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Predicting Evolution: The Price Equation and Its Applications 


Königlicher Pferdestall, Hannover

March 16-17, 2023



Is the Price Equation a unifying law for generalized Darwinism, or is it an elegant but ultimately misleading abstraction?

This workshop focuses on the role of mathematics and exact prediction in the evolutionary sciences, with the Price Equation as the center of the debate.  

(click here for longer description)



Start on March 16 around 9am; Finish on March 17 around noon

List of Confirmed Speakers

  1. Tim Lewens (Cambridge, UK)                     

  2. Laurel Fogarty (MPI, GER)                                    

  3. Victor Luque (Valencia, ESP)                       

  4. Matthijs van Veelen (Amsterdam, NL)        

  5. Lorenzo Baravalle (Lisboa, PRT)                          

  6. Philippe Huneman (Paris, FRA)                   

  7. Karim Baraghith (Hannover, GER)                       

  8. Hugh Desmond (Hannover, GER)       


Description of Theme

The much-quoted phrase "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" was one originally made by a physicist -- not a biologist. Even in areas of biology where mathematical modelling is common and established, such as in evolutionary biology, such models cannot be used to generate nearly the same accuracy of prediction as in many areas of physics. What is the methodological or explanation function of mathematical (and in general, formal) models in evolutionary sciences?

This issue comes to the fore concerning the Price Equation, the main topic of this workshop. The Price Equation (PE) is a dynamical equation, putting the future change in average trait of a population in terms of present (statistical) properties of the population. Some see the PE as a fundamental ‘law’ of evolution, with an explanatory and predictive status that is perhaps not identical but at least comparable to that of laws in physics. The PE has been used widely as a basis for mathematical models in behavioral ecology. Additional hopes have been pinned on the PE as a means to unify the diverse Darwinian approaches in the social and psychological sciences.


However, strictly speaking the PE is mathematical tautology and only has some predictive power in very idealised conditions. For these and other reasons, others remain skeptical. Skeptical stances on the PE range from categorising it as an elegant heuristic (but not fundamentally explanatory), to deeming it an obstacle to scientific progress when scientists forget the limiting conditions of the PE and over-apply it. 

Is the PE potentially a unifying law for generalized Darwinism, or is it an elegant but ultimately misleading abstraction? This workshop focuses on specific issues regarding the PE, as well as on more general issues regarding the role of mathematics and exact prediction in the evolutionary sciences. 

Questions include the following:

  • Can the PE be meaningfully applied to areas of research outside biology? What are the conditions of applicability? 

  • To what extent does PE presuppose factors such as reproduction or selection? Can the PE be applied to systems without reproduction or selection occurring? 

  • What predictions does the PE generate in evolutionary biology? What predictions could it generate outside of biology? 

  • How should the idealized and mathematical nature of the PE be understood: does it increase empirical predictiveness, such as Galileo’s frictionless inclined plane? Or does its mathematical exactness come at the expense of empirical predictiveness? 

  • If the PE can be interpreted causally, as decomposing change over time as being caused by certain “forces” like natural selection, drift, or meiotic drive, to what extent can generalized applications of the PE to cultural evolution also be interpreted causally? 

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Poster Submission

At the end of the first day, we will organise a poster session (perhaps with lightning talks - tbd) to help promote discussion and serendipitous encounters.

If interested, please send an abstract via this EasyChair link

Length: at most 500 words

Deadline: December 15th 2022


Notifications will be sent out by January 1st 2023.


Coming in January 2023

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