“Unlike Darwin, Wallace seems to have had no fear that an understanding of evolution would corrupt public morality – indeed he saw the evolutionary process, and our understanding of it, as potentially ushering a wonderful future. I think that’s because Wallace realised that while evolution by natural selection is a fearsome mechanism, it has never the less created a living, working planet, which includes us with our love for each other, and our society. When I look out of the windows of my house near Sydney I can see the world of Wallace’s vision. It is manifest in a graceful pink-barked angophora tree that spreads a bounteous shade – a tree composed of billions of cells. Once, the ancestors of chloroplasts that give its leaves their green colour were free-living bacteria. Then, aeons ago, they came to live within a single-celled, primitive plant. Today, so complete is the union of these once free-living and only remotely related organisms that most of us think of them as one, in this case a tree.
There is a more modest tree nearby called the scribbly gum, a whitish, twisted thing that bears an indecipherable script written on by a beetle on its bark. The beetle cannot live without the tree, and the tree cannot live without its invisible partner, a fungus so humble that it cannot be seen, which sheaths intimately the scribbly gum’s finest rootlets and improves the tree’s access to nutrients. Fungus, beetle, bird, tree, and the human sitting in its shade, joyed by the song of the bird and the thought that a beetle has learned to write on bark. We are part of an interdependent community.
And then there is me. Billions of cells cooperating seamlessly at every moment and a brain made up of a reptilian stem, a middle mammalian portion, and two highly evolved yet relatively poorly connected hemispheres somehow add up to that thing I call me. And beyond that miracle of cooperation is my wider world, made up of a web of loves that I could not live without: spouse, children, parents, friends. Who is to say that marriage cannot be any less complete a union that that between a chloroplast and the cell that hosts it? Beyond my family circle there is my city with its millions of residents, my country, which coordinates actions through ballot box, and beyond that my planet with its countless dependent parts. Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love[….]
And from the love that sustains my family to the beetle that writes on the tree, every bit stems from evolution by natural selection.
If competition is evolution’s motive force, then the cooperative world is its legacy. And legacies are important for they can endure long after the force that created them ceases to be.”
Tim Flannery, 2010, Here on Earth: A Twin Biography of the Planet and the Human Race Penguin Books; p30-31
Happy Valentines Day
Long live love