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By Jean Piaget

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Elsewhere, adaptation to a new external environment, along with new types of behavior, can give rise to more or less profound imbalances capable of changing the internal environment at more primitive hierarchical levels. And it is the new mutations made possible by such circumstances (whether or not they are related to the imbalance-a question we shall discuss in Chapter Six) which become subject to selection by the internal environment, and hence to a sort of endo-adaptation. Now, since this environment has been transformed in conjunction with the formation of the phenotype, there is nothing surprising about the fact that the new mutations selected by the modified internal environment "mimic" this phenotype.

On the other hand, it is important to point up the particular difficulty encountered by those who wish to explain the emergence of new forms of behavior in terms of the production of chance mutations. Their task is hard for two reasons. In the first place, in any piece of behavior the whole body acts upon external objects in the environment, and such actions involve movements extending beyond the somatic realm. In the second place, however, the genome contains only forms, and it could not prefigure such movements from the outset, except in terms of teleonomic programming, without the occurrence of more or less indirect interactions between the organism's epigenetic activities and the formation of mutations or their selection by the internal environment.

We thus have a coherent system of a quasi-"implicative" kind, whose establishment would be highly improbable without the intervention of initial learning and phenocopy mechanisms. 5. The constant attempts to refine the explanation by Darwinian selection have nevertheless produced a useful distinction, much stressed by Mayr, between the selection of optimal behavior, a factor of uniformity, and a selection that fosters variability, a factor of plasticity. But, aside from the dubious merit of the tautologous equation "selection = survival = reproductive capacity," the value of this distinction lies, above all, not in its evocation of a sorting process imposed by the external environment but rather in that of formative mechanisms depending, on the one hand, on relations between the variations observed and the processes of ontogenetic The Ethological View of Behavior's Role in Evolution development and, on the other hand, on selective action effected by the internal environment, which undergoes more or less profound changes during the post-embryonic phase of ontogenesis.

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Behavior and Evolution by Jean Piaget


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