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From: "Mark Millman"<Mark_Millman@hmco.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Genetics & Spatial Dyslexia
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 12:50:35 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

I'd like to make a contribution to the evolutionary argu-
ment, if I may.

tellis@futurenet.co.uk wrote:
> Raster wrote:
> > David_Lebling@avid.com goes for the Gould:
> >
>> > On the question of whether evolution stops when
>> > civilization is achieved; I doubt it. If you buy into
>> > "puntuated equilibrium," you will see that species
>> > go through long periods with nothing much hap-
>> > pening, then a rapid burst of evolution, and so on.
> >...
> > Punctuated Equilibrium, as I understand it, requires
> > that a small subset of a larger population be repro-
> > ductively isolated...
> Precisely. Our sprawling Urthian society effectively
> precludes Punctuated Equilibrium. You may or may
> not be born with, say, superior athletic ability as a
> result of a "rapid burst of evolution", but that genetic
> contribution will always be lost in the ocean of more
> mediocre genes (such as my own) a few generations
> down the line.  In the isolated communities Raster
> describes, however, that ocean is a mere pool, and
> with no one caring for the slow and the weak the
> genetically advantaged are very big fish in it. It's all
> a question of lebensraum - Mien Gott, I mean living
> space, living space.

Ach, ja.  The flip side of the coin is that the driving
engine of evolution--the cause of the differential repro-
ductive success that shifts the genetic makeup of a
population--is the environment.  Technology as prac-
ticed by humans tends to mitigate or eliminate environ-
mental stresses, including but not limited to disease,
famine, and predation.  For example, the fur parkas of
traditional circumpolar peoples maintain a micro-
climate similar to that of east-central Africa next to their
skins.  (I'm told they're actually warmer in winter, with
all that insulation, than they are in summer, when they
wear less, and lighter, clothing.)  Apes--chimps, at least
--will apparently care for ill or injured members of their
bands, but nobody's suggesting that evolution is very
likely to stop for them (other than the stoppage that
extinction would cause) because they have virtually
no technology.  Obviously, the more advanced a
technological system is, the more likely it is to succeed
in protecting people from their environments.  The man-
apes of the mines, assuming they weren't specifically
designed for the purpose of guarding the works, were
clearly a group whose technology wasn't up to protec-
ting them from the environmental hazards--though
those hazards do in this case seem to have been more
severe, and harder to guard against, than most, as
they very possibly involve heavy-duty radiation and
all kinds of otherwise toxic substances.  The level of
technology at which Severian--and through him, we--
see them is fairly primitive, as indicated by the club
that he brings out of the mine.  Even if they entered
the mines at a level of technology consistent with, say,
well-armed rebels hiding from the government (could
Severian have seen the descendants of his followers
from Mount Typhon, just as Jonas saw the descen-
dants of shipmates in the antechamber?), the stresses
of life in the mines could have caused them to lose,
piecemeal, their technology, possibly accelerating
their physical evolution.  So even a small group of
individuals, given favorable conditions, might not
undergo any noticeable change in the genetic make-
up of the population (leaving aside such complica-
tions as genetic drift--basically random change in a
very small gene pool due to the comparatively
large contribution of each individual), while a much
larger population, given sufficient environmental
pressure, could change rapidly.  Punctuated equi-
librium suggests what it does in part because it
assumes that environments don't change continu-
ously; but when a population's environment does
change, it's likely to change rapidly and substan-
tially, even dramatically.

Sorry to be so long-winded my first time out!

Mark Millman
(If this were the Whorl, I'd ask you to call me Nacre,
but, of course, it's not.)

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