacks of well-known frequency theories and helps causally explain stable frequencies, which will usually be close to the values of …Read more
  •  7
    Cultural variant interaction in teaching and transmission
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 38. 2015.
  •  81
    The unity of fitness
    Philosophy of Science 76 (5): 750-761. 2009.
    It has been argued that biological fitness cannot be defined as expected number of offspring in all contexts. Some authors argue that fitness therefore merely satisfies a common schema or that no unified mathematical characterization of fitness is possible. I argue that comparative fitness must be relativized to an evolutionary effect; thus relativized, fitness can be given a unitary mathematical characterization in terms of probabilities of producing offspring and other effects. Such fitnesses …Read more
  •  75
    Sewall Wright ’s FST is a mathematical test widely used in empirical applications to characterize genetic and other differences between subpopulations, and to identify causes of those differences. Cockerham and Weir’s popular approach to statistical estimation of FST is based on an assumption sometimes formulated as a claim that actual populations tested are sampled from.