Recently the management of a casino hired Professor Hannum to investigate a roulette player whom they suspected might be cheating. The house has a huge mathematical advantage in roulette, which is why the casino suspected something other than random chance was involved when the player parlayed a few thousand dollars into over $1.4 million.
Professor Hannum crunched the numbers, however, and told the casino that while the player’s run was very unlikely (about an 80:1 shot), it was not so unlikely as to suggest cheating. And sure enough, over the next few gaming sessions the player blew his entire $1.4 million stack.
Yes, that’s just the trouble. We are forever being told, as he goes on to note, how the magic of natural selection bests the odds, when in fact no natural force can do so.
A friend writes to tell us a remarkable story from Kenya about a moment when natural selection fails: Three cheetahs spare tiny antelope’s life, … and play with him instead” (Daily Mail, 5th February 2010)
‘These three brothers have been living together since they left their mother at about 18 months old,’ he said. ‘On the morning we saw them, they seemed not to be hungry, walking quickly but stopping sometimes to play together.
There’s no use moralizing the cheetahs’ behaviour, New Scientist-style (= “and this proves that compassion is not unique to humans!”). Compassion, in general, is not found among cheetahs, but boredom is, and these cheetahs were more bored than hungry.
But the impala faun that they played with could easily be an unfit member of its species, who then survives and propagates its selfish genes. In real nature, as opposed to Darwin’s nature
daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good…,
such stories are nothing unusual, though not often captured in photos. Here, a lioness adopts an antelope. Oh, and a tiger adopts piglets, and a pig mom adopts tigers. Only mammals? How about crow adopts kitten, and snake befriends its hamster snack. One approach to understanding, an ancient and classical one, is: Animals are not driven by programs but rather motivated by urges. Some such urges drive natural selection, others do not.
A similar problem besets Darwin’s sexual selection, one we could call the antlers in heaven problem: The behaviour that leads to attempts to find a mate does not necessarily drive natural selection.