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perspective
This is a spin-off from a previous topic about Evolution...

For those of you who subscribe to the theory of evolution:

If we believe that 'only the fittest (in whichever interpretation) survive', what is to be said about our advancements in medical technology and cultural beliefs which not only make it possible for the unfittest to survive, but makes any disinclination to help the weak socially unacceptable?

Are we doomed to backslide down the long road of evolution, ever so slowly? Or are we just on our way to starving ourselves from a myriad of resources with our overpopulation-stemming values? hmmm.gif
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phaedrus
Evolution is a kind of philosophy of science. It is used to draw basic general conclusions about variables in life sciences and blends them into things like geology and physics. Its not unlike what Newton did with physics where he blended astronomy, math, and chemistry. Evolution is not exclusivly focused on the concept of 'survival of the fittest' ,it is, in effect, the metephysics of change.

I think you are concerned with the role of over population with regards to the utilization of resources, if I'm reading you right. I personally feel that too much importance is placed on it but it sounds like an interesting topic for debate. I don't see how it is the whole story. So what is your perspective, if you'll pardon the pun, on the role of population in evolution? Also I have no idea what it means to "backslide down the long road of evolution", would you care to clarify that a little?
Victoria Silverwolf
Let me first of all point out that "survival of the fittest" is, at best, a grotesque distortion of evolution. Although there is, undeniably, competition between and within species, there is also a great deal of co-operation. If one has to reduce evolution to a short phrase, it might be "that which can survive will survive."

"Survival of the fittest" is entirely inappropriate when applied to competition between human beings. Once full consciousness emerges, it's a whole new ball game. Technological and sociological change proceeds at a pace which leaves natural, biological change far, far behind. Whatever small change in human evolution might be induced by technology allowing those people who would otherwise die to survive and reproduce is greatly overshadowed by the ways in which humanity is (consciously or unconsciously) directing its own evolution.

To be sure, medical technology is responsible for the rapid increase in the human population over the last several centuries; but the only possible solution for this is more medical technology, and changes in society that encourage limits to reproduction.
Rancid Uncle
The weakest can't survive and reproduce or they are by definition strong. In our safe, comfortable life today the weak are strong and the strong are stronger.
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Are we doomed to backslide down the long road of evolution, ever so slowly?
Evolution never moves toward an unfit creature for its environment. That environment can change and that may change what weak and strong are. Change doesn't mean the creature is better or worse than it was before. If you moved a crocodile to the South Pole it would die very quickly, that doesn't mean its weak and unfit. The earth will change and humans will adapt or die just like all creatures will.
Julian
Well, my understanding of the meaning of "fittest" in the this context is that is doesn't mean "best" or "strongest", but "that which fits best with the prevailing external circumstances".

Given that we don't know which way circumstances might change to make evolutionary pressure on the human race take precedence over our techinical or medical capabilities, it could be that states and conditions that might not survive in such numbers were we to allow ourselves to be subject to Darwinian evolution have some unforeseen advantage over people that appear to be superficially "stronger" and "fitter". Dirt-poor Third Worlders on the edge of starvation, people with CP, MS, or other such conditions that would be distinct evolutionary disadvantages in today's circumstances - maybe these people might be "fittest" under the as-yet undetermined circumstances where we find ourselves once again at the mercy of natural selection.

So the advances in hygiene ane medicine, and the cultural condemnation of disinclinations to help the "weak" that have enabled the human gene pool to become so much broader than what is, strictly speaking "fit" for today'senvironment - these things might actually be ensuring our species' longer-term survival. The fun part is, we won't know until it's happened.

Don't think any of this is an argument against the validity of natural selection or evolution - far from it. Recognition of the truth of a natural phenomenon does not mean we should throw up our hands and resign ourselves to it, any more than an understanding of the inevitability of volcanoes or earthquakes means we shouldn't get out of the way when a stream of lava comes our way.

Of course, vulcanology cannot be bent to suit right-wing tax-and-benefit-cutting arguments as easily as "the survival of the fittest". Nor do earthquakes suppport "if-you-believe-in-evolution-you-must-hate-your-fellow-man-and-want-to-deny-medical-treatment-to-people" creationist arguments nearly as well as "the survival of the fittest" does. But neither of these interpretations seems able to refrain from imposing their own value systems on Darwin's description of a natural phenomenon.
phaedrus
The thing about evolution and natural selection is that it shows a ratio between a species ability to reproduce and the environments ability to sustain them. After populations start to grow exponentially a huge die off occurs and supposedly the strongest survive. Technology and medical advances have clearly given us advantages and improved our ability to survive. Survival of the fittest is too vague to be the mechanism that guides the development of species. In the modern world adaptation takes on the form of tools suited for the disabled. Its also ambiguise to how culture develops and spreads the improvement of life over too long a time frame. For evolution to have any merit in this regards it must account for the ability of living creatures to control their own destiny, especially with regards to medicine and culture. This metaphysics of science has to embrace more then utilitarian concerns in order to be dynamic. Evolution has to account for change by deliberate choice or its just a lot of esoteric generalities.
perspective
QUOTE(phaedrus @ Oct 15 2003, 10:31 AM)
  I think you are concerned with the role of over population with regards to the utilization of resources, if I'm reading you right. I personally feel that too much importance is placed on it but it sounds like an interesting topic for debate.

