Question reguarding society negating evolution

Brian Foley btf at t10.lanl.gov
Fri Aug 23 14:55:38 EST 1996


Jeff Gordon wrote:
>...
> Ok, since evolution is based upon survival of the fittest, and many
> would say that times are far less tough in organized society, could it
> be said (assuming that human beings are, indeed, capable of evolution
> (which I believe)) that humans are evolving more slowly in their
> present condition?
> ...

"Survival of the fittest" is a nice sound bite, but it is far
from the basis of evolution.  "Elimination of the weakest" 
might be closer to the truth in most cases.  Over time, we see
increasing diversity, not a succession of "most fit" species.
We don't have just one large mammalian predator, but many
types of bears, cats, and canines.  We don't have just one
large aquatic mammal, but many species of whales, seals and
sea lions.

"Survival of the survivors" or "Survival of the lucky" is
also often the case.  When humans cause large amounts
of fertilizer to wash off from crop fields into lakes, the
fish are unlucky and the algae are lucky.  The total 
biomass of the lake increases.  Are the algae more "fit"
than the trout?

With humans, social evolution is far more important than
genetic evolution.  There may be some important similarities
between the two, but there are also some important differences.
An example of a similarity is the increase in diversity,
even while strong slective forces exist: we now have Pepsi,
Coke and many other colas for sale in the U.S., not just
one brand.  An example of a difference is that social
evolution is very Lamarkian and there is a great amount of 
horizontal transfer of information (Modern car makers learned
a lot from Henry Ford and also from the plastics, paint and
computer industries) while genetic evolution is not
Lamarkian and very little horizontal transfer takes place.

In both biological and social evolution, the survivors
are often not what one would logically call the "fittest".
Peakocks have great tails not because they provide 
shelter or allow the bird to fly faster, but only because
female peacocks seem to like the way they look.  Likewise
VHS video tapes are now more popular than Beta not because
of technical superiority, but simply because they won
a market share battle, early in the game.

-- 
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|Brian T. Foley                btf at t10.lanl.gov                      |
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