Infinity, Evolution, and Complexification: Evolution of the Giraffe’s Neck via Univironmental Determinism

PSI Blog 20220425 Infinity, Evolution, and Complexification:  Evolution of the Giraffe’s Neck via Univironmental Determinism


[GB: Here is an advanced example of an answer to Joe’s question on how the infinitely complex forms in nature could possibly form without some supernatural power. It is verbatim from “The Scientific Worldview.”[1] I wrote the first draft over 40 years ago and would not change a thing in this 2007 version. Although it is quite long, I think it would be a good review of how we do univironmental analysis and the necessity for infinity in biological evolution.]


“Evolution of the Giraffe’s Neck via Univironmental Determinism


In 1977 a Neo-Darwinist reiterated the popular claim that


“in the unremitting confrontation between a species and its environment, it is not the animals as a group upon which selective pressures act, it is the individual animal that is the so-called unit of selection.”[2]


  It is this myopic, rather typical opinion[3] that I wish to dispel with the proposal that Univironmental Determinism is the mechanism of evolution. With this new generalization the “unit of selection” becomes the microcosm, any portion of the universe we care to define. Above all, this includes groups as well as individuals or parts of individuals. There is no magical boundary, biological or otherwise, that must be used. No portion of the universe escapes evolution.


If we grant that each portion of the universe is continually evolving, then it makes no difference where we start an explanation of evolution. To emphasize this point I therefore make a choice that may appear somewhat startling: I choose the giraffe’s neck as the “unit of selection.” After all, if neo-Darwinians can attribute selfishness to genes, why can’t we attribute selfishness to necks? If neo-Darwinians can envision prancing genes, why can’t we envision prancing necks? These notions are offered only half in jest. Contemplating the neck as the “unit of selection” might at first seem rather strange, even ridiculous, but actually, it goes right to the crux of the problem. It has certain advantages for making my point. By viewing the neck as a microcosm, we are continually forced to admit its dependence on the macrocosm, which so obviously includes the head and the body. We cannot grant the neck its “selfishness” without also granting its “cooperation” with the rest of the animal.


This story of neck evolution begins millions of years ago in northern India with Samotherium, an early ancestral giraffe that had a short neck and fed on grassland much like a horse or cow. One could ask: why start with Samotherium? Why not start with some other microcosm, the “real beginning,” and thus provide a “complete” illustration of evolution? According to infinity and causality, however, this would require an infinitely long explanation. Infinity allows us to start wherever we wish. It may as well be with the Samotherium.


Every Samotherium had a neck of unique length. According to interconnection and relativism, necks, like everything else, are parts of the universal continuum. No two necks are identical, and we need not bring in genetics to explain this fact. Infinity will do it for us. A particular neck has a certain length because its univironment was once unstable enough to produce it and is now stable enough for its continued existence. The long-lived or “stable” necks will be found in long-lived or “stable” macrocosms. Relatively stable necks will be attached to relatively stable bodies and these, in turn, will be parts of relatively stable herds and relatively stable species that are parts of relatively stable ecosystems and so on.


But nothing lasts forever; submicrocosms within the microcosm and supermicrocosms within the macrocosm always are in motion relative to each other. Changes in the macrocosm affect the microcosm and vice versa. A blade of grass eaten yesterday cannot be eaten again today. In Samotherium country, the condition of the range, an important feature of the macrocosm of the species, is constantly changing. Plentiful rainfall may produce an abundance of grassland vegetation, an expansion of an important part of the Samotherium’s macrocosm. This, in turn, leads to improvements in the condition of the microcosm of the species dependent on it. This univironmental relationship insures that the condition of a species is constantly changing—it is never the same for two successive moments. Each species has a unique relationship with its food supply at all times.


Necks, too, reflect this relationship. When food is abundant, the microcosm of the neck grows sleek and fat, its bones and muscles strengthen—the neck expands. When food is scarce, the microcosm of the neck grows ragged and thin, its bones and muscles weaken—the neck contracts. This occurs to all necks regardless of their associated genetic makeup.


