Celebrate Selectivity

Scott - East Falmouth, Massachusetts
Entered on January 18, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: nature, science

I believe the process that finely tunes us to our environment, natural selection, is terribly unappreciated. I believe too many of us are missing something profound. When we see a butterfly with what appear to be eyes on its wings, weighing less than a fraction of an ounce and yet buffeting winds en route to Mexico from Canada, we should appreciate the power of natural selection. When we see a bat abruptly change course and grab an insect (or even a fish) in the faintest of light, we should be in awe of natural selection. Most of us chalk up these little miracles to the hand of God, but that seems ultimately unsatisfying to a curious mind. Why would God put an eye on a wing, or sonar on a bat or, for that matter, a sow bug in a potato or a maggot in a corpse? But imagine these again in the context of the process of living, mating, reproducing, dying and being born, generation upon generation, century upon century. The slightest genetic variation expressed in an individual that confers any advantage to living more efficiently in our environment means that individual has an advantage over both its allies (including kin) and its enemies (probably competitors). That translates into a better ability to gather resources and to garner the attention of an attractive mate, and those lucky individuals get to pass on those advantages to their offspring. This process seems to also translate into things we learn in the course of life, producing something tangible, whether more surviving offspring or ideas that change the community of knowledge. When that ability to learn is inherent in the genes, then the capacity to formulate and appreciate ideas is carried forward as well. As the French would say, that’s formidable! I appreciate that selection is a powerful formative force, and that seems even more evident to me as I travel and explore. Humans of every sort that I’ve met are creatures who seek love and companionship. We seem driven, especially in our youth, by an uncompromising and only sometimes conscious desire to find mates. To love, court, couple and have children. Biologists and Psychologists now know this desire is driven, more than we even dimly recognize, by the genetics that define who we are, how we behave, our desires and reactions – even our need to believe in supernatural forces. We believe different things and even fight over them for seemingly irrational reasons, but we believe not just because it seems easier than not believing, but because it is comforting in the face of the unknown and, I believe, that also makes us more attractive to prospective partners. The slow steady process of natural selection fine-tuned us into love and companion seeking child rearers and protectors, even if we have no children of our own. I believe natural selection has thus interwoven us to all the other life on Earth. We should recognize, appreciate and celebrate that fact.