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In Zoltan Torey's The Conscious Mind, the author discusses the evolution of language because of Neoteny:

Animals become too committed to the peculiarities of their environment by evolving a fine-tuned design for a highly specific mode of life. They sacrifice plasticity for future change. Neoteny can now come to the rescue and provide an escape from specialization. Animals can slough off their highly specialized adult form, return to the lability of youth and prepare themselves for new evolutionary directions.

Does it mean the typical idiom of "sacrifice ... for ..."? or sacrifice the ability to respond in a plastic way to future changes?

I tend to take the second one because the context suggests that they already can't change with future changes because of this specialization.

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  • It's sloppy wording. And sloppy thinking, in that the entire paragraph strongly implies planned, volitional changes. This is obviously nonsense in the context of "blind" evolution, which is incapable of "planning" for future changes. Aug 23, 2023 at 11:14
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    "Plasticity for future change" here is meant to mean exactly what "plasticity" by itself means and seems to be a case of hypercorrection. This is just a mistake on the writer's part.
    – R Mac
    Aug 23, 2023 at 12:58
  • "Plasticity for future change" isn't entirely tautologous: they could exhibit "plasticity for currently varying conditions", or maybe even hypothetical "plasticity for changes that have already happened". But it's definitely a bit confusing.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 23, 2023 at 13:26

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It means "they sacrifice the adaptability [that would be necessary to survive] if things were to change in the future". Your "sacrifice the ability to respond [by changing their own behaviors]".

It is a less-than-clear use of the word for, and as you say, you must use the context to corroborate the sense. The reason it's not immediately clearly is the collocation "sacrifice X for Y", meaning "giving up X in order to have Y." again, just as you said!

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  • I agree. The entire phrase "plasticity for future change" is the object of "sacrifice". Aug 23, 2023 at 11:05

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