I think I started in this mental direction as I was taking my clothes off. It was somewhere in the back of my mind. Not that taking my clothes off had anything to do with it. Just coincidence.
By the time the water was finally at the right temperature, the idea had begun to show itself more strongly. And then, with the shower pouring down over my scalp and shoulders, hot and soothing, and the door shut tight so nothing else could throw itself at me, my analytical mind took hold of the idea, which was still nothing but an elaborated intuition. It moved into high gear and suddenly an entire new vista opened up.
Here’s how the idea progressed.
The intuition resulted in this assumption: that every possible positive outcome in life, in terms of the makeup of plants and animals, no matter how far-fetched, will eventually be produced by evolution, just because of the continual change by mutation and genetic recombination of every part of every organism over extremely long periods of time. In other words, at some point, 100% of all possible positive outcomes will be produced.
(I’m not worrying, of course, about the much more numerous negative outcomes, whereby mutated offspring that were negative in the sense that they didn’t add anything positive to the organism simply died before they were able to reproduce, or, if they did reproduce, didn’t have as many offspring as competitors).
This process is most obvious in insects, which produce vast numbers of offspring just so there will be lots of mutated variation in each generation. Then, with hardly any environmental change, whole new species can be produced to fit a new niche in no time flat. Insects change by dying, have great numbers of eggs just in order for them to be killed, use death to progress. This is the case with all organisms, but it is taken to extremes by insects. The result is that there are far more species of insects than of any other form of multi-celled organism on the planet. Well, just by taking a brief glance at a few of them, it’s obvious that every kind of far-fetched positive outcome imaginable (actually most are unimaginable) is produced as a matter of course.
This was when, under the pouring water, my analytical mind jumped in. It said, “No, this logic is wrong.” It said that the only positive outcomes we can say for sure will be produced are the ones that are produced. There is no way to tell if that is 100% of the possibilities. It might be, but then again it might be only part of them. (In which case it’s more likely to be a small percentage than a large one.) There’s no way to tell. Just looking at the ones that exist, most would have been unimaginable had they not actually been produced. So how many other unimaginable ones have not been produced? We cannot imagine.
It could be that many of those possible positive outcomes simply weren’t reachable from the raw materials that evolution had to work with at any given time. For example, there could be some creature far more weird than an insect, that functions perfectly in it’s environment, but which will never be produced by evolution simply because there is nothing from which it can evolve. Evolution can only work with what’s already at hand.
Now, if what’s at hand, say insects in general, or one particular species, are pushed by their environment to evolve generally in one direction, instead of another possible way they could have gone in a different environment, well then all those possible positive outcomes in the OTHER direction will never come into being. The whole world of insects, with every step, will move further and further from all those possibilities.
And since those ignored possibilities will never be produced at all, then all the zillions of possibilities on the other side of THEM have no chance of coming to life either. And so on and on and on.
Of course, the environment at every moment of time is what moves all the organisms in the directions they do move. And which then causes all those other possibilities to not be produced.
However, if, for example, one carnivore failed to spot one of its prey and take it down, that prey would reproduce and change the future environment. In other words, environment isn't just made up of gross things like climate, but also of all the zillions of interactions, previous and current.
If we were able to replay the earth starting with everything exactly as it was, any number of those interactions would play out differently. They would result in different environments, and down the road many of those endless positive outcomes that weren't realized the first time would be this time.
Yes, this is definitely the best kind of shower: the one that opens up enormous vistas.
But now I’ve got work to do. A day to gear up for.
Comments from Facebook:
- Martin Hayter "I think I started in this mental direction as I was taking my clothes off." You can die in peace, Stan, knowing you've given a giggle to the literature of the world. Perhaps inadvertently, but I can hear you delivering this line straight-faced and bluntly. It's a classic opening line!!! Quite a hook. wink emoticon
February 2 at 5:59pm · Edited · Like
Stan Burfield Yeah, Martin, I liked it too. You`re right, it`s the best line of the whole thing, nearly as good an inspiration as the idea in the essay. Glad you liked it.
February 2 at 10:03pm · Like
Stan Burfield Martin, I discovered this quite a while ago in writing prose, and I suppose it might apply to some poetry too: that often the best, most interesting, most arresting things you can put into written words are the ordinary, everyday but very real things that we normally don`t take seriously enough to write down. That`s where that line came from. The idea in the essay actually did begin when I was taking my clothes off to shower. Ha ha.
February 2 at 10:41pm · Like · 1
Martin Hayter There you go...
February 3 at 2:02pm · Like