Sunday, October 28, 2007

Laws of Variation

While it may not be accurate to say that an understanding of basic genetics is universal in modern America, most people can be expected to know the very basics, at least. This is more or less the exact opposite of Darwin's time, when DNA and chromosomes were pretty much unheard-of. One wonders what would have happened if the science of genetics had somehow managed to take root prior to mainstream naturalism coming to the understanding of the theory of natural evolution. I know that I've made this point before, but at the risk of belaboring it, I'll make it again: The realization that Darwin doesn't understand the concepts behind genetics is remarkable. But I suppose that many of us would be just as surprised by the apparent ignorance of a renowned physicist who died before Einstein revolutionized the discipline. So the idea that one could perform operations on guinea pigs, and have the effects of same passed on to the next generations of guinea pigs, while it seems bizarre to us today, couldn't be ruled out a century and a half ago.

One of the more interesting facts of Evolution, and one that always gave me a little trouble, was the idea of atrophy. It's pretty easy to understand why evolution giveth - it's somewhat less intuitive why evolution taketh away. But there is a section of the chapter named: "Compensation and Economy of Growth" that makes a simple point. Building structures takes energy. Organisms do not have an infinite supply of energy, and other materials, needed to develop an indefinite number of structures that don't actively contribute to a creature's chances of survival and/or procreation. Therefore, once something becomes superfluous, it is adaptive to take the energy and material that went into building it, and apply that to something more useful, instead. Even small shifts in resources can spell the difference between success and failure in the grand scheme of things, and so one can expect that nature will, to a degree, tend to favor alterations that make even modest reductions in "wasteful" expenditures.

1 comment:

Thy Goddess said...

Speaking of variations...

Please accept my little contribution to this discussion.