I've been thinking a lot about "survival" and Darwinism the past few days. A lot of this surely has to do with the excellent piece on whales from this past week's New York Times Magazine. The article is long, but completely worth the time required to read it. The article left a profound impact on me.
Image from Xinhua
BEIJING (AFP) — Three miners were rescued after 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southwest China chewing on coal and drinking filthy water, local media have reported.
The three were hauled out of the mine in Guizhou province on Sunday, their faces black with soot and their eyes covered by a cloth to protect them from the light, the Beijing News and the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The Xinqiao coal mine flooded on June 17, trapping 16 miners underground, and rescuers had previously only found one body.
The miners -- Wang Quanjie, Wang Kuangwei and Zhao Weixing -- were trapped in a deep part of the mine that had protected them from the flood, according to the Beijing News report.
Rescuer Yang Sen, told the paper the three survivors had survived by drinking some of the remaining filthy water and had relied on the weak light still emanating from their lamps.
Once the rescue team had located the trapped miners, they were able to pump in air through ventilation shafts, the report said.
This section was particularly interesting:
Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures.If nothing else, go read page ten of the article. If that doesn't move you at all, I'm not sure what will.
Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.
Read The Whole Article
Life, in all forms, is amazing.
Yet at the same time our world is also cut-throat.
In a manner that would make Daniel Dennett proud, Robert H. Frank, also of The New York Times, invokes evolution and survival of the fittest, the means by which life on Earth has reached such a wonderful diversity and sophistication, to help explain why the economy is in the state it currently is.
From The New York Times:
IF asked to identify the intellectual founder of their discipline, most economists today would probably cite Adam Smith. But that will change. Economists’ forecasts generally aren’t worth much, but I’ll offer one that even my youngest colleagues won’t survive to refute: If we posed the same question 100 years from now, most economists would instead cite Charles Darwin.I'm a hardcore Darwinist. I agree a lot with the above-hyper-linked philosopher, Daniel Dennett, and his ideas that Darwin's idea of evolution through natural selection is like a universal acid. Here's a brief explanation of Dennett's attitude towards Darwinism from the Wikipedia article on Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea:"
Darwin, renowned for the theory of evolution, was a naturalist, not an economist, and his view of the competitive struggle was different from Smith’s in subtle but profound ways. Growing evidence suggests that Darwin’s view tracks economic reality much more closely.
Smith is celebrated for his “invisible hand” theory, which holds that when greedy people trade for their own advantage in unfettered private markets, they will often be led, as if by an invisible hand, to produce the greatest good for all. The invisible hand remains a powerful narrative, but after the recent economic wreckage, skepticism about it has grown. My prediction is that it will eventually be supplanted by a version of Darwin’s more general narrative — one that grants the invisible hand its due, but also strips it of the sweeping powers that many now ascribe to it.
Dennett writes about the fantasy of a “universal acid” as a liquid that is so corrosive that it would eat through anything that it came into contact with, even a potential container. Such a powerful substance would transform everything it was applied to; leaving something very different in its wake. This is where Dennett draws parallels from the “universal acid” to Darwin’s idea:If I had financial security for the rest of my life, I'd love to go to graduate school so I could study Darwinism and this kind of stuff more. Specifically, I think it'd be fascinating to get into research into the compatibility of the theory of evolution and Kant's idea of the pneumena.“it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.”While there are people who would like to see Darwin’s idea contained within the field of biology, Dennett asserts that this dangerous idea inevitably “leaks” out to transform other fields as well.
This post has gone wildly off topic and I need to wrap up my ridiculous ranting...
Basically, living creatures (Chinese miners, whales, investment bankers, etc.) and the survival that they fight for are incredible things to observe.