• Andersonn Prestes

Ramble writing on evolution, morals, variation, technology and humanity



I am finally reading Gould’s “The structure of evolutionary theory”. It is a huge book (a thousand pages). Some researchers certainly think that it might be a waste of time. I think Gould was a very insightful and influential scientist. But I have been very slow lately.

I was reading the chapter on his critique on the modern synthesis - the pillar of the modern evolutionary thought.


About a hundred years ago there was a “synthesis” of two great discoveries: Darwinian natural selection and the Mendelian genetics. Finally, the missing link was found: selection acts upon variation among individuals; genetics gives the mechanisms in which this variation is produced and passed through generations. Still, Gould argues that there was a different historical process in the “evolution” of the evolutionary thought. Instead of a literal synthesis – or straightforward combination of ideas to develop a theory -, there were what he called “restriction” and “hardening”.


In the beginning of the 20th century, a lot of ideas were arising – it must have been a very interesting time. Most of the scientists were convinced that evolution is real. Species are definitely not immutable entities. Things change through time. But: how? Natural selection was not unanimity. There were many competing ideas to explain how things change.


Soon enough, the genetics came out and there was a “restriction”. The competing ideas lost ground. Natural Selection became a shining star. There was heredity, there was a source of variation: selection seemed very plausible.


In fact, it is.


But then, Gould argues, there was a “hardening”. Suddenly, everything is because of selection. It would be a ubiquitous force that drives all change with a tremendous efficiency. Every single part of an organism is shaped by selection (giving also the false idea of a continuous progress).


Gould goes beyond and starts to talk on the development of eugenics. He talks about Fisher’s idea on the infertility of the people who rose on the social scale of the industrial society. I stopped here. I will go back later and read the rest of the chapter. I skipped to the species selection chapter. Far ahead, interesting, and I am almost done.


Eugenics is scary and a bit repulsive (at least the one that originated a war - full of judgment). It is moral and Darwinian wrong.


You may discuss the moral aspect of it. Some philosophers say that we are developing morals every day. I would guess that, currently, we are developing them in an unusual rapid rhythm in this changing modern environment. There is a cybernetic revolution every week with the emergence of big data, social medial, connections, smart devices, and etc. The morals are being constructed, and they have to be discussed - in my view. Privacy, invasiveness, consume, relationships…


We have always to remember what really matters.

Ok with the morals and their very humanistic characteristic. You can discuss the moral of eugenics.


But if the world is Darwinian – and I believe it is – there is no place for eugenics. Darwin was obsessed by variation. Organisms must vary to be selected. The environment changes. The fortunate variations may be passed to the future generations. Simple, yet powerful. [I think there may be directional changes (or trends) driven by environments that stayed stable enough, or co-evolutionary dynamics driven by species interaction (I also think that one of the targets of study for evolutionary biologists is to identify these trends and their mechanisms of change)].


But still, diversity is the key of a Darwinian world. Our variation is our greatest treasure. We do not know the future – no one knows the future (maybe God knows). It is rich and indispensable for humanity to have yellow, black, white, brown, and blue. The recombination may be even more fortunate: yellow with black, blue with orange, red with brown.


That’s the real eugenics. Not some directional change induced by a current cultural and individual decision about what is ”better” for someone who is going to live somewhere in the future that you do not have idea how it is going to be. Sorry about the big sentence.

I just noticed that I wrote a lot. I will have dinner now. Good night.

{Post script - I had the feeling that perhaps someone other than my mom might have read the text. Maybe not. I was incisive in my ramble text. It was a completely free writing, just like this one now. Just like all of them. When I wrote that eugenics would not be “Darwinian”, I was thinking about these two basic arguments: the unidirectional variation; the agent of selection. The unidirectional variation emerges and phenotypes are naturally selected – that’s the Darwinian logic. Eugenics implies directional variation (we are manipulating the variation), and artificial selection (we are the agent of selection, not the environment). It is a very complicated issue to manipulate the variation and be the agent of selection in a changing world. And the world, I would say, has been doing a quite good job on all this shocking, creative, and unbelievable diversity. But the truth is that we have been manipulating the world since the beginning of our existence – for our fortune and disgrace. (And, please, do not get me wrong, I enjoy studying human history, and all the extraordinary people and things that we achieved, and learnt). I think that the debate on eugenics is heavily moral, and we have to discuss it very carefully. We might have the technology in near future. Perhaps more than ever we are going to ask ourselves what to do with such technology?}



#evolution #Gould #morals #eugenics

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© 2016 por um quarto e um café.

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