Tag Archives: evolution

We Societies & Cooperation

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6nuvqVui5c?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]

This little video (by Sustainable Man) got me thinking about cooperation vs. competition.

We’re often told that competition is they key to survival – in nature, and in human society. Think Charles Darwin. And that is true, up to a point. But it’s not the whole story. Nature would be complete chaos if cooperation wasn’t also woven into the fabric of everything. In fact, scrap that, I think none of the natural world we recognize today would exist without it. Chemical reactions in the early days when Earth was a baby changed the atmosphere to make it hospitable for life. Photosynthetic bacteria emitted oxygen way before plants were on the scene, and this in turn allowed other types of early life to breath.

The scientific theory of symbiogenesis – which is fairly well accepted among scientists – shows that symbiotic relationships (cooperation between species) may well of lead to the evolution of complex life. The theory goes that early microbes developed symbiotic relationships with other increasingly diversified microbes, basically dividing up the tasks of living between them. Over a long time they formed ever more integrated networks and eventually evolved a kind of casing to protect the symbiotic system and keep it contained. According to scientists, this was the origin of the cell.

Fast forward millions of years and this early example of labour division reminds me of a gradual process that happened with human societies. Before the industrial revolution in Western countries, most families grew their own food and produced their own clothes and tools. Today in the UK few people have the skills or indeed the inclination to do this, but it’s normal to have a skill or profession that isn’t common to everyone. The very idea of working at a job and being paid in money, which you can exchange with other workers for food or other goods is a system of specialization.

I think one of the major differences between us and other animals is that we cooperate on a larger scale. None of the historic achievements of the  human race would be possible if we didn’t work together.

People should remember this when they’re getting carried away making sure they have all the money and all the best stuff. It’s not like you can live in a vaccum or without the help of other people and other forms of life, so it doesn’t make sense to be selfish.

I think we can safely say that although competition does have a useful role, it is competition that really drives evolution and progress.

Symbiotic pollination

Symbiotic pollination. Not my image.

We are all connected.

Journey of the Universe (film)

Good morning.

The other day I came across Journey of the Universe. This 60 minute feature film is the brain child of an evolutionary philosopher and a historian of religions. Doesn’t that already sound eclectic and delicious? From what I can gather it’s pretty much a story starting with the big bang and cosmological shinanagans like that, zooming through Earth’s formation and the emergence and of life, a fair bit of evolution, and culminating with today’s sustainability crisis. Apparently it’s meant to inspire awe for the universe and the Earth, and thus inspire us to have new-found respect for the miracle we call life. Please forgive me if I’ve got this  wrong because I’ve only watched the trailer. It looks fantastic though, I so want to watch it but it costs like $30. (I’m all about the British Sterling personally, but the film is American and I can’t be bothered to translate the currency right now). So anyway I think I’ll buy it when I have the money but it does seem quite a lot…

Here’s the trailer for you to enjoy.


I think it looks really interesting and I’m inspired because I like seeing alternative and ‘new’ kinds of media production such as this.  I like knowing other people are thinking about the same kind of stuff as me. On the website (linked at the top of this post) it says that the film was partly inspired by Thomas Berry’s The New Story – which argues that humanity is in between cultural ‘stories’ at the moment. That the old ‘story’ (world view, paradigm) no longer works, and we haven’t quite figured out a new one yet. I’m pretty interested to see this concept popping up again as I’ve come across it a couple of times before. A book called Spontaneous Evolution mentions paradigms quite a bit, and Rob Hopkins talks a lot about cultural stories and visions of the future in his Transition Handbook… It’s all pretty interesting to be honest. I’m going to give The New Story a read, and I reckon you should join me!

Mutants, Pop Culture & Evolution

I have this theory that the evolution of the human species is a constant and dynamic process, happening as we speak. We are not the finished product of thousands of years of natural selection, but are changing faster than we ever have before. Although in physical form we evolve very slowly, in action and in mind it is a different matter entirely.

Our cultural progress is growing and changing at an exponential rate, meaning we live in a very interesting part of history. Imagine how much society has changed since your grandparent’s were your age? It wasn’t always so fast. In the past cultures changed very slowly over many generations… People would be singing the same songs their great-grandparents taught them. Now a song is out of date and almost forgotten in just a few years.

Think of humanity as like a macro-organism. Similar to a swarm of bees; a group of individuals but united into one thing. In our journey through time and the unknown, it’s safe and sensible to stick with the pack. With the popular. With the normal. That’s why pop culture, and fashion, is cool. Because we know it works, at least for now. But because our environment is always changing, we can’t stay the same. To survive, we have to adapt. We have to evolve. And to evolve, we have to mutate.

Cast your mind back to biology lessons, where you learnt about Darwin’s theory of natural selection and how slight mutations that happened to be adaptive meant a higher chance of survival and reproduction, passing these traits onto future offspring.

Now imagine the macro-organism humanity again. I’ll try to illustrate this with some terrible diagrams which make me wish I had the newest version of Paint.

Some "mutant" or "radical" humans stray from the norm

What some of them find catches on and becomes the norm. Once again, other "mutants" deviate. The process continues.

Radical thinkers stray from the popular norm and experiment with the new. This is risky, but heroic behaviour. Humans are both afraid of, and in love with the New. This is because it can be good or bad, it’s a gamble taken by the brave. The radical humans, or “mutants” as I’m enjoying calling them, are either celebrated or rejected depending on what they discover and how alien to the norm it is.

It’s a process of the mutants running away from the pack and shouting “hey, what about this?!”   rest of humanity scrutinising it and saying “Yeah, fantastic! We’re coming!” or “hell no, you must be crazy!”.

A small example:

In terms of fashion and clothing, it is cool to be on trend, and yet also cool to be unique.

People who religiously dress in nothing but the height of fashion, regardless of what it is, and never experimenting, are judged as being boring “sheep”. They are not contributing to humanity’s artistic urge to express ourselves, they’re just playing safe.

On the other hand, people who dress absurdly differently, e.g. drag queens, extreme Goths, Lady Gaga, are judged as being weird, crazy, freaky etc. This is because although we love deviation and innovation, appreciating its vital status as we do, we are scared of it in large doses.


It’s a delicate balance.

How tap water changed us

When you’re thirsty, how far do you have to go to get a drink of water?

I’m guessing not very far. In the Developed world,  running water on tap became common in the 20th century. Water is such a vital part of our lives, that it really needs to be worked out before anything else.

I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in a bender, a type of low impact home. We gathered water from a nearby spring to wash, cook and bathe and it was far purer than any water you’ll get out of your kitchen tap.  A bit of carrying for that kind of quality is worth it, I would say, and the act of gathering your own water was kind of… Grounding. In the way that growing your own food is.

But I’ve been wondering how the development of tapped water changed us. I don’t mean in terms of health, that’s a whole other issue. What I mean is how it kind of freed us up for other things. In hunter gatherer times, we were all too busy getting food to bother with much else. When we settled down and started to have relative food security, culture and invention began to bloom.

No other species have a system where every individual or family unit have their own private watering hole. Animals are always trying to survive. We’ve – in places – pretty much got this sorted and have the luxury of going on towards thriving. I always find the difference between humans and other animals so enchanting. It’s that we want to do more than just live and have babies.

We want to grow, stretch, thrive, learn, create, evolve.