Of course, the expansion or contraction of the microcosm of a particular neck depends on an infinite number of factors other than food supply. It obviously depends on the nature of the head and the body to which it is attached—the organs through which the food supply is realized. And, surely, it depends on the nature of the microcosm of the neck itself. As the vital link between head and body, it contains within it submicrocosms necessary for its own existence and, not coincidently, for that of its surroundings. When the motions of the neck are of a certain character, the head and the body prosper. When the motions are of another character, the head and the body suffer. An improved or diminished capacity of the macrocosm of the head and the body cannot fail to improve or diminish the capacity of the microcosm of the neck. The relations between the neck and its mutually supporting organs are clearly reciprocal; each affects the other. The microcosm changes the macrocosm and the macrocosm changes the microcosm.


The microcosm of the neck moves through the macrocosm, producing a unique history. Its irreversible motions delineate ever-changing space-time positions that define its existence. One day it is part of an animal standing next to a tree; the very next day it is part of the same animal standing next to the same tree. Its position relative to the tree may be nearly identical on different days, but its space-time position is not. Both the microcosm and the macrocosm have changed during the intervening twenty-four hours.


The neck expands from a tiny microcosm, taking in supermicrocosms and receiving motion from the macrocosm, expanding toward limits controlled by the univironment. The history of each microcosm, of each neck, is unique. Each affects the macrocosm in different ways. Some histories are relatively long and involved; some are relatively short and simple, but all have an impact on what is to follow. The sensitivity of the microcosm of the neck is total. Its every motion is an evolutionary motion.


In the transition from the short-necked Samotherium to the long-necked giraffe, the univironment of the short-necked progenitor forced a gradual change in diet from grass to leaves. As mentioned, the food supply is always increasing or decreasing. The macrocosm is always in motion; some plants are growing and expanding while others are dying and contracting. Abundance and scarcity alternate in progressive cycles. For the grass-eating progenitor of the giraffe, each famine was both a disaster and a challenge. Each contraction of the macrocosm resulted in a contraction of the microcosm of the species. But no two portions of a microcosm are identical. Within the microcosm of the Samotherium species there existed many varieties. One of these, of course, lived nearer the forest than the others. The macrocosm of this variety contained a potential food source that was to become more and more attractive whenever the grassland deteriorated.


The microcosm of the edge-dwelling variety contained within it submicrocosms—herds of varying character. Some herds, perhaps those spending much time in the forested areas, grew especially accustomed to the sight of tree leaves. Familiarity bred analogy. Indeed, some members of these herds eventually ate tree leaves as well as grass leaves. For Samotherium, a new food supply was born.


The benefits of the new diet were at first barely significant. The choice between browsing and grazing was not necessarily one of life and death. But the individuals and the herds that turned to browsing when grass was scarce were in slightly better condition during those periods than the grazers. The microcosm of the browsers expanded in comparison to the microcosm of the grazers. For a short time, the quantity and quality of Samotherium life improved for those who turned to tree leaves for food.


When the grassland returned to verdancy it was only natural that many of the browsing Samotherium would revert to their former habits. But the effects of that episode of browsing were irreversible. The submicrocosm of former browsers, since they had more and healthier descendents, comprised a greater portion of the microcosm of the Samotherium species. And when the grasslands once again deteriorated, the descendents of the former browsers still comprised a unique microcosm. This microcosm was different, not only because of what was inside it, but because of its place in the macrocosm. When the browsing episode was over, Samotherium left for the lush grasslands, traveling in all directions from the groves of trees that had been salvation for so many. These travels halted just as soon as the Samotherium encountered an abundance of easily harvested food. At first sight, it appears that this regression in neck evolution was total, but a second look shows the macrocosm of former browsers to be different from that of the other grazers. For one thing, the emergency diet was closer.


With each turn of the grassland food cycle, the Samotherium variety living near the forest was inclined to eat tree leaves as an emergency measure. But the woodland also had a cycle of scarcity and abundance, and sometimes it coincided with the grassland cycle. Starvation was common to Samotherium in both woodlands and grasslands. For enfeebled animals, moving from one to the other produced only detriment. Famine caused the microcosm of browsing Samotherium to contract, but not all portions of it contracted to the same degree. At this time, neck length became a particularly important characteristic of the microcosm of individual animals. With neither the grassland nor the woodland shrubs providing sufficient sustenance, a long neck became extremely important.


