oh, dear, dear, dear. What a nodeshell to randomly find at a quarter past midnight.
*pulls pants/trowsers up* well, here goes...


To begin with let's define our terms for the extent of this node:

Society : that phenomenon of organization in higher species1 characterized by communication and cooperation2 which leads to extreme specilization and related increase in technology.

Evolution: that process which develops, alters, and terminates species based on their reproductive success and genetic shifts(i.e. natural selection).

Then, more to our point: society did not kill evolution. It cannot be argued (effectively) that evolution is dead. Look at the definition : evolution is the process which changes species3. Unless one can argue that species are no longer changing which could then imply that they have never changed, then evolution lives on.

However, for the sake of not creating more nodes under this topic, I will propose this writeup as an argument against this node (Can you feel the tension?) and declare: evolution lives though society is effecting it and possibly slowing it down.

What does all this mean? Why should you care? ... The importance of the issue lies at the base of debates like eugenics, euthanasia, cloing, the genome project, the future of society, social capital, GNP, Sweden (ok, Sweden isn't the center of any debates that I know of, but they are a leading example of many of the societal features that are beneficial and that come from an examination of society and evolutionary processes) ad nauseum

And the key idea which leads to this importance is that our society4 in its overarching quest for specilization and advancement in knowledge (read: increase in technology) is decreasing its diversity.

Imagine an optimization algorithm (which is what evolution essentially is): In order to find an optimum a search is performed over the set. The two qualities that are important are intensity -- how deeply one focuses, and diversity -- how widely one searches. In the biological sense, intensity is specialization. The refined changes as one specializes help to find that absolute best niche, and diversity is the variety in possible genes, thoughts, etc.

Now, if the optimization process gets out of balance, meaning if one quality becomes over-favored, it is highly likely that one will get stuck in a local optimum rather than finding the absolute optimum. And this is where I posit we are heading - a local optimum due to increased intensity.

This focus on a local rather than absolute optimum can be seen clearly in the sciences5. Think about the general course of study for, say, a high-energy particle physicist. Said physicist must concentrate on the mathematics and physics, the equations and debates which are taking place at the cutting edge of said field. To allow extemporanea like biology or chemistry reduces the razor-like focus and will inevitably injure research. Research is everything. To wit, the physicist becomes a highly capable researcher at the expense of being able to perform biology.

In general, this specialization is taking place across the board in academics6. Which is great for our specialized knowledge, but in a world where the connections and intertwining of all things is as, if not more, important than the things themselves (can we say "Everything"), such a trend leaves us high and dry. For example, biologists overlook the importance of protein binding sites and chemists miss the cornucopia in our rain forests7.

This is, of course, just one example. Another would be the specilization in economics tending to see capitalism or consumerism as the necessary end of our societal evolution. To reach such a conclusion is just as short-sighted as to say that mankind is the peak of perfection, the one-and-for-all, end product. Remember: evolution is a process. It will always act. Further examples move away from this metalevel, the evolution of knowledge, to genetic evolution. This is where technology becomes the main argument and where I bow out.

In any case, the temptress, Society has not killed the poor old man Evolution, but she has lead him into a small city, a town in the bad end of All-Possible Worlds. We, Humans, then should help him to look up and see that there are changes left to make, worlds still ahead. We are never as well off as we could be!

More to come... (Sorry, I ran out of gas - it's now 2:15. My longest node, phew.)


1 higher species refers to humans in this context based on nearly universal (i.e. human) practices. I agree an argument can be made for the socialization of bees, ants, &c.; however, here the focus is on the global effect and is, therefore, better restrained to humans. I would very much like to read, if anyone has the time, thoughts on the evolution of bees. Due to specilization has their evolution ended? Or been affected in any way?

2  On the basis of cooperation, one can see the inherent (and possible expected) parabolic structure of society : In the beginning, smaller farming/trading communities (i.e. societies) are so incredibly interdependent that the level of cooperation is high, aggresive competition low. As the society develops, competition tends to increase mainly due to specilization and lack of resources. This process will tend to improve efficiency and, in such it could be argued, natural selection as well.

At some point, a peak is reached and afterwards an increase in competition brings a decrease in efficiency, perhaps a factor in the "death" of evolution. (This "death" is the stagnation which appears below in the node.) The rule that this graph is following can be linked to social capital - the concept that the links and connections (i.e. cooperation) in a society are a form of wealth. A decrease in cooperation will tend to adversley affect the community.

3  I realize that I wrote the defintion making this circular logic, but my definitions are based on generally acceptable ones, and I believe them sufficient -- comments & suggestions welcome.

4  Here "our society" refers to "civilized countries" i.e. industrial nations. An examination of societies/communities which have not yet undergone industrialization will show very different often beneficial tendencies. Though I would not suggest that we all return to such "primitive" methods, I would argue that the parabolic curve peaks somewhere between these aboriginal groups and our society. Finding that balance might be one of the best discoveries humans could manage and one of the most necessary to maintain our status as homo sapien.

5 I'm going to try my best to stay on topic, society/evolution and not get into technology/evolution. There is inevitably an overlapping, especially since our defintion bases society on an increase in technology. For more on technology/evolution read Did technology kill evolution?. The idea is all the same : our own actions are changing our gene pool and therefore evolution.

6 For a very clear and insider explanation of this trend, read Edward O. Wilson's Consilience. His views on the Humanities may leave a little to be desired, but on the Sciences, he knows what's what.

7 Admittedly, this is getting better. Fields like biochemistry and physical chemistry and I don't know what all are attempts to rectify the problem. As well, books like Consilience signal a change. However, here we're speaking of society as its become not what it will become. Those possibilities are a little beyond my noding ability.


Note: this topic is essentially my life study. Please comment and argue.

References & Topics:

After that I can only say, C!... and that society killed traditional kill-or-be-killed evolution and replaced it with more interesting forms.

The problem is, these interesting new forms can't really tamper with our heritage which still pretty much gives the frame for what we can be. And this frame is made for creatures that live in woods, not to "civilized" people. I expect we will eventually kill ourselves because our biological frame didn't have time to develop before we froze it. And this xenophobia of ours might cause that we will never really be able to remove violence, greed and other unwanted features (they are very handy as motivating forces to progress, but very un-handy considering that they can produce sabotage of competition as well as improvement of own products), people being hysteric over genetic manipulation of mankind and/or breeding mankind.

I guess we just have to make it sneakily, that is, build a society where non-destructive people will do better.

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