We men (including the approximately 51% of us who are women) are used to seeing “ordinary” objects around us: tables and chairs, cats and dogs, books and pictures, cabbages and — yes, still today — kings, as well as beings we love and those we do not love so very much at all. So we are naturally taken aback, in fact we are outright dubious, when we are told that reality is not like that.
Science tells us that what is “out there” is a vast amount of space (not an empty backdrop, but actually something…) filled with particles so small that the distance between them is really, really big compared to their own sizes. Not only that, but we are told that these particles are actually waves, or both waves and particles, and that nobody can actually measure simultaneously where they are and how fast they are moving (or how much energy they possess and when). To top it all off, we are told that space is not only curved but is expanding.
We may indeed wonder, if the physical world is like that, why can we not see it like that? There is an answer to that question.
The seeming paradoxes mentioned in the opening paragraph come from the study of physics, the science on which the other sciences are built. Astronomy is sort-of beside physics and overlaps it a lot. Chemistry comes directly above physics in this hierarchy and biology rests on chemistry. And from biology comes the explanation, in the well-proven process of natural selection.
Natural selection depends on the possibility of changes in the characteristics (phenotypes) of organisms, changes due to mutations in the genes which program the organism’s reproduction and development. Biological entities are changing all the time and some of these changes are passed on to their offspring, be they plants, animals or borderline creatures like viruses. Some of these changes will help the organism to survive, others will have a negative or zero effect.
Consider a type of insect which may be green or brown. The green ones might sit happily munching away on the leaves of our roses without being seen by birds, whereas the brown ones will be spotted and eaten. So the ones which survive to reproduce will be the green ones and soon (in a few insect generations) green insects will be much more numerous than brown ones. This process is called natural selection, which sometimes is written with a capital “N” and a capital “S”. (Of course, people can still see the green insects so we can come along and squish them with our fingers. Yuk.)
Look out for a trap here, NS does not mean that a conscious or goal-oriented process is taking place. It is maybe better to consider that the brown insects are devoured by birds (good!), leaving the green ones behind. To repeat: No guiding entity or plan is behind NS, it just happens.
To learn more about why things are like this, go on to part 2.
- Written by John
- Created: 21 September 2011