As mentioned, within the microcosm of browsing Samotherium there existed necks of varying length—no two were exactly alike. Those with long necks survived in slightly better condition and lived slightly longer than their short-necked relatives. As always, the quality of life was better for some than for others. Well-nourished animals reproduced at faster rates than those poorly nourished, and so the submicrocosm of browsing Samotherium with long necks was accompanied by greater numbers of healthy offspring than the submicrocosm with short necks. As we know, eventually this variety of Samotherium switched almost entirely from grazing to browsing.


To find out why, we need to evaluate the microcosm of the Samotherium in more detail. One of these details—genetic mutation—is usually introduced by neo-Darwinians much earlier in their explanations of evolution. The delay here emphasizes that it is submicrocosmic variation in general and not just a particular kind of submicrocosmic variation that is crucial to evolution. Evolution would occur even if genes did not exist. Genes are important because, in biological microcosms, they are part of the material connection between old microcosms and new microcosms. Let us explore how this connection is made.


As mentioned, the microcosm of the neck responds to conditions within the macrocosm, growing strong and healthy when a strong and healthy body supplies its needs. A strong, healthy neck, in turn, performs its functions well, aiding the body in a reciprocal, “cooperative” arrangement. This aspect of neck existence extends throughout the macrocosm, particularly to the other organs of the Samotherium body. Of course, it extends to one important link with the future: reproduction. As mentioned, when under stress, browsing Samotherium with long necks were in slightly better condition and had slightly better rates of reproduction than those with short necks. The length of the neck obviously influenced which animals reproduced successfully and which did not.


Neck length would make no difference in the characteristics of the offspring if reproduction for all animals was identical, but it is not. According to relativism, no two gametes, the reproductive cells of the parents, can be identical. The genes contained within these gametes, likewise, vary from one to the other. Each gene has its own history and develops characteristics that reflect its interactions with the macrocosm.


When these interactions result in microcosmic changes we call them mutations: physicochemical alterations of the gene. The alterations can be produced in myriad ways, with cosmic radiation being one of the most important influences. Each gene as well as each cell of the body undergoes a unique radiation history that produces structural changes. In reproductive cells these changes sometimes are realized in the somatic cells of the offspring. Most radiation, however, produces only minor, undetectable changes in genes that only occasionally result in somatic changes in the offspring.


The most vulgar way of explaining the evolution of the giraffe’s neck would be to hypothesize a “random” mutation resulting in the birth of an individual with a long neck. Then, through natural selection, we could show how this individual lives to pass the gene for long necks to future generations, and let it go at that. Although mutations producing such great changes are perhaps not impossible, they are extremely unlikely. Certainly our experience with billions of domestic animals rarely includes single-generation mutations for long necks. The use of “catastrophic mutation” to explain evolution is as overly microcosmic as Lamarckism is overly macrocosmic.


There probably are hundreds, if not thousands, of genes influencing neck length. The gene exerts important control through its influence on the manufacture of hormones and other chemicals. Nevertheless, the impact of this influence is always limited. If the macrocosm of the gene is of a certain type, the impact may be insignificant; if it is of another type the impact may be great. One thing is sure: unless the macrocosm benefits in some way, the existence of the gene will be cut short.


An obvious way in which genes benefit their surroundings is by improving the health and condition of the bodies in which they exist. Univironmental equilibrium in such cases means that genes of a certain type produce bodies of a certain type, and these in turn produce offspring of a certain type. But the influence of a gene is not limited merely to the body in which it exists or even to its offspring. We must remember that, like all microcosms, the influence of the gene extends to the macrocosm: all that is outside of it. Thus the effect of a single gene for hemophilia, for instance, has been wide ranging. It has influenced the personal relationships of unrelated individuals. It has been known to influence international diplomacy.


