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Thoughts on Week 2 and "Origin"

jhercher's picture

I was reading Darwin's discussion about how species should really be visualized in a much more fluid way than is typical.  Species are really constantly changing, and at any one time are just in whatever "form" that species inhabits at a particular moment in time (for example, Darwin mentions how sea shells will change color as they move closer to shore or into hotter waters, or how crabs can develop, then lose, then redevelop the use of their eyes depending on whether they live in a cave.  This made me think of our in-class discussion last week when people made claims along the lines of, "humans are de-evolving" or "humans have put an end to natural selection."  While I admit our advancements have changed our process of natural selection (glasses, contacts and lasik eye surgery make it useless for humans to develop keener vision is one example that comes to mind), and we interfere in the selective process of every animal that comes anywhere near us.  However, to claim that we are no longer evolving is ridiculous.  As is claiming we're devolving.  Evolution is an unbiased process that favors those with survival and procreative advantages.  A woolly mammoth developed fur during the cold age, but when the world heated up if they had begun to shed that heavy fur in favor of a lighter coat we wouldn't call it "devolution."  And to claim that humans have conquered natural selection is absurd.  Of course we see no signs of natural selection taking place, or having taken place even going back through our "distant" past.  But that's because our concept of history is completely out of sync with the amount of time required for the process of natural selection.  To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, it's like looking at a tree and saying it's no longer growing up from the trunk, but growing only at the twig level.  And that's what's beautiful about ideas like Darwin's concept of evolution.  It's why we could be reading "Origin" and saying it's literature.  Because ideas like that, or like Einstein's theory of relativity, are moments when mankind looked beyond itself, beyond what used to seem like the limit of our minds and imagination, and saw something incredible. 


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