Biology Hints at Destiny?

In the sense that almost all new ideas are bad?

Unencumbered speculation follows.

Evolutionary theory states that natural selection works on naturally occurring variations among the members of each generation of plants, animals, fungi, etc. Such variation occur as the result of mutations in the genes. (1) Further, both logically and empirically, almost all, as in 99%+, of those variations result in traits that are BAD, meaning here that those mutations do not result in positive differentiated survival rates among those having those variations. Almost all mutants die before being able to reproduce or never even get born. Only once in a very great while, genetically speaking, does a mutation result in something good, again in the sense of resulting in a higher survival (reproduction) rate than those without the mutation.

In other words, if you consider mutations to be like new ideas (completely out of bounds from a biological perspective, but bear with me), then biological new ideas are almost always bad ideas. How about no chlorophyll in a green plant? Nope, bad idea. How about legs on your head instead of antennae? Not so good. A second set of hind legs? Not helping.

And so on. Now let’s leap from biology to culture. Similarly, new ideas will tend strongly to be bad ideas – and for the same reason. Both livings things and cultures which have been around for any length of time consist of sets of delicately balanced functions and features that work together to produce the living result. In practice, it is virtually impossible to foresee what will happen when you change something. (2) The knee bone is connected to the shin bone; the leaves reach for the sun; just look at these claws and fangs! What do you thing they’re for? Start trying to change those things, and the organism or culture may not work anymore.

Finally, ‘work’ means very similar things for both living creatures and cultures, at least on a basic level. Both have to survive long enough to reproduce, or they get selected out, as it were – no offspring, no future – out of the gene pool! Cultures should also strive for truth, beauty and goodness and the happiness that can result from these things.

It’s really unlikely any particular new idea is going to get us there.

What triggered this thought was ruminating on the ruler/leader distinction that others have made. A ruler is meant to establish and enforce rules, tradition being the source of the bulk of rules, as in common law. A leader, on the other hand, is leading us someplace we are not. Given the discussion above, it is very unlikely that a leader will lead us anywhere we’d really want to go.

End unencumbered speculation.

1. More or less. It’s gets funky on several levels.

2. It’s perfectly possible to look back and see what has happened when the same or similar changes were made in the past – it’s that whole history/don’t learn it/repeat it thing – but, in the unlikely event of a truly new idea, how would you know?

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Biology Hints at Destiny?”

  1. Except for obvious cases — like legs instead of antennae — the only thing that distinguishes a “good” mutation from a “bad” mutation is what the organism is trying to do. Sometimes, by changing its behavior, the organism can exploit some new trait or feature and turn it into an advantage. This puts the telos of the organism in the driver’s seat.

    Who knows? An insect with an extra pair of legs on its head, though forgoing the benefits of antennae, may discover that headwalking helps in unexpected ways to overcome this lack.

  2. Sure, that’s another problem that carries through to culture – what telos is there in, for example, hope and change? In fact, if the genie of genetic mutations were conscious, hope and change might be its motto as well – it would be making changes and hoping they work out.

    The argument, insofar as there is one, seems to be something like: what an organism is “trying to do” is survive – and that’s a necessary artifact of natural selection, in that, if natural selection works in any sense, only organisms which are by nature “trying” to survive would appear at all. All appearances of telos trace back to that one basic rule: birds have wings, wings are ‘for’ flying because flying is ‘for’ survival – and organisms that ‘try’ to survive are the only ones we’d ever see.

    So, it becomes circular: if the organism is trying to survive, and the mutation helps it survive, then the mutation is good. But all organisms, insofar as they have been naturally selected, are trying to survive….

    Not saying I buy this, and not sure I’ve ever seen it said in exactly that way, but I think that’s what is being assumed by those who wish to dismiss telos.

    The elimination of final cause from all scientific discussions (in theory, at least) makes taking about the most obvious things very difficult, if the impossible can be said to be difficult.

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