Court Jester Hypothesis

the fool by dmorte

The court jester hypothesis is a term coined by UC, Berkeley professor Anthony D. Barnosky in 1999, that describes the antithesis of the ‘Red Queen Hypothesis’ in evolutionary theory (the evolutionary ‘arms race’). It refers to the idea that abiotic forces including climate, rather than biotic competition between species, is a major driving force behind the processes in evolution that produce speciation.

Despite the fact that the court jester metaphor is coined in reference to the Red Queen hypothesis, the Jester reference, metaphorically, is not a direct reference to ‘Through The Looking Glass.’ Instead referencing Tarot, where the Jester or Fool is the symbol of death triumphing over all.

The red queen hypothesis is a term coined by Leigh Van Valen, in 1973, in a reference to the Lewis Carroll book ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and refers in evolution theory to the arms race of evolutionary developments and counter-developments that cause co-evolving species to mutually drive each other to adapt. There is dispute over how strongly evolution at the scale of speciation is driven by these competitions between species, and how much it is driven instead by abiotic factors like meteor strikes and climate change, but there was not an artful metaphor to capture this alternative until one was coined by Anthony Barnosky.

The court jester hypothesis builds upon the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ theory of Stephen Gould (1972) by providing a primary mechanism for it. Punctuated equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that most species will exhibit little net evolutionary change for most of their geological history, remaining in an extended state called stasis. When significant evolutionary change occurs, the theory proposes that it is generally restricted to rare and geologically rapid events of branching speciation.

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