Justin Li


The Supertheory of Evolution

2008-02-25

I recently started reading Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. While Dawkins is a very prominent , outspoken atheist, I did not in fact pick up the book because of that. I have talked about wanting to model the evolution of morals, or in a less ambitious sense, model the evolution of altruism. The article I had referenced before mentioned Dawkins' book, and that's why I picked it up.

I'm not too far in (I've been busy doing other stuff since), but very early on Dawkins talks about a more general theory, which is an abstract of the theory of evolution as proposed by Darwin. Dawkins proposed that "evolution" can also be applied to inanimate, static objects, like molecules. The more stable a molecule, the more often it will appear in nature, and so in this way it "guarantees" its survival.

I've been thinking about the concept since I read it on Friday, and I'm still mulling over it today. In a way it makes perfect sense, that the goal of evolution is merely to ensure saturation of an object in nature. At the same time, it's hard to apply the word evolution to molecules, when there is no goal, no object, and arguably no form of competition.

I think one concept which has kept me from fully wrapping my head around Dawkins supertheory is that I tend to think of evolution as one thing being "better" than another. Rather, my definition of better is very strictly defined by active competition - for food, territory, ability to avoid predators, etc. Therefore, in animal evolution, the stronger, faster, louder, better camouflaged species wins.

With molecules, however, there is still a sense of one being better than the other, but it's a very objective one. It almost seems like a circular argument to say that something is better if it is more pervasive. My common sense tells me that it's reversing the cause and effect - it will appear more in nature only if it's better, and it is it being better than causes it to appear more in nature. Seeing that statement though, if the "if" is changed to an "if and only if", then it makes logical sense to reverse the two.

Now I think of it, this seems to make much sense in the business world. The brand which is more pervasive is the better one. What is interesting to me is that it would imply some moral standard - since there is a fairly standardized set of morals, it would mean that these morals are "better", or at least more stable", than others.

Which again makes sense. Curious.

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