Natural Selection

Natural selection is a title for the description of biological change that occurs without human intervention, as observed and described by Charles Darwin. Biological selection by humans can occur, breeding for certain attributes in dogs or horses for instance, but that selection is not natural. Natural selection is a process that occurs in nature without deliberate human-directed intervention.

As it is not guided by humans, natural selection has no human morality. It does not care and is not fair in the sense of preferring good over bad. It just is. The principle of no harm does not directly apply, as that is a human principle for people, one we have learned, not a principle of nature.

Natural selection is a process by which life adapts to and grows in its environment. For life to survive and grow, it needs to fill as many environments as it can. To do this, it diversifies. Diversification is critical to life’s growth and survival. With diversity, if one environment collapses, life can still flourish in another. The more diverse life is, the more resilient it is to change in its environment.

Because environments always change, life is always changing, always adapting to grow in changing environments.

Every organism, every plant, and every animal is part of the whole that is life, including humans.

The parts (individual organisms and whole species) specialise to different environments and different cultures. Humans are an expression of the whole, one part of life. As environments change some parts (some individual organisms, some entire species) fall away, and some thrive. This is natural selection through survival in a changing environment.

Because we are all an expression of life, we can all feel at one with all life. If we have a spiritual need for being part of something bigger, then we can take solace and comfort in feeling part of the whole of life, because we all are - plants, animals, humans, and all living organisms.

As mentioned, natural selection is a title for the description of what occurs to life as it grows and adapts to its changing environment. The term species, on the other hand, is a label for the artificial construct of grouping different forms of life together according to whether they are capable of reproducing (fertile) offspring together. Life is not designed to fit neatly into categories though, and some groups called species are likely just varieties, while some groups thought just varieties are likely species. It can be hard to tell, and the definition is only a convenience for ordering to a human-defined classification.

The point at which a variety becomes a species (unable to reproduce fertile offspring) is also problematic to determine, and would not happen to all members of each variety of a genus over night. Rather it is a process that happens incrementally over a great deal of time. And over that time there will be a diminishing chance that some members of related varieties/species could still produce fertile offspring. It is usually a very gradual process, and not particularly significant given that speciation would usually only occur in varieties that would not attempt to mate anyway. Speciation is only an indeterminate point on a vast spectrum of differences between organisms.

We humans have adapted to our environments, and to individual community cultures (which also adapt), like other organisms have. However, we have also developed technology that has extended our capacity to live in very diverse environments, even in space.

The slow pace of natural selection makes it near impossible to predict how life and particular organisms will develop in the future. This is even more so for humans, as we have so much control over our environment. However, radical environmental change, such as from global catastrophe, whether man made or natural, can speed up the process of natural selection according to what survives these catastrophes. This, though, is even more unpredictable than gradual change, as we do not know what form the next catastrophe will take.

Perhaps we can say that there does appear to be a natural emphasis in humans for greater intelligence, as this is the source of our invention of technology, and our technology, formed through our understanding of the world, facilitated by our intelligence, is what has made humans so successful on Earth. So natural selection for higher intelligence in humans, by whatever the biological process is, seems likely. Results on IQ tests which have been around for many years indicate that average human intelligence is increasing by about three IQ points per decade in the United States, a pattern likely followed, more or less, in other places.

The process of natural selection, must be a result of selection by individuals for each other. The results of this en masse are that some traits become more prominent. Any degree of isolation in a community will result in particular traits and cultural practices different from the traits and practices of other communities elsewhere.

The selection by individuals of each other is felt and cemented by love. Love compels us to care and protect those we love. It is a bond that has evolved to ensure we stay and protect those we have selected for our partners and our offspring. It is an attachment we form when we meet the person we feel is right for us, whom we fall in love with. We see in that person traits we find desirable, perhaps because they are similar or complementary to our own or because the community or sub-community we are in values them highly. Just as our children have traits similar to ourselves due to their biological inheritance of half our DNA, so also our partners are likely to have similar or complementary DNA to ours because this is desirable to us.

The results of natural selection, of love and preferences for partners on a community wide scale, result in certain traits becoming more prominent. This is happening all the time, the evidence of prominent traits in different communities can easily be seen in the national traits of different nationalities.

Culture accelerates natural selection, as what is valued in the culture also influences what is selected (valued) by individuals in that culture.

Language is a good metaphor for the diversity that occurs in isolated communities, and even today, with all the conveniences of modern travel, still occurs: witness the development of different accents. However, there is also commonality and convergence on the lingua franca of English, and the largely American cultural influences which followed and helped promote it.

The importance of culture in natural selection brings us back to the principle of no harm and the purpose of fulfilment. In cultures where this purpose and principle predominate natural selection will naturally select for individuals that demonstrate them.

Culture and natural selection are self-reinforcing. Culture, and technology (an outcome of modern human culture), adapts first, but natural selection follows.

If pursuing fulfilment without harm is the most successful strategy for human communities, and I believe it will be if people (the thinking species) choose it, then natural selection will reinforce it. What will be the outcome of that? Presumably people who are still better at fulfilling their fulfilment in harmony with other people. If that fulfilment requires greater intelligence, creativity and innovation, then we are likely to get more of that.


[Excerpt from The Common Purpose]


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