Sunday, January 09, 2005

Natural Selection

In plodding through Daniel Dennett's "Freedom Evolves", the power of the process of natural selection really comes through. Given enough time, enough space, and enough "stuff", it seems that what we would call life would eventually (and always) come into being out of non-living material. Life seems to be intimately involved with replication, that which is alive is that which can replicate or reproduce itself on some level. This process eventually resulted in us,human beings, beings who can look back upon the process from which they resulted. In a strand of DNA, the vast, vast portion of a given strand is material whose protein combinations yield absolutely no material resulting in replicable life. Only small portions of this material combine in the ways needed to produce what we would recognize as replicable life. These combinations occur essentially by chance, at least initially, out of the vast available material of "stuff". This is all natural selection in action, and nothing unusual in terms of the theoretical explanation. I think what is truly interesting though, is number one, the seeming inevitably of life given the proper circumstances, and two, natural selection as a chaotic process thst can ultimately result in such order in the world. This is a puzzle; is this process in some way miraculous? Or is it as ordinary as anything else in the world, and only we easily impressed humans who are so awed by it? Dennett's combination of determinism and chaos reminds me so much of Buddhism, which to my mind provided much of this explanation 2,500 years ago, with philosophers and natural scientists now coming to much the same conclusions. And of course, what set all of this in motion? Now that is probably the most interesting question. If life is inevitable, why? (Or perhaps the question should be, "why not?).


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