The Baldwin Effect

‘The Baldwin effect was proposed by J. Mark Baldwin and independently by both Henry Fairfield Osborne & C. Lloyd Morgan just about 100 years ago. In a general way, “the Baldwin effect” refers to the notion that learning can change the environment for a species in such a way as to influence the selective environment for the learned behavior or some closely related character. In the example proposed by Terry Deacon, something like the Baldwin effect accounts for the relatively rapid evolution of language and mind. His suggestion is that once a few members of a population developed the ability to communicate symbolically, the great advantage of such an ability would in itself create intense selection pressure promoting its further evolution. This notion and Daniel Dennett’s related proposal for a role of a Baldwin-like effect in cognitive evolution are together the subject of four of the chapters in this book (two by Deacon, one by Dennett, and a third recording a discussion among Godfrey-Smith, Deacon, and Dennett debating subtle differences between the Dennett and Deacon proposals).’

Sara J. Shettleworth reviews Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered, edited by Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew, here.