4.2 Relativistic Evolution
4.2.1 Two Kinds of Fitness
To understand Natural Selection we need to understand fitness and how to calculate its value. One way the fitness of an organism can be understood is in terms of how well it will be able to interact with its ecology to acquire what it needs to live and reproduce. The traits of the organism will be crucial as it struggles to survive: every little adaptation or edge that the organism has can be the difference between survival and death. Therefore the traits of the organism determine its fitness.
However, the fitness of an organism is dependent upon its environment. The different situations an organism finds itself in, which are determined by the ecology and chance, will determine its ability to reproduce. For example being fast is meaningless if there is no secure footing to run on. Therefore it is the situation that determines the traits that matter and hence fitness is a function of environmental selection.
At this point it can look as if there are two distinct and incompatible methods for calculating the fitness of an organism: trait based selection and environmental selection.
4.2.2 The Equality of Trait Selection and Environmental Selection
Imagine a jaguar out in the jungle. Unbeknownst to anyone, however, his welfare is being carefully monitored by stealthy scientists. Any time the jaguar might be in trouble, be it a lack of food or an unfriendly competitor, the scientists step in and protect the jaguar from harm and do it without being seen.
An independent observer, someone who doesn’t know about the scientists watching over the jaguar, might think that the jaguar has an uncanny ability to find food and avoid dangerous situations. He might suspect that the jaguar has excellent ears that can hear danger from very far away and a nose that can smell even the faintest waft of food. He would believe that in the struggle for survival the jaguar was incredibly well adapted.
Ought we to smile at the man and say that he errs in his conclusion? I do not believe we should. We could be in the very same position as the jaguar. We like to think that we have evolved the way we have by struggling and adapting. However, we may have just as easily been assisted by some benevolent but reclusive extraterrestrials. They could be the reason our species has been able to accomplish all that we have, and we would not know.
Regardless of the existence of any such extraterrestrials, the example shows that we cannot tell the difference between struggling and surviving based upon traits, and nature conforming (or disconforming) to our adaptations. It is a matter of perspective to believe either that our adaptations were the cause of our success or if it was the environment that happened to favor us.
4.2.3 The Natural Selection Field
Instead of switching back and forth between environmental and trait selection, we can say that both kinds of selection create a field. This field is ontologically as basic as the two kinds of selection and it is what interacts with the individual organisms and environment. The interactions of an organism and the field determines the course of the organism’s life, and an ecology’s total field is determined by everything in it.
Although every organism and each ecology is unique, none are alien. By looking at similar organisms and similar ecologies, we can use natural history to determine important adaptations and key environmental features. Taken together these features specify the shape of the Natural Selection field of that ecology, which informs us on how an organism or species will interact with their environment.
An organism’s overall fitness will determine how great its effect will be in the Natural Selection field. Introducing a species with high fitness into a new ecosystem can cause great changes, whereas introducing a species into an environment that it cannot survive in will barely create a change at all. For example, when humans, with our high fitness, move into a new area, we will profoundly alter that ecology. However, if we bring a flower with us that can’t survive the cold nights in our new home, then the flower will die, barely registering any change in the Natural Selection field.
4.2.4 General Relativistic Natural Selection
With the existence of the field we can say how evolution acts upon a species. At every moment an organism interacts with a natural selection field created by its surrounding ecology. The constant interaction with the field will gradually modify the species by benefiting certain individuals and by putting others at a disadvantage.
Insofar as the natural selection field is indistinguishable from the struggle for survival, we will not be able to further analyze why species change: this theory is terminal in the same way as General Relativity. If we could show that the way organisms and species benefitted or were put at a disadvantaged by the environment, without regard to the individual adaptations of the organisms, or conversely show how an adaptation increased an organism’s fitness without regard to the environment, then an investigation into these specific phenomena could yield insight into why a species changes. However, since we cannot make this distinction, the natural selection field is the final answer as to why a species changes.
Unlike the previous theory, general relativistic natural selection is wider because it is applicable during rapid ecological changes. The prior theory of natural selection relied upon trait based analysis to determine future reproductive success and hence was unable to accurately predict success during rapid change. Relativized natural selection can say that the organisms and species experiencing a disaster (or utopia) are experiencing a change in the natural selection field. This change in the natural selection field manifests as a rapid change in the lives of the organisms. Once the ecological change is finished, then we can revert back to the old notion of natural selection.
[this is an excerpt from a longer paper, which can be found here]
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