k i s k a J i s m / w h o s e b o d y?

September 13, 2006, 12:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From Michael Crichton’s ‘The Lost World’.

In darkness, Malcolm sank back into morphine dreams. Images floated in front of his eyes: fitness landscapes, the multicoloured computer images in front of his eyes now employed to think about evolution. In this mathematical world of peaks and valleys, populations of organisms were seen to climb the fitness peaks, or slide down the valleys of non-adaptation.Stu Kauffman and his co-workers had shown that advanced organisms had complex internal constraints which made them more likely to fall off the fitness optima and descend into the valleys. Yet, at the same time complex creatures were themselves selected by evolution. Because complex creatures were able to adapt on their own, with tools, with learning and with co-operation. 

But complex animals had obtained their adaptive flexibility at some cost- they had traded one dependency for another. It was no longer necessary to change their bodies to adapt, because now their adaptation was behaviour, socially determined. That behaviour required learning. In a sense, among higher animals adaptive fitness was no longer transmitted to the next generation by DNA at all. It was now carried by teaching. Chimpanzees taught their young to collect termites with a stick. 

Such actions implied at least the rudiments of a culture, a structured social life. But animals raised in isolation, without parents, without guidance were not fully functional. Zoo animals frequently could not care for their offspring, because they had never seen it done. They would ignore their infants, or roll over and crush the, or simply become annoyed with them and kill them. 

The velociraptors were among the most intelligent dinosaurs, and the most ferocious. Both traits demanded behavioural control. Millions of years ago, in the now vanished Jurassic world, their behaviour would have been socially determined, passed on form older to younger animals. Genes controlled the capacity to make such patterns, but not the patterns themselves. Adaptive behaviour was a kind of morality; it was behaviour that had evolved over many generations because it was found to succeed-behaviour that allowed members of the species to co-operate, to live together, to raise young.But on this island, the velociraptors had been re-created in a genetics laboratory. Although their physical bodies were genetically determined, their behaviour was not. These newly created raptors came into the world with no older animals to guide them, to show them the proper raptor behaviour. They were on their own, and that was just how they behaved- in a society without structure, without rules, without co-operation. They lived in an uncontrolled, every creature for himself world where the meanest and nastiest survived, and all the others died.


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