The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

Thoughts on Darwin

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I have heard that a lot of people are angry at Mr. Darwin. They say that the “survival of the fittest” was a mean ideology counter to the true ideals of love and unity. I beg to differ. Biological fitness is not about having big teeth and a mean set of claws. It is not about being stronger or better looking than other people. It is not even about some things being “more evolved” than others.

Every organism that is alive in the world is equally evolved and fit. Take cows. They managed to create a symbiotic relationship with humans, whereby we protect them from predators and allow them to pass on their genetic information, and in exchange they share their delicious muscle tissue, which we put between two buns of wheat–no one is saying that the cows in question have to be raised under terrible conditions. I’m all for locally raised farm style cows, like Michael Pollan likes them. Wheat, like corn and beans, made a similar deal with us. Even puppies did. As mammals, we tend to connect to other mammals. I swear I feel my squirrels love me. Even if they do not, however, natural selection has endowed me with empathy, and love for fuzzy mammalians. 

Fitness is about having the ability to produce offspring, not about being violent, or cruel, or better than other people. For the most part, people who are bitter and hate the human race do not find a lot of reproductive success. Hitler, gratefully, did not have children. 

There are people who claim that Darwinian philosophy would have us reject people with disabilities, but our sense of fitness, as misguided as  it tends to be, has nothing to do with what natural selection finds fitful. What we consider a disability, nature may see as a boon. The empathy and care that nature provides us ensures that we take care of our own no matter what. Evolution brings forth diversity. The exuberance of nature extends to the physical and cognitive realms. 

You and I really do not know what it means to be reproductively  awesome. The wikipedia tells me that roaches have been around since the carboniferous, and they have not changed that much. They are a success story of scuttling proportions. 

It really doesn’t matter what people think about natural selection. It happens, and it has nothing to do with morals or the lack of them. It did, however, give us a moral sense, and the ability to cooperate with other humans, because, how else do you catch a mammoth, or outrun a tiger? As social beings, we humans owe it to ourselves to be nice to each other. That’s how we got here. Our fitness, as far as I see it, has more to do with lending a hand than with throwing a spear. 

Additionally, even if we were meant to be klingon-like, no one said that we can’t choose to be moral. It is not only nature, but also the emergent social forms that happen when self-aware creatures get together, that lead our destiny. We can choose to transcend our programing. All Im sayin’ is that the heat insulating gray blob inside your skull is pretty flexible, and it has its own natural selection thing going on. You can select for peaceful thoughts. 

Training–as in meditation, study, and practice–can do unexpected and beautifully complex things with our acumen. That’s a big part of zen and of philosophy. We do not need to run the preprogramed evolutionary rat race of flighting, fighting, feeding, and passing on our genetic materials. As I understand it neurologists believe that our impulses and the mind work when competing agents duke it out to see which one takes over the body. We learn by reinforcing the ones that we practice the most. Why not train the most sublime ones? We have that awesome power!

We are deeply connected to other life forms. We eat them, or help them to reproduce, and even modify them. They give us food, beauty, and even scare us at night. Evolution is the central notion upon which modern biology, and the study of all that lives–including ourselves–finds a hub. We shouldn’t let our misguided interpretations of it send us back to the dark ages, rather than to the ideal of love and unity. 

I’m going to add a reading list to my blog soon. 

Written by Hector

October 25, 2008 at 5:50 am

One Response

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  1. I’ve come to the realization that I’m a fairly zen person; meaning that I can accept alot of things (especially the bad) more easily than most of the people I know.
    I think it’s important for people to learn how to relax…don’t fight the forces you can’t control but go with them.


    October 26, 2008 at 7:15 pm

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