Evolutionary Quotes (23 quotes)
Although species may be discrete, they have no immutable essence. Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm. Variation is primary; essences are illusory. Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation.
And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
Differences between individuals are the raw materials for evolutionary change and for the evolution of adaptations, yet of course most physiologists treat these differences as noise that is to be filtered out. From the standpoint of physiological ecology, the traditional emphasis of physiologists on central tendencies rather than on variance has some unhappy consequences. Variation is not just noise; it is also the stuff of evolution and a central attribute of living systems. The physiological differences between individuals in the same species or population, and also the patterns of variation in different groups, must not be ignored.
Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. ... the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.
Evolutionists sometimes take as haughty an attitude toward the next level up the conventional ladder of disciplines: the human sciences. They decry the supposed atheoretical particularism of their anthropological colleagues and argue that all would be well if only the students of humanity regarded their subject as yet another animal and therefore yielded explanatory control to evolutionary biologists.
I am not insensible to natural beauty, but my emotional joys center on the improbable yet sometimes wondrous works of that tiny and accidental evolutionary twig called Homo sapiens. And I find, among these works, nothing more noble than the history of our struggle to understand nature—a majestic entity of such vast spatial and temporal scope that she cannot care much for a little mammalian afterthought with a curious evolutionary invention, even if that invention has, for the first time in so me four billion years of life on earth, produced recursion as a creature reflects back upon its own production and evolution. Thus, I love nature primarily for the puzzles and intellectual delights that she offers to the first organ capable of such curious contemplation.
I am not unmindful of the journalist’s quip that yesterday’s paper wraps today’s garbage. I am also not unmindful of the outrages visited upon our forests to publish redundant and incoherent collections of essays; for, like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, I like to think that I speak for the trees. Beyond vanity, my only excuses for a collection of these essays lie in the observation that many people like (and as many people despise) them, and that they seem to cohere about a common theme–Darwin’s evolutionary perspective as an antidote to our cosmic arrogance.
I am willing to believe that my unobtainable sixty seconds within a sponge or a flatworm might not reveal any mental acuity that I would care to ca ll consciousness. But I am also confident ... that vultures and sloths, as close evolutionary relatives with the same basic set of organs, lie on our side of any meaningful (and necessarily fuzzy) border–and that we are therefore not mistaken when we look them in the eye and see a glimmer of emotional and conceptual affinity.
I like to summarize what I regard as the pedestal-smashing messages of Darwin’s revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted several times a day, like a Hare Krishna mantra, to encourage penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny little twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which, if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again, or perhaps any twig with any property that we would care to call consciousness.
I want to argue that the ‘sudden’ appearance of species in the fossil record and our failure to note subsequent evolutionary change within them is the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it ... Evolutionary ‘sequences’ are not rungs on a ladder, but our retrospective reconstruction of a circuitous path running like a labyrinth, branch to branch, from the base of the bush to a lineage now surviving at its top.
Included in this ‘almost nothing,’ as a kind of geological afterthought of the last few million years, is the first development of self-conscious intelligence on this planet–an odd and unpredictable invention of a little twig on the mammalian evolutionary bush. Any definition of this uniqueness, embedded as it is in our possession of language, must involve our ability to frame the world as stories and to transmit these tales to others. If our propensity to grasps nature as story has distorted our perceptions, I shall accept this limit of mentality upon knowledge, for we receive in trade both the joys of literature and the core of our being.
It is important to realize that life on this planet has spent about three-quarters of its existence in single-celled form, and even today the majority of organisms still exist as single cells. The evolutionary pressure to become complex is evidently not very great.
It is so hard for an evolutionary biologist to write about extinction caused by human stupidity ... Let me then float an unconventional plea, the inverse of the usual argument ... The extinction of Partula is unfair to Partula. That is the conventional argument, and I do not challenge its primacy. But we need a humanistic ecology as well, both for the practical reason that people will always touch people more than snails do or can, and for the moral reason that humans are legitimately the measure of all ethical questions–for these are our issues, not nature’s.
