Saturday, 17 January 2009
Reflections on evolution
For quite a while I have been thinking about the topic of evolution. First of all, it is impossible to say that I think it is bad or good because it is what it is. It doesn't have consciousness thus it doesn't have any moral standards. Yet, evolution is the smartest and the most cruel concept that exists. Without evolution of some sort, we wouldn't be here. Why is it cruel? Well, think about it organisms that are week will perish and will not pass on their genes to an offspring. If they are weak, some of them might not even be lucky to live long after the birth. We have all seen cubs dying just after they are born, saddening and gruesome picture for compassionate people. We have all seen pictures of a tiger chasing their prey and a vision of the animal being eaten. The question is arises, which animals die, which one survive? Is the one that dies always the weakest? Not necessarily, evolution also has a concept of luck and probability, actually the best animal (most fitted) can die because only on that particular hapless day, this animal might have been feeble and was unable to defy or outsmart the predator. If we eliminate concept of a back luck, in the long term, the best animals survive.
We apply evolution principles to mating as well. It seems that both men and women are hard wired to favour to choose people that have the best fitness function for them. If you think about this every one of us has a fitness function, that consists of number variables (traits) that each of us considers to be important. They are both character and physical traits. Needless, to say these functions do differ between people but also they seem to have certain things that are in common for all of us and for certain societies. The concept of beauty also changes from one era to another, for instance in baroque a woman was pretty when she was ... pleasantly plump. If you look at lanky models on television then you will understand that it has nothing to do with the current (Information Age?) perception of beauty. Are we conditioned by media? It is really a question of an egg and chicken, which one was first. It definitely has huge impact on us. Topic of beauty is a difficult topic and I don't want to cover it in this post, yet beauty for many people is part of their fitness function, therefore I have mentioned it. Love, like evolution is very cruel, every one of us at some point has rejected a certain person that was attracted to us. We might feel guilty about this and some of us certainly do but there is not much we can do about it, like the final goal was a perfect offspring and that offspring can be perfect only if our partner is at least little bit close to that perfection (both physical and character wise). Is it good or bad? It is what it is. Survival of the fittest. The most incredible thing I came to realise is that all us look at finding their partner in a holistic way. If an individual does not accept physically a certain person, there is no chance for love, auto rejection. It applies both to men and women, although men are really notorious for this. Either way, we have our preferences. The same applies to character traits, they are part of a fitness function as well, yet it is very acceptable in a society to reject a person based on their character traits, it is less acceptable to reject a person based on their physical appearance, it is considered to be shallow, yet most of us do it. There was a movie about this, check it out: Shallow Hall. Yet, we are all more or less shallow as evolution - evolution is shallow as well. In your mind a child with an ugly/stupid person can potentially result in a sick or dumb child, the one that will die or will be susceptible to diseases. The fact that you reject is because you are conditioned and because you care about the future of your child (evolutionary hard-wiring).
Imagine a world in which a physical appearance can be altered through genetic engineering (check out movie: Gattaca), still people will have certain preferences but no one will be feeble, disabled or ugly so that everyone will reject this person, resulting in a evolutionary murder. I feel very sorry for these people and that is why I think all of us would actually benefit from genetic engineering applied to humans. Mind you that it is very hard and far from practical application any time soon. I know that ethically it is a difficult question, especially if one believes in God, but where is God when a person with a Down syndrome dies childless because they are not allowed to have children or other people reject them, resulting in the an evolutionary genocide. Because of somatic disorders, this person will fail to pass their character traits (think, he or she could be a very nice person) to offspring. You must be thinking, to pass characters traits, are you nuts? You might remember the concept of a blank slate, you see Steven Pinker claims that behaviour can be inherited. Please listen to his video to find out more: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/steven_pinker_chalks_it_up_to_the_blank_slate.html.
Would you like to live in a world I mentioned, in which only character traits would matter in evolutionary sense? I would. The important message for shallow men is that, if she is a hottie but a bimbo, remember that your child can also be, well.... be careful! Important message for smart women: be pretty but don't exaggerate, don't spend all of your free time in front of a mirror or in a gym, study, learn, enhance your knowledge to become a better human being. Be fairly attractive but also be smart, as character traits are inherited and you will be responsible to prepare your child to live in very demanding times (we need more knowledge to work/live comparing to the last century).
Evolution inspirations in businesses
Many people have spotted that capitalists have been inspired by evolution and applied it to their businesses. It has been very successful, companies that will not adjust and will not make profit will go belly up, the ones that do well, will survive. Employees that are most prepared for a job (their fitness function is the best for that job) have the highest chance of getting that job. Of course, there are things like nepotism but bear in mind that while nepotism is perceived to be bad, it is rooted in thinking that a member of family will not cheat you, or will be less likely to cheat you. This might be more important than actual competences for that job. Evolution applied to business means that you as a company have to innovate all the time to survive, you as an employee, without job security whatsoever have to constantly study and evolve for a chance to survive on the job market in the long term. If you think about this, this is no different than an animal running away from a tiger in a jungle. In communism, everybody was guaranteed to have a job, there was no incentive to learn, innovate. In capitalism innovation is driven by avarice, cupidity and survival instincts. No one is secure in capitalism, even businessmen with lots of capital running companies, if they make bad decisions, they will be bancrupt. In the short term, certain people might be more successful than others, but in the long term, things may change. Credit crunch enabled us to think that even big fat cats in investment banks are not secure and their position can be jeapordised.
Evolution as a way to run society
How about we use evolution as a way to run the society, this will mean the there would be no social welfare and people on incapacity benefit and disabled people would immediately stop receiving any money. Disabled people who would be able to get a job would be able to support themselves, others would simply die. I know what you are thinking, this is an atrocity and indeed an appalling idea. Yes, you are right, it is a controversial idea but as we previously mentioned evolution doesn't have moral standards so it would eliminate the weakest individuals, favouring survival and reproduction of the best ones. Think about this survival of a disabled person means that, they might have a child and that child, while might not be disabled will be more limited to achieve the best of their potential. This is a difference between America and Europe. European governments pay more attention to people that are unable to support themselves and provide them with enough money to survive, in America on another hand, while there is a social welfare, it is very limited and in fact, in that sense America is closer to the pure evolutionary mechanism. Which one is better, that is an ethical question. Both have advantages and disadvantages, we can use different adjectives, well understood, like productivity that have no ethical meanings. Needless to say, American model has been the most productive, America was built on drudgery and toil. Take a look at the state of their economy, while it might be in trouble (other economies are in trouble as well) it is the most efficient economy in the world and in my humble opinion will stay like that for a long time.
There are also more social models, like Scandinavian countries, where government lets rich people to be rich but also taxes them enormously so that poor and needy people are provided with basic needs, they won't be driving Mercedes but they will have food and shelter. Evolution doesn't care (because it is not conscious), it would let these people die, it is people that modified the pure evolution and applied ethical and moral standards to it. For innovation it might be bad but who said that innovation is an ultimate goal? What if we evolve slower, if drugs are invented slower, if we drive cars without GPS, at the same time supporting people in the society, which were less fortunate? Again ethical questions.
The ethical question, which model is better is in fact asking a question about a fitness function of a society. Is it more important for a society to innovate and be productive or is it more important for a society to make sure that all of its members have shelter and food and can live with dignity. Probably like in all aspects of live, it is vital to find a good balance. I might be horribly wrong but I think great Britain might provide a good balance.