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Author Nesse, Randolph M.
Source CiteSeerX
Content type Text
File Format PDF
Subject Domain (in DDC) Computer science, information & general works ♦ Data processing & computer science
Subject Keyword Tinbergen Question ♦ Gene Culture Evolution ♦ Vice Versa ♦ Similar Category ♦ Evolutionary Question ♦ Worth Discussion ♦ 50th Anniversary ♦ Tinbergen Accomplishment ♦ Biological Trait ♦ Complete Biological Explanation ♦ Different Object ♦ Laland Article ♦ Proximate Mechanism ♦ Laland Note ♦ Niko Tinbergen ♦ Vast Confusion Result ♦ Modern Term ♦ Core Insight ♦ Modern Advance ♦ Jonas Salk ♦ Ernst Mayr ♦ Possible Way ♦ Four Question ♦ Different Type ♦ Medical School Many Frustrating Debate ♦ Proximate Answer
Abstract ‘What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question’, according to a comment attributed to Jonas Salk. For biology, that moment came in 1963 when Niko Tinbergen published an essay describ-ing Four Questions that need to be answered to explain fully a biological trait. Aristotle offered similar categories, Huxley described three of them in modern terms, and Ernst Mayr paved the way with his distinction between proximate and ultimate (evolutionary) explanations [1,2], but Tinbergen’s Four Questions have proved most valuable for biology. The 50th anniversary of their publication provides, as Bateson and Laland note, an occasion for celebration and reflection [3]. Their article focuses on possible ways the questions could be amended in light of modern advances and debates. The implications of gene– culture evolution, levels of selection, exaptation, and epigenetics for Tinbergen’s questions are certainly worth discussion, as the Bateson and Laland article illustrates. However, emphasizing such controversies and subtleties can obscure Tinbergen’s accomplishment, which remains vastly underappreciated. Tinbergen’s core insight is that the questions are not alternatives, they are complementary: answers to all four are necessary for a complete biological explanation. If only I had understood that in medical school many frustrating debates could have been resolved in a moment. Even now, however, some biologists, and most physicians, have never heard of Tinbergen’s Four Questions, and vast confusion results from proximate answers offered for evolutionary questions and vice versa. Organizing Tinbergen’s questions makes them easier to understand. They are about two different types of ques-tions, and two different objects of explanation. Two of the questions are about proximate mechanisms, and two are Letter
Educational Role Student ♦ Teacher
Age Range above 22 year
Educational Use Research
Education Level UG and PG ♦ Career/Technical Study
Learning Resource Type Article