Beyond history

Gravity defines destiny. This might sound absurd. And not only because it would seem ridiculous to reduce existence to such a single bare physical fact, but also because of course gravity is not a process with some ultimate future product, but a force, which is (as far as is known) equally present at every moment. And yet of course it registers itself as a sort of precondition of existence, in the sense that every body in the universe must somehow conform itself to and engage with gravity’s force. In a sense, much the same could be said about evolution and yet, crucially, people equate evolution much more readily with human teleology than gravity.

Yet evolution, too, represents not a process but a force, in fact a kind of property of time. A property of time, and hence present at every instant of time. Maybe the mistake originates in the view of history embedded in the demonstration of the concept of evolution. We learn of bacteria over many generations leading to people. But this long train of happening represents not the force of evolution itself but merely its effect. Evolutionary pressure is no more historical than that which caused the king of France’s head to fall upon the ground after being guillotined. In its barest form evolution seems almost a tautology; that which survives, thrives, and that which cannot, disappears. And of course gravity itself represents but one of many obstacles to a living thing’s existence that together constitute evolutionary pressure.

The habit of thinking in terms of process and result betrays the mind into conceiving of evolution as having some end, into asking questions like “is the toe adaptive?”, or even worse: “is religion adaptive?” Such a question in one way can never be answered. So long as an organism bearing a trait remains alive and capable of spawning more, one could say: “adapted well enough.” Only extinction definitely proves a point about adaptation (and since all the living things on earth are relatives to some extent, true extinction has never yet been seen). Like a macabre parallel of Popper’s falsifiability principle, extinction proves non-adaptation but nothing proves adaptation, because evolutionary fitness is never ultimate or final, but always relative, temporary, ever-moving.

One Response to “Beyond history”

  1. Dave Says:

    What if there was no gravity but there was evolution? Women would not have beautiful legs, just tentacles or pseudopods, yuck.

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