Evolution as a Process

Evolution as a Process

Evolution as a Process

Evolution as a Process

Excerpt

A. C. HARDY

Escape from Specialization

AT one time or another we must all have imagined ourselves possessed of some Olympian power enabling us to look down and see the whole past course of evolution spread out before us as branching lines of succession. We shall have succeeded in forming a picture of the mighty spectacle only if we have thought of it in a highly artificial and diagrammatic fashion, and not attempted to visualize the sequence of the vast populations which have swarmed upon the earth in turn; we must have represented them by lines of individuals: samples of each race taken at intervals as they are gradually modified with the passage of time. If we imagine ourselves viewing evolution like this we shall have a vision of countless streams of life dividing again and again into new avenues as they advance from the past towards the present; but we shall also see that there are quite as many lines coming to an end as there are new ones branching out. At some points in time, in periods of great change, we shall see many more lines dying out than new ones beginning; such periods, however, are usually followed by others of innovation and rapid adaptive radiation, as when the great outburst of mammals followed the speedy decline of the reptiles at the end of the mesozoic era.

Julian Huxley in his essay on The Uniqueness of Man sees the process in a particularly vivid way; he sees it as a maze in which the animal kingdom has been caught; and suggests that there is now only one way out to future progress: that which man is taking. Every other path is thought of as having led to too great a specialization and so being closed to further advance. "Evolution, he writes, is thus seen as an enormous number of blind alleys, with a very occasional path to progress. It is like a maze in which almost all the turnings are wrong turnings. The goal of the evolutionary maze, however, is not a central chamber, but a road which will lead indefinitely onwards."

I would indeed seem ungracious if my contribution to this volume were thought to be put forward in any spirit of attack upon Dr. Huxley's . . .

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