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prize" is the aggregate of many items, some of which appear to us very insignificant. Hence, when we ask, "Who will survive?" the answer is necessarily vague. Mr. Darwin's answer is, Those best conformed to their environment; and Mr. Spencer's statement of the survival of the fittest means the same thing.
The judges who pronounce and execute the verdict of death, or award the prize of life, are the forces and conditions of environment. We have already considered the meaning of this word. Many of its forces and conditions are still unknown, or but very imperfectly understood. But known or unknown, visible or invisible, the result of their united action is the extinction or degradation of these individuals which deviate from certain fairly well-marked lines of development. We must keep clearly before our minds the fact that the world of living beings makes up by far the most important part of the environment of any individual plant or animal. Two plants may be equally well suited to the soil and climate of any region; but if one have a scanty development of root or leaf, or is for any reason more liable to attacks from insects or germs, other things being equal, it will in time be crowded out by its competitor. Worms are eaten by lower vertebrates, and these by higher. An animal's environment, like that of a merchant or manufacturer, is very largely a matter of the ability and methods of its competitors. And man, compelled to live in society, makes that part of the environment by which he is most largely moulded.
This process of extinction Mr. Darwin has called "natural selection." Natural selection is not a force, but a process, resulting from the combined action of
the forces of environment. It is not a cause in any proper sense of the word, but a result of a myriad of interacting forces. The combination of these forces in a process of natural selection leading directly to a moral and spiritual goal demands an explanation in some ultimate cause. This explanation we have already tried to find.
It is a process of extinction. It favors the fittest, but only by leaving them to enjoy the food and place formerly claimed, or still furnished, by the less fit. In any advancing group, as the less fit are crowded out, and the better fitted gain more place and food and more rapid increase, the whole species becomes on an average better conformed. More abundant nourishment and increased vigor seem also to be accompanied by increased variation. And by the extinction of the less fit the probability is increased that more fit individuals will pair with one another and give rise to even fitter offspring, possessing perhaps new and still more valuable variations.
But if, of a group of weaker forms, those alone survive which adopt a parasitic life, those which in adult life move the least will survive and reproduce; there will result the survival of the least muscular and nervous. This degeneration will continue until the species has sunken into equilibrium, so to speak, with its surroundings. Here natural selection works for degeneration. Sessile animals have had a similar history. But these parasitic and sessile forms had already been hopelessly distanced in the race for life. Their presence cannot impede the leaders; indeed their survival is necessary to directly or indirectly furnish food for the better conformed. In the animal
and plant world there is abundant room and advantage at the top.
Once more, natural selection works as a rule for the survival of individuals, only indirectly for that of organs composing, or of species including, these individuals. It may work for the development of a trait or structure which, while of no immediate advantage to the individual, increases the probability of its rearing a larger number of fitter offspring. Thus defence of the young by birds may be a disadvantage to the parent, but this is more than counterbalanced in the life of the species by the number of young coming to maturity and inheriting the trait. Even here natural selection favors the survival of the trait indirectly by sparing the descendants of the individual possessing it. Natural selection may always work on and through individuals without always working for their sole and selfish advantage.
In human society we find the selection of families, societies, nations, and civilizations going on, but mainly as the result of the survival of the fittest individuals.
There may very probably be a struggle for existence between organs or cells in the body of each individual. The amount of nutriment in the body is a more or less fixed quantity; and if one organ seizes more than its fair share, others may or must diminish for lack. But the limit to this usurpation must apparently be set by the crowding out of those individuals in which it is carried too far. Natural selection, so to speak, leaves the individual responsible for the distribution of the nutriment among the organs, and spares or destroys the individual as this usurpation proves for its advantage or disadvantage.
It makes its verdict much as the judges at a great poultry or dog show count the series of points, giving each one of them a certain value on a certain scale, and then award the prize to the individual having the highest aggregate on the whole series. Any such illustration is very liable to mislead; I wish to emphasize that fitness to survive is determined by the aggregate of the qualities of an individual.
But an animal having one organ of great value or capacity may thus carry off the prize, even though its other organs deserve a much lower mark. This is the case with man. In almost every respect, except in brain and hand, he is surpassed by the carnivora, the cat, for example. But muscle may be marked, in making up the aggregate, on a scale of 500, and brain on a scale of 5,000, or perhaps of 50,000. A very slight difference in brain capacity outweighs a great superiority in muscle in the struggle between man and the carnivora, or between man and man.
The scale on which an organ is marked will be proportional to its usefulness under the conditions given at a given time. During the period of development of worms and lower vertebrates much muscle with a little brain was more useful than more brain with less muscle. Hence, as a rule, the more muscular survived; the brain increasing slowly, at first apparently largely because of its correlation with muscle and senseorgans. At a later date muscle, tooth, and claw were more useful on the ground; brain and hand in the trees. Hence carnivora ruled the ground, and certain arboreal apes became continually more anthropoid. At a later date brain became more useful even on the ground, and was marked on a higher scale, because it
could invent traps and weapons against which muscle was of little avail. Just at present brain is of use to, and valued by, a large portion of society in proportion to its efficiency in making and selfishly spending money. But slowly and surely it is becoming of use as an organ of thought, for the sake of the truth which it can discover and incarnate.
Natural selection works thus apparently for the survival of the individuals possessing in the aggregate the most complete conformity to environment. Let us now imagine that an animal is so constructed as to be capable of variation along several disadvantageous or neutral lines, and along only one which is advantageous. The development would of course proceed along the advantageous line. Let us farther imagine that to the descendants of this individual two, and only two, advantageous lines of variations are allowed by its structure. Then natural selection would probably favor the decidedly advantageous line, if such there were. But as long as the structure of the animal allows variation along only a few lines, the two advantageous variations would, according to the law of probabilities, frequently occur in the same individual. The eggs and spermatozoa of two such individuals might not infrequently unite, and thus in time the two characteristics be inherited by a large fraction of the species.
And now let me quote from Mr. Spencer :
"But in proportion as the life grows complex-in proportion as a healthy existence cannot be secured by a large endowment of some one power, but demands many powers; in the same proportion do there arise obstacles to the increase of any particular power, by the preservation of favored races in the