Self-Org. Theory

Now, organisms engineer their own evolution

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Well, this is certainly a bit different from textbook Darwinism:

Controversy comes from the fact that experts disagree about the extent to which other creatures can also direct evolution by terraforming their adaptive landscapes. The landscape metaphor can be a helpful one for understanding evolutionary processes. You can think of an adaptive landscape as a graph that reveals the relationship between an organism’s fitness – its ability to survive and reproduce – and one or more of the organism’s traits. For instance, in a population of birds, one axis might represent body size, and another tail length (or instead of traits, we can plot the frequency of the associated genes). The landscape is represented by a 3D surface, with the well-adapted birds with good size-and-tail-length combinations living it up on the peaks, while the poorly adapted birds scrape out a living in the valleys. The region with the highest peak represents the creature with the optimal body size and tail, best able to survive. A population of birds will have a range of characteristics, with each combination a different point on the landscape – and through natural selection, the population will gradually converge on the traits best suited to the local habitat, represented on the adaptive landscape as the population climbing a local fitness peak. But there’s more than one way to get to the top of an adaptive peak: you can change your traits to help you reach the summit, or you can move the mountain so that it comes to you …

All this formal mathematical analysis has been immensely helpful to clarify understanding of the consequences of how organisms modify their environments. To grasp adaptive evolution, researchers need to understand not just how niche construction evolves through natural selection, but how the environmental sources of natural selection are themselves transformed by niche construction. We need to extend the adaptive-landscape metaphor to capture the active, directed environmental change that organisms perform. Evolving populations are less like zombie mountaineers mindlessly climbing adaptive peaks, and more like industrious landscape designers, equipped with digging and building apparatuses, remodelling the topography to their own ends. At a time when human niche construction and ecological inheritance are ravaging the planet’s ecology and driving a human population explosion, understanding how organisms retool ecology for their own purposes has never been more pressing.

Kevin Land and Lynn Chiu, “Evolution’s engineers” at Aeon

Well, those organisms must be pretty smart to be evolution’s engineers. Never mind; keep talking, people. Speak more loudly into the mike. Would you be so good as to position yourself so that you are speaking directly into the mike?… 😉

See also: Jellyfish enhance their skills by building a virtual wall. Either jellyfish are smarter than we think or there is design in nature. Researchers: “The fact that these simple animals have figured out how to achieve a ‘ground effect’ type boost in open water, away from any solid surfaces, has the potential to open up a range of new possibilities for engineered vehicles to take advantage of this phenomenon,” Gemmell said.

3 Replies to “Now, organisms engineer their own evolution

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Might be an interesting viewpoint if treated as science, but it’s being used explicitly to justify genocide. Every mention of Malthus is a prelude to wiping out unfashionable peasants. Every mention of EXPONENTIAL GROWTH is a lie designed to enforce eugenics.

    Nature doesn’t do exponential, and Nature includes humans. All growth is asymptotic.

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  3. 3
    EDTA says:

    >Now, organisms engineer their own evolution

    It cuts out the middleman.

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