Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Podcast. Still trying to appreciate Rousseau's reveries, I was slightly diverted from my intended path this morning when the Almanac reminded me of Huxley and pointed me back to Darwin's Sandwalk.

I love this sequence in Jay Hosler's Sandwalk Adventures, with its graphic rendering of what's appealing but misleading in the familiar notion of an evolutionary parade. Every step of a walk entails literal forward progress, and it's hard not to transpose that into "a nice, neat progressive march" of natural history. But we must resist the impulse to impute directed progress where the evidence is only for adaptive change.

However, just four pages later we find Darwin declaring  that "passing ideas onto a new generation can be just as important as passing along some physical adaptation." Why is that, if not because we think ideas make a difference in that corner of nature where the parade of human history unfolds? And why wouldn't we call the difference ideas make progress

And so Hosler's strange and wonderful tale concludes with Darwin musing about his legacy, hoping someone might succeed him with a better idea of how natural selection works with heredity. "I've spent a lot of time on this Sandwalk trying to answer [that] question..."

And lo, it did fall to subsequent generations to discover the double helix, and propose memetics, and perpetuate Darwin's legacy. "Who knows? Maybe we already have the answer and don't recognize it for what it is." Maybe we just need to have a little faith in progress.

And maybe someone needs to write a graphic novel about Rousseau.
Search for "progress" in William James's "Springs of Delight"...
Up@dawn the podcast is now on iTunes.

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