Monday, December 14, 2009

Change for the better

I was having a discussion the other day about how species change over time. It's interesting how ingrained is the idea that evolution has to 'go' somewhere, that evolution equals progress toward a predetermined goal or an ideal.
Evolution is actually a neutral term. Evolution responds to the environmental pressures of the moment, pressure that can change direction or be reversed. New strains or species are 'better' than the old in the limited sense of being better adapted to succeed in the conditions they've been selected for. To say a species is 'more evolved' literally means it has gone through more reproductive cycles under the influence of selective pressure.
So to people who stand aghast to think humans descended from apes (apes, eww)(whaddya mean eww? we're still apes!), think of this: our closest relatives the chimpanzees are more evolved than we are. Yes, really. From the point at which our branches diverged, they have gone through more generations (because humans become sexually mature later in life), and to show for it they have more changes in their DNA than we do. We have gone a different route, and we have different lives as a result, but don't say we're more evolved.
Bacteria: now those suckers are evolved!


Rachel Fox said...

Yes, it's always interesting when people think humans are a superior species. I mean...have they ever met any humans?

Ronda Laveen said...

Homo Sapiens can be so very ignorant.

And to be more so because we can speak a language is ironic. All of the animal kingdom communicates perfectly clear to each other regardless of species, without one word.

Titus said...

Thanks NanU, I actually hadn't thought of it that way, somewhat to my shame now!

Reya Mellicker said...

Oh yeah, bacteria have evolved zillions of times more than we have. They are the essential life form of this planet, but don't tell anyone! Folks have egos that can get all worked up.

Do you read the blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science? Last week he posted something about how most evolutions "fail."

Love the mind opening post, NanU - and LOVE the cats on the directors' chairs.

signed, Proud and Happy to be an Ape

shabby girl said...

I just love reading your blog! So often there are things that I have not thought about, or thought about without considering another view. You're awesome!

NanU said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.
I do follow Not Exactly Rocket Science, but don't get around to reading every post, Reya. I missed the one on evolution's dead-ends, though it's perfectly reasonable for there to be plenty of such examples. Something I'd like to look into.
Animal communication is another fascinating area of study. I think such communication is perfectly clear, Ronda, when limited to a handful of ideas (food here, danger, stay away from my cubs/female, let's mate...), but beyond that is pretty sketchy.

Bagman and Butler said...

Interesting and scary thought -- bacteria have evoloved the ability to evolve quickly to changing environment. Humans have evolved to be able to change their environment instead of themselves, assuming we know what's best for us. Unfortunately, in terms of the next million years, my money is on the bacteria.