Monday, February 14, 2011

Darwin's Origin of Species can be read online "with selections by prominent scientists of their favorite passages".

What I like about this particular quote is how Darwin was averse to the simplifications of many contemporary popularizers of evolutionary biology. One often hears that nature is where the strong survive, and that might is right, so that those who are too weak to do well not only may perish, but in fact ought to perish. Darwin didn't endorse any such views, and didn't see nature as the gladiator's show that his public defender, Thomas Henry Huxley, projected onto it. For him, the term "struggle" was not limited to physical combat. Darwin considered it possible that some animals survive through cooperation, depending on one another, and that others survive simply by being better at finding food, fighting off diseases, or withstanding the cold or dryness of their climate. Fitness in a given environment may mean having a thick fat layer, or possessing sharp eyes. Physical strength is only one out of thousands of traits that determine which individuals will do well.This contains a profound lesson for those who wish to apply Darwinism to society around us, going so far as calling Wall Street a “Darwinian jungle.” Wall Street hasn't done too well with its simplistic dog-eat-dog view, and should pay more attention to true evolutionary theory, which stresses adaptability to change rather than direct competition. -- Frans B. M. de Waal, C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

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