consider the system of variation as a whole, rather than focusing upon a
few species at the right tail. What has ever changed besides overall diversity?
The modal organism on earth is now, has always been, and probably will always
be, a prokaryotic cell. There are more bacterial cells in the gut of each
person reading this essay than there are humans on the face of the earth.
And who has a better hope for long-term survival? We might do ourselves
in by nuclear holocaust, but prokaryotes will probably hang tough until
the sun explodes.
as a predictable result of ordered causes therefore becomes a double delusion--first
because we must seek its cause more in the quirkiness of the wheel, turning
tires into sandals and big brains toward fear of death, than in the plodding
predictability of the wedge, propelling monkeys into men; and secondly,
because the supposed sweep of life toward progress only records our myopic
focus on the right tail of a distribution whose mode has never moved from
a prokaryotic cell.
reasons for profound unwillingness to abandon a view of life as predictable
progress have little relation to truth, and all to do with solace, Ironically,
while using the wedge to supply ultimate solace in his claim that "all
corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection"
(from the concluding section of the Origin of Species), Darwin also
recognized a challenge in the bloodthirsty, character of unrelenting battle.
He therefore concluded chapter 3 of the Origin with one of the few
soft statements of a very tough-minded thinker:
When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full
belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt,
that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and
the happy survive and multiply.
chances of understanding nature would improve so immensely if we would only
shift our search for solace elsewhere. (Solace will always be a desperate
need in this vale of tears, but why should the facts of our belated evolution
be pressed into such inappropriate, if noble, service?) Perhaps I am just
a hopeless rationalist, but isn't fascination as comforting as solace? Isn't
nature immeasurably more interesting for its complexities and its lack of
conformity to our hopes? Isn't curiosity as wondrously and fundamentally
human as compassion?