It is tautological to say that an organism is adapted to its environment. It is even tautological to say that an organism is physiologically adapted to its environment. However, just as in the case of many morphological characters, it is unwarranted to conclude that all aspects of the physiology of an organism have evolved in reference to a specific milieu. It is equally gratuitous to assume that an organism will inevitably show physiological specializations in its adaptation to a particular set of conditions. All that can be concluded is that the functional capacities of an organism are sufficient to have allowed persistence within its environment. On one hand, the history of an evolutionary line may place serious constraints upon the types of further physiological changes that are readily feasible. Some changes might require excessive restructuring of the genome or might involve maladaptive changes in related functions. On the other hand, a taxon which is successful in occupying a variety of environments may be less impressive in individual physiological capacities than one with a far more limited distribution.
Obviously we biologists should fit our methods to our materials. An interesting response to this challenge has been employed particularly by persons who have entered biology from the physical sciences or who are distressed by the variability in biology; they focus their research on inbred strains of genetically homogeneous laboratory animals from which, to the maximum extent possible, variability has been eliminated. These biologists have changed the nature of the biological system to fit their methods. Such a bold and forthright solution is admirable, but it is not for me. Before I became a professional biologist, I was a boy naturalist, and I prefer a contrasting approach; to change the method to fit the system. This approach requires that one employ procedures which allow direct scientific utilization of the successful long-term evolutionary experiments which are documented by the fascinating diversity and variability of the species of animals which occupy the earth. This is easy to say and hard to do.
Often in evolutionary processes a species must adapt to new conditions in order to survive. Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
Over the years it has become clear that adjustments to the physical environment are behavioral as well as physiological and are inextricably intertwined with ecology and evolution. Consequently, a student of the physiology of adaptation should not only be a technically competent physiologist, but also be familiar with the evolutionary and ecological setting of the phenomenon that he or she is studying.
Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
Very little comes easily to our poor, benighted species (the first creature, after all, to experiment with the novel evolutionary inventions of self-conscious philosophy and art). Even the most ‘obvious,’ ‘accurate,’ and ‘natural’ style of thinking or drawing must be regulated by history and won by struggle. Solutions must therefore arise within a social context and record the complex interactions of mind and environment that define the possibility of human improvement.
Wallace’s error on human intellect arose from the in adequacy of his rigid selectionism, not from a failure to apply it. And his argument repays our study today, since its flaw persists as the weak link in many of the most ‘modern’ evolutionary speculations of our current literature. For Wallace’s rigid selectionism is much closer than Darwin’s pluralism to the attitude embodied in our favored theory today, which, ironically in this context, goes by the name of ‘Neo-Darwinism.’
We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way.
We do not inhabit a perfected world where natural selection ruthlessly scrutinizes all organic structures and then molds them for optimal utility. Organisms inherit a body form and a style of embryonic development; these impose constraint s upon future change and adaptation. In many cases, evolutionary pathways reflect inherited patterns more than current environmental demands. These inheritances constrain, but they also provide opportunity. A potentially minor genetic change ... entails a host of complex, nonadaptive consequences ... What ‘play’ would evolution have if each structure were built for a restricted purpose and could be used for nothing else? How could humans learn to write if our brain had not evolved for hunting, social cohesion, or whatever, and could not transcend the adaptive boundaries of its original purpose?
We must somehow keep the dreams of space exploration alive, for in the long run they will prove to be of far more importance to the human race than the attainment of material benefits. Like Darwin, we have set sail upon an ocean: the cosmic sea of the Universe. There can be no turning back. To do so could well prove to be a guarantee of extinction. When a nation, or a race or a planet turns its back on the future, to concentrate on the present, it cannot see what lies ahead. It can neither plan nor prepare for the future, and thus discards the vital opportunity for determining its evolutionary heritage and perhaps its survival.