Jan 14 2009
Darwin taught us all about the survival of the fittest – the “fitness function” by which life has evolved over the past 4 billion years or so. However, we are the first generations of the first species to reach a point of intelligence that we can understand and affect our own evolution. This is not your grandfather’s evolution. The birth control pill in the 60′s allowed us shift our species’ hormones and triggered a sexual revolution. Our understanding of DNA and the human genome poises us for fantastic new vistas in medicine.
This brings up the question: just what is our new fitness function as we consciously shape our own evolution? The tried-and-true formula that nature has used until now – maximizing the number of your surviving offspring – is not going to work. We won that race, and now have 6.5 billion homo sapiens sapiens on earth. Blindly increasing that number is not going to work.
Scientists in China have just announced that they have sequenced the DNA of the Giant Panda – surely the mark of distinction the millions of species in the world today. But why the panda? According to Jun Wang, the institute’s associate director and professor, they chose the giant panda it’s cute and therefore able to capture the public’s attention.
Never mind that the Panda is one of the most “brittle” species on earth, locked into a single food source (bamboo), and a single climate. But what about the trillions of lowly earthworms, constantly refreshing our soils. Darwin recognized this: “it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures.”
But they aren’t cute.
Perhaps saving the most mediagenic species has a lot of sex appeal to some, but perhaps we need to move to the Survival of the Wisest, not the Survival of the Cutest. A great visionary, Jonas Salk, coined this phrase. I think we need to pay more attention to it.