On the other hand, the effect of a particular gene on the development of the offspring is by no means total, as is sometimes implied by neo-Darwinists. For example, the length of the microcosm of the neck is controlled by what is outside it as well as by what is inside it. The microcosm of the neck consists of millions of bone cells, each a tiny submicrocosm whose size and properties also are determined, in turn, by its microcosm and macrocosm. If that univironment includes a certain amount of calcium, a certain amount of phosphate, and certain amounts of all the other necessary ingredients, the bone cell will be a certain size. A change in the quantity of any of these ingredients may result in a smaller or larger bone cell.


Thus if a small amount of “extra” calcium was added to the macrocosm of the cell during its development, this would present a condition not normally encountered. As always, such a change in the macrocosm results in a subsequent change in the microcosm toward univironmental equilibrium. The resulting cell is always different from what it would have been had no additional calcium converged on it from the macrocosm. Added calcium results in the diffusion of additional phosphate toward this cell and the precipitation of additional hydroxyapatite. This serves to remind us that a bone cell thus may grow somewhat larger than normal, independent of the direct influence of genetic factors


The microcosm of the enlarged bone cell may benefit the macrocosm, producing a more stable, healthier body that exists for a longer time than it would otherwise. The body, in turn, influences its macrocosm to a greater extent than it would otherwise. Some of these macrocosmic influences may include the transmittance of genes for long necks. The upshot is that the existence of a long neck has aided the existence of genes for a long neck and vice versa. In this case, the macrocosm of the soma and the microcosm of the gene exist in a reciprocal, cooperative relationship.


Always, there are vital connections between the microcosm and the macrocosm. For example, the microcosm of an individual animal contains sensory systems that become active (unstable) when the animal is hungry. An empty stomach sets off a chain of chemical reactions affecting numerous complicated submicrocosms. The animal becomes aware of hunger through chemical reactions in the central nervous system that activate still other submicrocosms involving sight, smell, and so on. These are the windows, so to speak, between the microcosm of the animal and the macrocosm of its surroundings. Sense data from the macrocosm is then processed by the nervous system through millions of reactions, each proceeding toward univironmental equilibrium.


Decisions are reactions based on information stored in the brain and nervous system. Ideas forming at different times or in different brains may seem identical, but like the reactions from which they stem, they are not. These reactions, too, are simply the motions of microcosms, no two of which are identical. Each decision is the motion of matter toward a univironmental equilibrium unique in spacetime.


A particular neck and all its descendant necks move toward univironmental equilibrium amid constantly changing univironments. Gradually, through thousands of generations, the necks of Samotherium interacted with the macrocosm in ways in which the macrocosm changed them and they changed the macrocosm. Minute changes in genetic material resulted in minute changes in somatic material, and vice versa. These in turn changed the macrocosm of the animal, family, herd, variety, species, and ecosystem. The evolution of the giraffe’s neck involved all these interrelationships, not just one or even a few.


The neck on a live Samotherium is just as much in equilibrium with its univironment as the neck on a dead one. The two necks simply represent two different forms of the existence of matter in motion. At death, the neck ceases its major contribution to the Samotherium world. The submicrocosms of which it is composed begin a new existence, contributing to evolution in a radically different way.


Relatively stable necks, of course, generally are attached to animals whose longevity is aided by the character of their necks. Taken as a whole, the univironments of these animals are made relatively stable by their possession of relatively stable necks. Neck length, of course, is only one of an infinity of characteristics that are passed on to subsequent generations. The significance of each of these characters also changes with each passing moment.


Every footstep of every ancestor of the giraffe was an evolutionary step. Each motion was a contribution to the whole. Univironmental Determinism, the tendency for all microcosms to move toward univironmental equilibrium, pushes each microcosm forward to a destiny determined by the motion of matter within and without.”

[1] Borchardt, Glenn, 2007, The Scientific Worldview: Beyond Newton and Einstein: Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, pp. 158-164 [https://go.glennborchardt.com/TSW].

[2] Lewin, Roger, 1977, Biological limits to morality: New Scientist, v. 76, p. 694-696.

[3] May, R.M., 1978, The evolution of ecological systems: Scientific American, v. 239, no. 3, p. 160-175.


No comments: