Survival and creative learning, that Darwin left out

Comment on Dot Earth2/14/09 regarding Darwin, “On the origin and fate of species

One of the more curious omissions in the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution, still, is to account for learning.     Every kind of ‘foraging’ and ‘risk avoidance’ behavior is clear evidence of an individual complex system engaged in learning essential to its wellbeing.

It’s already part of our understanding of how things survive and thrive around us, but not considered as having a role in evolution.

That humans don’t appreciate how crutial that process of local environmental discovery is, seems to be one of those mysterious omissions we call “hidden in sight”.

It would greatly advance our knowledge of evolution and the world around us to realize just how very many kinds of natural complex systems:

  • a) are individual animated things that behave as a whole,
  • b) engage in active learning about their surroundings and
  • c) foil the universal tendency of decay to thrive instead by doing learning creatively

(even systems doing so by some means other than pre-cognition)

Why that bit of rather obvious fact is still missing from the discussion of cause and effect in the physical sciences seems to reveal a whole lot of what our own cognition is apparently missing. It almost looks like we explain the randomness and brutality of change as the *only* cause of events and omit such a huge factor as creative learning, because we just want to.

You also see the gap in survival thinking in our plans for the beautiful finite planet we find to be our home. We so lost in our wishful thinking we show no apparent interest at all in learning why a plan of “lasting growth” is not producing prosperity, but now unavoidably depleting the necessary quality, quantity, availability, diversity and reserves of the entire spectrum of the natural resources we rely on, ever faster. I’s become just plane unprofitable.


Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸


Various readers noted, like Jim Greyson in comment #14 that mankind’s failure to acknowledge the limits of the earth puts us all on one boat. No species survives that overwhelms the quantity, quality and diversity of its environmental resources as we are presently rapidly doing.

I think all “on the same boat” is more the distant goal, though, and all “on the same rocket ship” with no accelerator to take our foot off, or brakes to step on, is more the reality. What it was that caused the diverse species of life studied by Darwin to apparently not have their “foot to the floor” by definition, but to seem to be learning responsively and so be interdependently growth oriented, seems like it might be essential to our understanding the questions we face.

Could it be that the main thing you see living things doing, creatively foraging and staying out of danger, is precisely how nature manages to largely do the same thing as a whole? It could be we’re really missing something in having a mental block to seeing how that might work.


Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸






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