“Rational nature is separated from the rest of nature by this, that it sets before itself an end.”
– Immanuel Kant
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post based upon questions raised during January’s Quarterly Discussion.
Did Darwin intend for humans to be included in his theory of Natural Selection? I am not sure. But what I can tell you is that, based upon his observations and studies, I believe that man should be included in his idea of the conditions of life, both as agents of change and as beings susceptible to change. We often hear claims that man is interfering with the natural way of things, but that statement contradicts itself if we believe man to be of nature. The natural way of things, by definition, includes man. Man reasons, but this does not necessarily place him above or outside of the natural body that humans are born with. Further, Darwin admits that the drive to succeed will make any species (in my view, this means human or other) to grow unchecked in abundance, for as long as the conditions of life allow. So I wonder, what is man’s purpose or relationship in regards to nature?
Man judges everything by experience. In order to gain knowledge, it is essential to gather data first. And Darwin definitely collected data. He collected data on all sorts of living organisms. His fastidious notes and complex studies led to an important idea of the development of nature. What interests me the most, at the moment, is the idea of domestication. Why separate Domestication from Nature? It seems clear at first glance…domestication is what humans produce or breed. But if humans are acting upon nature, changing it in some way, isn’t this one more ‘condition of life’? I want to know if any other species breeds dominant varieties in order to create something useful or interesting for themselves, in the way that humans do. In my mind, this seems unlikely.
Domestication, the process and speed, serve as a microcosmic look at what happens on a natural scale…with a few differences. Oddities often occur in domesticated breeds that Darwin could not identify in the natural world. This does not mean that oddities in nature do not occur, but obviously, the data is more difficult to collect and the amount of time necessary to study acts of nature is a lot longer than those produced in domestication. So, these lab experiments are human born, human ideas, human reason. But, what if nature proceeds in a like manner, combining species as necessary or desirous? And to what end? What is nature pursuing? What is the pursuit of each species? Think of the coywolf. Or killer bees. Are these, in fact, invasive species? I admit, this question is probably impossible to answer.
The idea of invasiveness is so important to contemporary society. But, perhaps our focus has become too narrow. Maybe the human life span is simply too short to accurately assess what damage could be done. Add to the muddiness the idea that humans often intervene when we have determined a species to be invasive. We say something is non-native and look to deplete the resource for this non-native, invasive species. But I wonder, would Darwin have labeled something invasive merely because it was not native to an area? On a number of occasions, Darwin discusses his desire for more understanding and study of the geological record. He claims that using fossils is helpful and interesting, but certainly not all-inclusive. There is simply no way that every adaptation of every organism has been saved in a fossilized form. Thus, we have some data, but most likely not all of it. Jump back to the idea of invasive species, and we are again at a crossroads. Darwin writes, “Genera which are polymorphic in one country seem to be, with some few exceptions, polymorphic in other countries, and likewise, judging from Brachiopod shells, at former periods of time. These facts seem to be very perplexing, for they seem to show that this kind of variability is independent of the conditions of life.” So, my question is, would Darwin have acknowledged invasive species as something to be prevented, or as simply a one of life’s ‘conditions’? If a species feels threatened in one area, it would likely move in order to find more suitable conditions of life (think coywolf). Additionally, if one species is dominant, successful and overpopulating, it would likely branch out, seeking new terrain (think killer bees). Of course, these new areas would feel stress at the entrance of a previously unsupported species. But it seems that the stresses of the process of evolution are neither undesirable nor unexpected, from nature’s point of view.
Darwin also suggested that nature has an amazing ability to place checks on itself. So, for example, if a large animal population begins to triple their numbers too quickly, they will be met with disease or famine which will reduce the number of their species to normal levels again. This is entirely plausible, and we have seen similar infections, diseases and bacterias at work in our own lifetimes. But what if humans are also one of those checks? When we intervene on behalf of native species and try to exterminate or limit invasive species, are we not performing the task of nature herself? Darwin states, “In some cases it can be shown that widely-different checks act on the same species in different districts. When we look at the plants and bushes clothing an entangled bank, we are tempted to attribute their proportional numbers and kinds to what we call chance. But how false a view this is!” Is human intervention just another one of nature’s checks? If so, it gets a bit complex when we add the fact that humans can think, create, design and plan, domesticate, if you will. Man alone develops this skill. Doesn’t it change the game in a big way to insert a thinking creature among other sensory based phenomena? And if so, what checks has nature placed upon man?