Introduction to Non-Genetic Darwinism/Darwinism, Culture and Philosophy
- Understand the specific cultural values and philosophical concepts associated with Darwinism.
- Discuss the relationship between Darwin, Darwinism and philosophy.
- Illustrate the dangers of misinterpreting Darwinism.
- Understand and draw lessons from a population-based interpretation of Darwinism.
- Argue for a population-based interpretation.
Survival of the Fittest
Darwinism was originally misunderstood. Because Darwinism was partially based on selection in the Barnyard, at some point it was thought that Natural Selection would also be oriented towards the Optimization of species so that Individuals were optimal for some purpose. This resulted in the concept of Survival of the Fittest, which while it was not Darwin's original thought was touted as a popular version of what Evolution was all about, and is still used in explanations to this day. This stress on individual fitness, seems to assume that Evolution has some way of evaluating fitness other than survival itself. While new theories suggest that other types of fitness exist, they by no means indicate that Individual Optimization is possible or even desirable.
One particularly nasty form of the Darwinian Philosophy was that used by the Eugenics Movement, which was accepted world wide despite it's pseudo-scientific origin. This movement decided to help human evolution, by using human selection to improve the racial characteristics of individuals. Because Survival of the Fittest was the perceived nature of Darwin's principle, the Eugenics Movement seemed to be a natural extension of Evolution. The Ideal of the Eugenics movement was to pick Individuals of greater fitness according to social norms, and assure that other lesser people could not reproduce. This would it was thought, increase the general fitness of the population as a whole. To Evaluate this approach all we need do is look at the Hate Crimes that were produced by those following this approach, in order to realize that it was much more dangerous that at first seemed likely.
The Nazi Interpretation
During the Nazi era in Germany, theories of eugenics were interpreted as implying that some races were superior to others. The National Socialist (Nazi) party creatively reinterpreted an obsolete law left on the books of Germany, which essentially meant that the governing party could label people of a particular ethnic group "undesirable" and take away their rights. The Nazis considered the Jews and Gypsies undesirable, partly because some Jews and Gypsies were physically different from people of known Germanic descent. As a result, these peoples were systematically exterminated. In addition, the Nazis built breeding camps where people of presumably "Aryan" stock were forcibly bred with one another. The intent was to create and maintain a "master race" of people.
Popular Breeding Experiments
The Holocaust was not the only hate crime that can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Eugenics Movement, Almost every country in the Western World, allowed similar experiments to be done to Increase the Fitness of the population. Here in Canada, the Eugenic movement can be blamed for policies of Sterilization of Mentally Ill Patients without their informed consent. It has been shown that many of these patients did not have inheritable diseases, but were sterilized anyway. In Canada, a public apology was offered, and Monetary Damages were awarded, only to see the government attempt to claw the awards back by covert means.
One of the problems with the Eugenics Movement is that it falls within a nasty human penchant, to separate people into Them and Us, and to ignore what happens to them, and only complain when it happens to US. We only usually demonstrate in the streets, when we feel personally threatened. The Eugenics Movement is a natural fit for every crack pot that wants to pick out a them, to attack. It is only by the work of the Humans Rights Advocates, that we know that this nasty penchant exists, and are attempting to deal with it.
If Survival of the Fittest results in Hate Crimes, and Racial Violence, then is Darwinism flawed? or is it just the philosophies we base on it that are flawed? To answer this question, out of the mists of times, comes a new philosophy of Darwinism, called Population Thinking. In this theory, although the selection is done at the individual level, the important thing is not the fitness of the individual but the fitness of the population. Natural Selection is seen as a way of conditioning the fitness of the population, not a judgment on the fitness of the individual. In this philosophy it is more important that the human civilization has expanded to fit into nearly every ecological niche, or has eliminated so many alternate ecological niches that the rest of the animals pretty well have to share their niches with us. It doesn't really matter that one racial group has characteristics that another group has learned to hate, except that if there is racial cleansing the effect is to reduce the fitness of the population as a whole by reducing the biodiversity of the planet significantly. As a result of human overpopulation, a small change in the temperature of the earth is resulting in significant human disaster, if only because humans are so prevalent that natural disasters cause more deaths than they would if the population were smaller. On the other hand, humans are better at mitigation of natural disasters, which increases the survival rates even in areas that are prone to natural disaster. This means that humans may be more adaptive than nearly any other species because we can mitigate disaster and create new ecological niches for ourselves at the cost of other species. More adaptive perhaps than any other animal except the cockroach.
Survival of the Sufficiently Fit
If Darwinism is not about Individual Fitness, and Survival of the Fittest is wrong, then we need to soften our expectations for the Individual. To express this from the point of view of the Individual, we need to think not of the extremes of fitness but of the bulk of the population. We need to understand that the Biodiversity of the population is more important than the fitness of an individual. I have described this myself as "Survival of the Sufficiently Fit". What Evolution is interested in, is procreation, and the diversity of the next generation, not individual survival. Evolution hedges it's bets, and while it maintains a population that meets the requirements for a specific Ecological niche, it also protects a smaller population that doesn't. This sub-population cannot be anything but sub-optimal in the current niche, but it offers the biodiversity necessary for the species to adapt to fill other niches as they become available.
Consider the Galapagos Islands, where different Islands are dominated by different species of lizards, that have evolved in parallel to the point where lizards having the same ecological niche tend to look similar, even though they have completely different genetic sources, and may actually be based on a completely different species. It is the individual variation that made it possible for lizards that were large enough to swim between islands to shrink and grow suction cups on the tips of their fingers in order to dominate ecological niches from the forest floor to the very tops of the trees.
If we can accept that Diversity is more important than individual fitness, we can begin to see that the nature of nature does not fit our Emperical expectations. We must learn to accept uncertainty and individual variations in our understanding of how the world works. We may even need to look at the assumptions under which we do science, what we expect it to do, and how we expect it to work. In this new version of the world, Science that understands uncertainty, will give us more leverage than the classical science based on logic that was almost worshipped by the philosphers of Weatern Philosophy. Instead of always looking for the simplest explanation and the optimal answer, we need to be looking for Sub-Optimal but consistent answers, for systems that are "Good Enough" and satisfy the conditions, instead of always looking for the BEST possible answer. We call such systems satisfycing systems.
Success Preserving Functions
If we accept this, we can see that the brain is not made of the fittest components that are theoretically possible, it is not based on "Truth Preserving Functions" as hold overs from the age of reason, demand, instead it is made from components that are "Good Enough" to work. Some of these systems can be derived with simple rules from a DNA base, that just puts together the framework on which uncertainty and self-organization can play. What will be the result, is systems that satisfy survival requirements and may even exceed them, systems that are looser in definition, solutions I call "Success Preserving Functions" because Darwinism assures that successful combinations are repeated, even if DNA is not involved in the actual determination of the Function.
- Search for other resources on the cultures and philosophies surrounding Darwinism, then write a short essay on why Individual Fitness is not a good indicator of the current state of Darwinism.
- Look at something you do, that indicates that you are sensitive to your own success. Do you think that the ability to detect success would have evolved if it wasn't important in some way?
- Do a logical if A then B type determination, discuss how this is different from being sensitive to success.
- Eat a meal, notice that there is no logical reason for you to feel hungry before the meal, but not feel hungry once you have started the meal but are not yet full. This is an example of a satisfycing system, where you don't have to feel full, just satisfied you have eaten enough. If this is not the case, check with your doctor, eating until you are full, every time you eat, might indicate an eating disorder or a more serious condition.