Do you mean that overpopulation is not/will not be a problem? Are you saying that the claims of demographers are inaccurate, misleading, or one of many "the-sky-is-falling" phenomenons? - Yes, maybe we shall debate on this later.


QUOTE(phaedrus @ Oct 15 2003, 10:31 AM)
Evolution is not exclusivly focused on the concept of 'survival of the fittest' ,it is, in effect, the metephysics of change.

I agree that 'evolution' is not synonymous with "survival of the fittest" - hence the loose interpretation of "fittest". I was implying more along the lines of Julian's interpretation.

QUOTE(phaedrus @ Oct 15 2003, 10:31 AM)
Also I have no idea what it means to "backslide down the long road of evolution", would you care to clarify that a little?

Sure, I was actually getting at - do we believe that our actions (medical/social/otherwise) can ever ruin the progressive nature of evolution? Or is evolution not 'progressive' in the first place? In my own mind 'progressive' means 'stepping continuously closer to finding the truths in our world'.
Gray Seal
My ideas to answer the question fall in the same line as Julian's. Humans are presently having low environmental pressures on their ability to live and reproduce. This is resulting in a large population explosion and a broadening of the gene pool as more phenotypes are able to live and reproduce than at other time of human existence.

Humans are going through a rapid social evolution which is happening much faster than humanities genetic evolution. I expect social evolution will continue to predominate in the near future. There is always the chance some rapid environmental change will occur to put pressure on our gene pool (disease, climate change).

I expect the population problems will be solved by social evolution such as famine, strife, and war though there remains the possible use of intelligent birth control and use of technology.

Evolution seems to make it largest changes when there is a stress put on a population. Since humans are not being stressed currently, we are not evolving much. Some day there will be a large die off of humans. Will we evolve or reach the end of our line?

It is interesting to stare at the sky on a cloudless night and speculate whether your descendents will have the necessary genes to survive those crises and get a chance to explore all that is out there. I try to identify those who have the vision to survive social upheavals and let the roll of the dice on gene fitness fall as they may.
campbejm
QUOTE(perspective @ Oct 15 2003, 03:11 PM)
If we believe that 'only the fittest (in whichever interpretation) survive', what is to be said about our advancements in medical technology and cultural beliefs which not only make it possible for the unfittest to survive, but makes any disinclination to help the weak socially unacceptable? 

Are we doomed to backslide down the long road of evolution, ever so slowly?  Or are we just on our way to starving ourselves from a myriad of resources with our overpopulation-stemming values? hmmm.gif

The Medical community has become increasingly concerned with the proliferation of the over-prescription of antibiotics. Apparently, because these drugs are over-prescribed, infections that they cure are becoming stronger. The idea being that the antibiotics kill most of the bacteria, but not the strong cells. We should all be careful to only take antibiotics when we really need them. And to not take a stronger dosage than we need.

This is evolution at work at such a pace that we can detect it. This is a prime example of how medicine + evolution can equal more danger for humans.
phaedrus
QUOTE
Environmentalists and economists increasingly agree that efforts to protect the environment and to achieve better living standards can be closely linked and are mutually reinforcing. Slowing the increase in population, especially in the face of rising per capita demand for natural resources, can take pressure off the environment and buy time to improve living standards on a sustainable basis.


Sustaining the Environment

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do we believe that our actions (medical/social/otherwise) can ever ruin the progressive nature of evolution?


I am far from convinced that evolution is progressive, but getting to your question. Sure I think that medical and scientific manipulation can stop progress, I'm convinced it can be down right destructive. My point being that change can happen in an instant, it does not require eons. I think evolution cools the fire that generates inovation through the use of generalities that don't apply to real world problems. It make people entirely to detached when taken to its logical conclusion.
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perspective
QUOTE(phaedrus @ Oct 15 2003, 02:18 PM)
Sure I think that medical and scientific manipulation can stop progress, I'm convinced it can be down right destructive. My point being that change can happen in an instant, it does not require eons. I think evolution cools the fire that generates inovation through the use of generalities that don't apply to real world problems. It make people entirely to detached when taken to its logical conclusion.

Please explain this further, I'm interested.
smile.gif
phaedrus
When Maltus wrote his essay on population he was trying to account for the way population increases faster the the environments ability to sustain them. I don't think he is taking into account that the ability of Man to improve his environment.
Heres how he put it:

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Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.


Malthus of Population

Now for us to accept this as fact without realizing the profound effect human creative energy has on living systems is to delegate change to chance. When this was being written there were advances being made in farming tools and technology. Populations in parts of Europe doubled primarily due to the fact that more food could be produced then ever before. It should be noted that he is trying to find a balance between what has come to be known as liberal vs. conservative thinking. The classic liberal believes that the human condition is perfectible. A conservative view tends to favor the way things are. When he was describing how things are in nature he didn't really give enough credit to creative innovation. The explosion in populations has a direct correlation to creative development. By delegating this to natural processes he neglected the possibility of instantaneous change.

Evolution is about progressive change stretched over time to the point where it emphasises miniscule changes over major ones. Keep in mind, most of the sustaining elements for populations are capable of exponetial growth. I don't know if I'm explaining this very well but that's more or less what I was getting at. As far as evolution being progressive I think that progressive evolution is an oxymoron. Also medical technology can produce WMDs just as readily as life sustaining drugs and technologies. This is not the balance he was trying to achieve, it was nillistic.
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