Evolution for Everybody

I know polls say not even a majority of Americans accept that evolution is a result of natural processes, but this fact is nevertheless the #1 choice of a recent California central coast art cabal.

This admittedly-not-scientific poll over the past weekend was conducted as part of open studios at 17thAvenue Studios where my new writing workspace resides.  As the new kid (haha) on the block, & one of only a handful (if even) of non-visual-artists, I wanted to figure out some way to be part of the event. So, with the help of IMG_2641friends*, we concocted an easy Evolution Word Game: put a few stickers on a poster filled with (mostly) common words associated with evolution, or write in your own.

It was energizing to talk w friends & visitors about bonobos & books, asteroids & adaptation, primates & planets. &, exhausting! In honor of the MAH, it even seemed to ignite a few unexpected connections, & whew – no one argued with me about Highway 1 widening. I was especially relieved to be distracted from the 2nd-crash-in-2-weeks of my MS-for-MAC Outlook email program.  Hard to give up 20 years of that particular email habit, which is probably why it crashed – too many years of accumulated stuff!

Anyhow, here are the Evolution Word Game highlights:

  1. #1 word association: natural selection…followed closely by adaptation (#2). Yay Art Lovers! Natural selection & adaptation to changing natural environments are two key elements of IMG_2643the evolutionary process, & ones that Charles Darwin (#4) presented in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). In the 150 or so years since, scientific research in evolutionary biology & related fields (including Darwin’s own research & subsequent books) has broadened the list of evolution’s key mechanisms to include genetic drift, variation (#5), migration, & coevolution.
  2. #3 word: mutation.  Another yay for the creativity cabal! Genetic mutation is “the ultimate source of genetic variation“.  Mutations are random errors in DNA replication which occur commonly during the reproduction process. Mutations may be neutral, helpful, or unhelpful for an organism, & how these factors manifest during that organism’s life is partly dependent on it’s environment, & whether that environment is stable or changing (& ergo, more stressful).
  3. #6: survival of the fittest. I almost didn’t include this phrase on the list because it has a bad reputation, owing to its unfortunate appropriation into early 20th century ‘social darwinism’ philosophies. The concept of fitness however, is significant in our current understanding of evolutionary biology – the main idea being that fitness is relevant to reproductive success.  Fitness received only one vote in the Game.
  4. Language & Questions Still Abound tied for 7th place. Descent with modification (the current short definition of evolution) & extinction tied for 10th place.
  5. Biggest surprises: Zoonomia by Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, came in at #8.  The Y-chromosome only got one vote (sorry guys). Alfred Russell Wallace garnered only 3 votes – a little sad as he came up with the unifying theory of evolution at about the same time Darwin was preparing to publish Origin. Wallace is pretty much an unknown to most folks: imho, it’s important to know about him because the fact that two naturalists of the era came up with key evolutionary principles makes it clear that science at that time was heading in the direction of figuring this out sooner or later. We love & ‘revere’ Charles Darwin (witness Darwin Day) & he was a meticulous, incredibly thoughtful & prolific scientist, but it could just as well have been Al Wallace…or someone else.
  6. & boo hoo – no one voted for one of my favorite words – tetrapod!

Well, what a fun weekend.  Kudos to 17thAve artists who work so hard to produce & present their fantastic works of art – your creativity inspires me.

& finally:

*A huge thank you to my artistic & otherwise advisors Elizabeth, Justin, Lisa, Zephyr, & to my friends who stopped by & shared happy & not-so-happy news amidst talk of randomness & survival. & congratulations to Megan who won the drawing for an autographed copy of The Upright Thinkers by Leonard Mlodinow.  Come visit me again next year!

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