Evolution and Terminology

There are generally used, particularly in popular discussions, terms and terminology which discuss evolution; but which act to mislead learners or hearers about the topic.

Two of these terms are: ‘adaptation’; ‘natural selection’ and they are central to the evolutionary thesis of ‘survival of the fittest’.

Added to this misleading usage of terms is a ‘cart before the horse’ understanding of evolution; which is quite commonly used, and which I will describe more clearly after the first part of this piece is written.

‘Adaptation’ and ‘natural selection’ appear to me necessarily to imply activity and choice.  When we use the words and apply them to humans, we nearly always mean activity and choice is involved.

A person who adapts applies an ‘adaptation’ to herself, perhaps not consciously, nor else maybe by conscious choice, but her adaptation shows in her deeds, that that person has changed her behaviour and possibly her thinking. She might notice that she has altered her behaviour, or else not.  This wholly unconscious and wholly unnoted sort of adaptation, when it happens and a person is unaware that it has happened in them; this is the closest to what evolutionary biologists mean when they use the word.

Because we humans talk of ‘adaptation’ and ‘adaptations’, the verb and the noun, when we discuss the machines and the technology and the writing and the thinking we use and do, and when we are consciously making changes to these, so as, we hope, to make them better or make them a better fit; then are we not thereby muddying the waters for any use of the words ‘adaptation’ and ‘adaptations’ in any biological evolutionary sense. This is especially so when we use the words before say children who are learning about evolution or among adults who have a slight passing acquaintance with the theory.

Likewise ‘natural selection’ is a concept which in fact entails no selection as the word is used in normal conversation.  Selection by definition in everyday conversation has to entail choice; even the noun ‘a selection’ implies the offer of or the availability of choice to the hearer of the word.

In ‘selection’ as evolutionary biologists (I hope!) understand it, whether ‘natural’ or otherwise; there is no choice, and in the first place there cannot be choice like there might be claimed to be human choice. This is because nearly all of the animal and plant kingdoms, as far as we know presently, have insufficient consciousness for them to consider making any choice.

Choice, and therefore selection have to be characteristics of higher consciousness.

Thus the word ‘selection’ is another word which acts to mislead non-scientists and non-biologists when it is being applied to evolutionary thinking.  The average lay person and pupil I would say also see ‘nature’ in the phrase ‘natural selection’ as the concept’s active principle, and thus as having a character of choice inherent within it.

Further, the act of ‘selection’ in the phrase ‘natural selection’ is seemingly being applied by ‘nature’; and there is a good chance that many, many persons see this nature as an anthropoid emblem – like our old idea about ‘mother nature’.  Some people maybe even see nature as if it were some kind of deity or had properties which deities generally own to.

These are all easy mistakes to make and the products of much loose popular thinking. They are likely being adhered to.

Nature is not anthropoid; it has no properties of deity; it has no consciousness (excepting a few of the higher fauna perhaps?); it has no volition of choice and selection.  ‘Nature’ as we mean it in the phrase ‘natural selection’ is not all the animals and plants, neither in total nor as part of the concept. ‘Nature’ is placed in this phrase ‘natural selection’ as if it were a force, of what type I am not sure, and I am indeed not sure it can or could be a force, in this sense?

If fact ‘natural’, in the phrase ‘natural selection’, is very difficult indeed; what on earth does it signify? Nothing simple and straightforward for certain; something complex and rather nebulous for sure

‘Adaptation’ as we normally mean that word when we are talking about bolt-on car parts or the movie of the book; does not happen in the animal and plant kingdoms.

There is no active principle to adaptation or to natural selection in the biological model of evolution; nor is there any active principle to adaptation and natural selection as biologists will use these terms.

So why are these terms still in use, when they so clearly mislead greatly perhaps the majority of mankind? Can we not think of some understandable way of describing what happens when we speak about ‘evolution’; a way which does not offer so blatantly these pitfalls for us to pitch headlong into?  And what exactly does happen?

Let’s leave what happens for now, and go on a little, because I want to talk a bit about random mutation and about that ‘cart before the horse’ outlook I mentioned earlier; which even some scientists I think tend to stay with.

The theory, or thesis, or hypothesis, of evolution goes like this.  In the natural course of things living things reproduce themselves, – as the Bible says – ‘after their kind’ and these reproduced ‘kind’ are, as it were, hybrids or else clones of characteristics of their parent organisms. The offspring will always carry a majority of the characteristics of the parent organism(s); but there occurs (and I am not sure whether anyone at present knows exactly why) what are called ‘mutations’ which are, by definition say the evolutionists’, ‘unpredictable’, and, it is also claimed, ‘random’.

These mutations are what one might call deviations from the norm from that type of organism to which the parent organism(s) belongs.  Like a baby born with say, three nipples, or maybe with eyebrows under the eyes as well as over the eyes?

These mutations, the theory goes on to say, are for the most part unsuccessful because they turn out to be, in the course of the life of the creatures bearing them, untenable as new developments to and for the organism type to carry and still prosper.  These unsuccessful mutations fall by the wayside and in some way (I don’t know the theory) they do not spread amongst the wider organism type.

