Evolution Becomes Conscious

SUBHEAD: It has been said that we are going to be the first species that is able to scientifically monitor our own extinction.

By Molly Scott Cato on 5 January 2013 for Gaian Economics-

Image above: Print of illustration by Ernst Haekel (1867) titled "The Modern Theory of the Descent of Man" From (http://www.etsy.com/listing/86407125/the-modern-theory-of-the-descent-of-man).

I’m going to start by saying something about science. On Monday I listened to Evan Davies interviewing fisheries minister Richard Benyon about his decision to oppose the latest EU fisheries proposal which Benyon claimed he was doing ‘on scientific grounds’. Davies brought in the top fisheries scientist from Defra, who argued for the EU proposal. Evan Davies seemed genuinely perplexed by the inability of the scientists to agree. He was seeking a ‘right’ answer, that was scientifically proved and unassailable.

Years ago I put together a report called ‘I Don’t Know Much About Science But I Know What I Like’. It’s Martin Amis’s joke but I’ve always enjoyed it. The reason I enjoy it is that it achieves with wit and brevity the task of challenging the right of science, usually in this context meaning statistical evidence, to trump other forms of thought.

Caroline Lucas has said that we are going to be the first species that is able to scientifically monitor our own extinction. Consecutive reports from the IPCC suggest that she is right about this, but I am a bit more optimistic. My optimism organises itself under my latest personal mantra: ‘Join the Evolution’ and it works like this.

We are unique in being a self-conscious animal. When other animals receive indications that they are reaching the limits of their evolutionary niche they respond to these by finding a new niche, or by failing to reproduce, or otherwise by ensuring that their numbers decline. As humans we are too clever for that. We can use our clever minds and our technology to keep pushing the boundary outwards, ignoring and filtering out the clear evidence that the ecological safety-limits have been exceeded.

So as a self-conscious animal we need to evolve self-consciously. We need to find a way to get a collective grip on ourselves, to stop believing our own fantasies, to get back down to earth. This is what I mean by ‘joining the evolution’, and I would argue that it is a desire to do something like this that has brought you here today.

So I have nothing against science, and I think being able to prove that resources are not limitless and have some idea of the scope of the problem we are facing is vitally important in convincing those trapped in the scientistic mind-set. But it is not going to save us. We need much more human solutions to do that.

[IB Editor's note: I recently read a chapter 3, "Darwin's Dilemma: The Odyssey of Evolution", in Stephen Jay Gould's book "Ever Since Darwin" (1973)  - In it he discusses how the word "evolution" came to describe Darwin's theory of the natural change and differentiation among living species and how it has been mistakenly interpreted by many since.-
 "Ironically, however, the father of evolutionary theory stood almost alone in insisting that organic change led only to increasing adaptation between organisms and their own environment and not to an abstract ideal of progress defined by structural complexity or increasing heterogeneity-never say higher or lower. Had we heeded Darwin's warning, we would have been spared much of the confusion and misund­erstanding that exists between scientists and laymen today. For Darwin's view has triumphed among scientists who long ago abandoned the concept of necessary links between evo­lution and progress as the worst kind of anthropocentric bias. Yet most laymen still equate evolution with progress and define human evolution not simply as change, but as increas­ing intelligence, increasing height, or some other measure of assumed improvement."]

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