Variation is a prerequisite for natural selection to work

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A note for Lesson no. 6, "Brains Make More Than One Kind of Mind," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 101‌ is:

One of Charles Darwin’s greatest insights was that variation is a prerequisite for natural selection to work.

The appendix adds:

Darwin’s idea about variation, known as population thinking, is one of his greatest innovations, according to the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr.

See these references.[1][2]

Additionally, degeneracy (lesson no. 1) provides a hidden reservoir of variation for natural selection to act on and contributes to the evolvability of our species.

More on population thinking

This lecture, which I presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, explains the basics of population thinking and its application to scientific research.



  1. Mayr, Ernst. 2007. What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Mayr, Ernst. 1988. Towards a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.