Some few mutations which happen to organisms are successful; which means that the mutations do begin to appear henceforth as characteristics of the organism type; either locally or across a wider area. Organisms of the type reproduce and do go on to adulthood and do find that their lives lived carrying the mutation are tenable and so the mutation has become tenable.  The theory often goes further and says that at least some of these tenable numbers of mutated organism types carry mutations which equip them better for life than their antecedent organism types were equipped before the particular mutation first occurred.

Now as far as I am able to tell there are limits to these last mentioned extensions of the theory here. I see no reason why a mutation might not transpire to be ‘neutral’ and yet still be adopted in their reproduction by organisms. By ‘neutral’ I mean that a mutation may not be harmful nor beneficial, inhibiting nor enhancing, yet it may yet be adopted in the reproduced organisms of the type as a matter of course. Why not?

If what I think is in fact the case, then it is a mistake for a student to assume that for every mutation which ‘succeeds’ in establishing a population bearing that mutation, there must be ‘out there somewhere’ in the organism’s environment states of affairs which make its mutation of use to it.

This is ‘the cart before the horse’ type of thinking I spoke of earlier, whereby a person takes the theory, or thesis, or hypothesis and applies it across the board every time whenever x is present; x in this case being a viable population bearing a new mutation.  The assumption, which is false I believe, is that when there is discovered such a new viable population, the hunt for pinning down the environmental reason for the success of that mutation is automatically on.  Thus what we begin to do is to use evolutionary theory as a template on which every time x happens y has to happen also. And we do this because we ‘know’, we take as a given, that whenever ‘y’ happens ‘x’ happens. In this instance ‘y’ is a successful mutation which does have a positive and new environmental niche – as the new place occupied in the environment is called I believe.

Even the term ‘blind’ as used to describe evolution and how it works is a misleading term.  ‘Blind’ is used normally of creatures which have no power of vision. ‘Blind’ in this case is a metaphor about the inability of evolutionary processes to see ahead in time, and so to plan, to control, and/or to choose. Nature is not a creature.  Mutations are not creatures. ‘Adaptations’ are not creatures. ‘Selection’ is not done by creatures nor is it done by nature.

Once these misleading anthropoid ‘enhancements’ to the theory are stripped away and one’s view of evolution and of what is happening when we notice that evolution has happened – and we have a view which I hope is now better oriented – then what is left to consider is not really very startling. Nor might we consider easily or feasibly, that life progresses, or rather changes, over time, in any other way.  Nothing to write home about at all.

Excepting maybe the mutations, and their alleged randomness?  How might it be logically possible to nominate them to be ‘random’? I don’t see it. Are biologists claiming that things might have panned out otherwise, than the way history actually has made things to be? How might we know this? What sort of question is it? And what answer might satisfy its query?

Consider also that most biologists and scientists of the present age, I believe, would adhere to a materialist vision of reality; one which usually pans out so as to deny any reality other than material reality.  This materialism, caries a collateral belief alongside it which is shown in areas such as neuro-physics, in brain-mind research, and in medicine and psychology; which leads to assertions like those that insist that the brain is the mind and that the two are identical, and that this is a material fact. The conclusion, jumped to again, of the acolytes of assertions like these, is that life and being is wholly deterministic; hence it follows that it is impossible things and events could possibly have been different in the smallest detail to what they have been and are now.

This means then; no freewill, no choice, no election. No randomness, no selection, no adaptation: everything just had/has to be – as it happened/happens.

So where does this all leave us? In confusion? Certainly. Are we all just contradicting ourselves, and assuming where assumptions are not valid, for the fun of it? Or is it that we contradict ourselves and assume just so as to squeeze the facts as we have them into the theories as we have them and to do so utterly regardless of consequence. Regardless of anything but that Cinderella’s shoes should have to be fitted to the ugly sisters’ feet; even though we have to hack and shape their feet as if with a butcher’s cleaver; so as for us to come out ahead all the time?  Or at least for us to appear to do so.

Of course there is no old man with a beard in the sky. That belief is so embarrassing.

Too Much Temptation: The Consuming Passion

This piece is about excess. It’s about obsession and the mental prison into which living with an obsessive-compulsive disorder brings to a sufferer.  It is about a massive and a growing assault on integrity morale and resolution.

The sufferer of all these ailments is the world. The world is the patient: the impatient patient.  The complaint is getting worse and will get worse inevitably; were things to go on as they are going now.

I think I have said a lot already about how our system of exchange depends for its stability and continuance wholly upon a few basic propositions.

  1. New kinds of (profitable and maybe lawful) goods and services of any kind continually being added into it
  2. More quantities together with upgrades (technically) of qualities of products and services continually being offered, supplied, marketed
  3. Goods and services being replaced/upgraded by buyer consumers regularly and frequently
  4. Marketing by way of a saturation advertising psychology which aims to create and to grow a need; and to boost perceived values of goods/services

The force of this global machine of economic activity is ultra-powerful; no-one is in charge of it and it is very nearly unstoppable. Presently there is no will to stop it; and no perception of a need for it to be stopped or for it to be changed in its direction.

