We have all studied or at least heard about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Now, do people really understand what natural selection actually is? If we ask the majority of the population about evolution, we will probably get answers such as: "It is about the human being coming from the monkey" or "the survival of the strongest", “evolution is when species constantly improve how they adapt to their environment.”
The central idea of the Darwinian theory is that the “changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring” | Source. Hence, the species that manage to adapt to their environment will survive and those that cannot adapt end up disappearing.
What is natural selection?
It is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Source
What does it mean to be adapted?
Adapted is nothing more than the ability of a species in a particular ecosystem to reproduce and ensure the survival of its descendants. In other words, it means to thrive.
Since this theory is constantly being misinterpreted, there might be popular beliefs thar are incorrect. Therefore, today I would like to discuss about:
- Natural selection as an orderly sequence.
- The different adaptation of the species.
- Natural selection as a struggle for survival.
Natural selection as an orderly sequence
Natural selection is not an orderly sequence. Species don't go from version 1.0 to 2.0 as our hardware does.
What is a mutation?
A gene mutation is a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene, such that the sequence differs from what is found in most people. Mutations range in size; they can affect anywhere from a single DNA building block (base pair) to a large segment of a chromosome that includes multiple genes. | Source
Mutations are alterations to a DNA sequence. If one thinks of the information in DNA as a series of sentences, mutations are errors in spelling the words that make up those sentences. | Source
What happens is that species have new mutations from time to time, and the mutations that end up improving the adaptation to the environment are the ones that will remain alive so to say, and will get more and more common as the beings with this mutation has a natural advantage against those who don't.
A perfect example of this are polar bears. By being white, and living surrounded by snow, polar bears have a much easier job when hunting for preys. This mutation allows them to survive, and thanks to this, it can be say its a successful mutation.
Mutations can be caused by random errors in DNA replication or repair, or by chemical or radiation damage. Most times, mutations are either harmful or neutral, but in rare instances, a mutation might prove beneficial to the organism. If so, it will become more prevalent in the next generation and spread throughout the population. | Source
Thus, those living beings that do not adapt to the context will disappear or they will have to change their environment to one that is more fit for them. An important thing to note is the fact that the context varies with time, a species or individual adapted in the past may not be so in the future, and vice versa.
The different adaptation of the species.
Some people can say that "the human being is the best adapted animal on earth" or "we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder". If we check the definition of adaptation, we will see that it consists in surviving, having descendants and that said descendants survive, in short, maintaining existence is what determine if a species is adapted or not (not ending with the existence of others or having the power to do so). In addition, from this we deduce that all the species that currently exist are also adapted, since either you exist or you don't exist.
What is adaptation
Adaptation, in biology, process by which an animal or plant species becomes fitted to its environment; it is the result of natural selection’s acting upon heritable variation. Even the simpler organisms must be adapted in a great variety of ways: in their structure, physiology, and genetics, in their locomotion or dispersal, in their means of defense and attack, in their reproduction and development, and in other respects. | Source
Having said this, many people could argue about the great achievements of human beings or our high intellectual capacity that would differentiate us from the rest of the other living beings. Now, just as the tiger has used its claws to survive, the human being did it through the intellect. Each species has different qualities that allow them to survive.
It is true that the human being has built complex institutions and rules to achieve this mission, while a microbe simply does so with its resistance and its high reproductive capacity. However, here I like to go to the metaphor of seeing the human being as that student who struggles a lot to pass the tests, while the microbe is the student who just reading the subject on the same day always passes the test. In the end, the result for both is the same, as both end up approving the test.
Natural selection as a struggle for survival.
Finally, we are going to discuss about the myth of seeing selection as a struggle for existence or as the survival of the strongest. Do not forget that those who survive are those who adapt to their environment. If the circumstances favors those who attack, they will survive; but if the circumstances favors those who flee and avoid confrontation, these will be the adapted ones.
The human being and the vast majority of species have been able to survive thanks to their mutual support. The ability to live in societies or herds in collaboration allows a better response to the challenges of the environment.
However, with this I do not mean that violence and competition do not exist, but they can be seen as an adaptive behavior. But we must bear in mind that that fighting is not the most important aspect of natural selection. Both the struggle and mutual support are part of the options that species have, so they can face their environment and the difficulties that this can pose.
Natural selection is the perfect way to let time decide how will life manifest in reality. Yet, the process is incredibly slow, especially compared to our fast pace world of today, where technology from only 5 years ago might seem ancient today.
That's why I think we have reach a state, in which we will transcend the natural selection process, and start to tweak by ourselves the future mutations there will be. Literally, designing our own future, based on our wishes and tastes.
In the next thousand years, if our race is not extinguished by self destruction or an unimaginable catastrophe, and evolution continues on its way, it will cease to exist as we know it.
From the exoskeletons that will increase our strength, as well as an increase in all levels of the 5 senses plus probably new ones. I think our next step is to accelerate the rate of our evolution by technological means.
The end result of this new era is unknown, there is an event called technological singularity, which we will be discussing in another post. That event is as far as we can see. Whatever happens after that event is impossible to know, sort of like an inverted event horizon, where it is not the information that cannot reach us, but instead it is us that cannot reach or understand the implications and the afterwards of something like that happening.
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