Some of the main outcomes of this machine continuing to carry the World along are:

  1. Ever increasing demand upon and pressure placed on material natural resources
  2. Ever increasing turnover and wastage of technically superseded goods
  3. Ever greater saturation advertising and increase/creation of demand

These things will happen and are happening; although what of the effects on us of these ever-accelerating motors of the consumer economic machine?  First, consumerism has brought us many things we have benefitted from – massive choice in basic products and services; freedom from basic want; all the basic necessities for life within the reach of the pockets of billions of ordinary persons.  This is a big plus for the World.

Caught in its own machinery however consumerism necessarily has to up the ante, force the pace, boost the output, and so on in order to stay healthy and together.  The system is geared up to do this and can only survive and stay useful by doing it.  It is like the guy who wants more hot water in his bath, so he turns on the hot tap but finds he is unable to turn it off or get out and so the water begins to scald him. Or like a fire lit in a freezing forest by campers for them to be able to survive; but which spreads and ends up burning down Alberta State.

Post-war consumerism was a successful escape from a very harsh life for millions of our grandparents. It had its day, like every dog has. Now it has outrun its course and is responsible for environmental degradation and material resource crises; it has caused overproduction and so overemployment (bear with me on this) and overconsumption; and possibly worst of all, it has spoilt and is further spoiling humanity with excess and with surplus choice and with ultra-temptations to accept and use these things; thus humankind has become its own worst enemy.

Maybe a lot of persons reading what I have just written will laugh and say I am stupid?  Maybe the same persons are contented with the great offers for a binge of self-indulgence which in practice only stokes a hunger for more, and more fierce, of the same; and nourishes a deep sense of a lack of fulfilment ever more keenly?

The big thing about consumerism is that one can buy almost anything provided one has money to buy it.  Hence money becomes the key which unlocks a sort of narrow-gauge freedom for us and forms the foundation of a life as it were moving on set tracks along an endless dark tunnel with a light at the end which is ever-receding.  Money and the getting of money becomes, has become, paramount; and it trumps every other card in humanity’s pack – fair play; family life; friendships; health; joy; sheer wellbeing.

This primacy for us of the necessity for getting money, when it is the case that we are not living as destitutes when we might rightly be desperate for money; this primacy is our sickness and it is what governs us just as if we were overseen every moment of our lives by a jailer master.

We feel, correctly so, that we must have money to get hold of the key to open the shop door of Pandora’s Box. We feel that what we sacrifice in the getting of money is an acceptable trade off. We are willing to submit ourselves for half or more of our waking hours daily to another’s biding and control and command.  For this is what we do when we are an employee; in effect we are selling to another half our life’s quantity of liberty.

We thus create in recompense the concept of ‘quality time’; which is in fact normal time and is time as time should be for us always. Not necessarily all leisure; but certainly all freedom and more fulfilment.  Our ‘quality time’ then, is largely channelled towards retail shopping and towards other ways of spending money.  Having money then, means one can ‘have a good time’.  These channels then are our default activities; which we do and spend money on in lieu of experiencing a broader equilibrium for our lives.  These shifts and resorts then are blowholes; safety-valves; the extreme responses and reactions to a half-life of semi-servitude.

Were we not expected to produce so much at work; we should experience less pressure, less fatigue, less ennui, less distaste for Monday Mornings.  We should work fewer hours and achieve more and get more satisfaction in those fewer hours that we do presently. Our time would be more our own and our lives would level out and feel more like real lives.

Money as the key to the World as it now is, means that money is our overpowering temptation; like the kid at the sweetshop window with a £5 note to burn.  We in the West all admit to ourselves we overbuy; we throw out; we waste; we do these things as a stopgap for lack of fulfilment.

‘Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,

Dost make us marble, with too much conceiving;’

Our essential bedrock sense of living in a retail and wholesale desert continually saps at our wills to resist and to go for something we might feel is more salutary and so able to make us feel better about ourselves. The consumer machine stands in relation to us all in the same way as The Servant Monster stands in relation to his Master when he says bitterly:

‘You taught me language

And my profit on it is I know how to curse’

At once we are tempted and demoralised; and placed thus in the classic double-bind of the obsessive compulsive addictive personality. It’s a trap.  It’s a trap which will not let us go until we are destroyed – personally, and as a race and species.  Get off the hamster wheel, jump the dog spit, and wean yourself of Working for The Man, of blowing it all at weekends, of a repetitive hot/cold/hot/cold lifestyle and settle for a life more temperate and for temperance.

(A person on TV was telling how technology and consumerism had made all our lives the lives of Kings and Queens. He compared very unfavourably the life of peasants in the days before industrialisation. He spoke of peasants working every waking hour, either in fields or at home evenings darning, whittling carpentry etc, etc.  He failed to understand that those lives of peasants were very hard lives and always occupied with doing and making; but that they were authentic lives, lives of ‘quality time’ we might call it; because the integration of work and enjoyment, purpose and direction, will and pleasure was present for those people.)

‘And I shall make my soul’